Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Bud Freeman - Unheralded and Too Often Overlooked

© Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“One of the legendary Austin High School Gang, the elegant Chicagoan, was the first significant tenor saxophonist, a lighter but certainly not pallid Coleman Hawkins. It was a long career, and Freeman continued to sound like no one but himself right to the end. The Eel was a classic performance, almost a novelty tune, but at the same time bespeaking a brilliant improvisational talent.”
- Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.

“Bud Freeman [1906-1991] grew up in Chicago and in the early 1920’s was a member of the Austin High School Gang [Bud on C-Melody Sax, Frank Teschemacher, Alto Sax, Jimmy McPartland, trumpet, Jim Lanigan, piano, and Dick McPartland, banjo. When they played at the nearby Lewis Institute, Dave Tough joined in on drums and Dick moved to bass].
By 1930, Bud had formed an original, unmannered style of tenor sax, free of “novelty” effects and with a distinctive Jazz timbre; as the first white saxophonist to do this he is often compared with his black contemporary Coleman Hawkins.
He founded an all-star band called the Summa Cum Laude Orchestra which recorded for Bluebird and Decca in the late 1930s.
Although Freeman’s approach to playing remained essentially unchanged throughout his career, he has constantly refined his style.”
- James Dapogny, in Barry Kernfeld, ed., The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz

“ … there was a time in American music when there were just about two ways of playing jazz tenor saxophone, Coleman Hawkins's way or Bud Freeman's way. (Both men, however, pay respects to Prince Robinson as a predecessor.) … [Even after] the arrival of Lester Young in 1936 …”
- Martin Williams, Jazz In Its Time

“I did like Bud Freeman. Nobody played like him. That’s what knocked me out.”
- Lester Young [describing how he “... tried to get the sound of a C-melody sax on tenor sax”] to Nat Hentoff in The Jazz Makers

Thanks to a friend in England who hipped me to the Bud Freeman 1939-1940 Classic CD [Classic 811] reissue of recordings made by Bud Freeman’s Summa Cum Laude Orchestra, I was able to work backwards and get to know more about Bud, a rather unheralded and often overlooked, titan of the tenor saxophone.

And body am I’m glad I did.

This guy can play.

The esteemed critic Martin Williams [1924-1992] refers to him as “The Needed Individual” and explains the reasons why in the following essay on Bud from his Jazz In Its Time [Oxford]

“In the spring of 1968, tenor saxophonist Lawrence "Bud" Freeman was announcing his full recovery from an automobile accident which had resulted in multiple fractures of the rib cage. His physician, who had at first warned Freeman that it might be more than a year before he could play again, had pronounced him fully recovered within six months. Playing the saxophone, Freeman reported to Jack Bradley in Down Beat, feels "better than ever. I feel freer . . . I've never practiced this much in my life."

One might say that the practicing paid off, whether he really needed it or not, because Bud Freeman is now involved in one of the most interesting projects of his career as a featured player with the Yank Lawson-Bob Haggart ensemble which has the marvelous name, "The World's Greatest Jazz Band."

Freeman's continuing presence on the jazz scene is, or should be, a reminder that there was a time in American music when there were just about two ways of playing jazz tenor saxophone, Coleman Hawkins's way or Bud Freeman's way. (Both men, however, pay respects to Prince Robinson as a predecessor.) Even with the arrival of Lester Young in 1936, and the growing maturity of several of Hawkins's "pupils," there was still Bud Freeman and his progeny. That progeny is still there. And so is Freeman.
The story of Bud Freeman as a charter member of the Austin High School "gang" of young Chicagoans is a standard part of jazz literature. There were cornetist Jimmy McPartland and his guitarist brother Dick, [piano and] bass-player Jim Lanigan, clarinetist Frank Teschemacher — these actually went to Austin. The other "Chicagoans” including drummer Dave Tough [Lewis Institute] and pianist Joe Sullivan [Chicago Conservatory], did not.

It all began when a group of these youngsters happened to play an early 1922 recording by the New Orleans Rhythm Kings in a record shop. "I'll tell you," Jimmy McPartland has reported, "we went out of our minds. Everybody flipped. It was wonderful so we put others on. . . . We stayed there from about three in the afternoon until eight at night, just listening to those records one after another, over and over again."

Soon the group of high schoolers became, as Freeman put it to Ira Gitler, "a group of guys who would have nothing to do with anything but good jazz."
Tough, who had been taking professional jobs since he was about fifteen, was "the first to introduce me to jazz as played by the real players, and that was the old King Oliver Band." It featured a young Louis Armstrong on second coronet. Freeman and his young friends became, as Dick Hadlock puts it in Jazz Masters of the Twenties, self-conscious students of jazz for whom the music was "a challenging art that required deep thought and study."

Freeman, perhaps out of admiration for Jack Pettis of the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, first took up C-melody saxophone, and the results by his own admission were not good. "I couldn't play anything. I could play one note." 
And McPartland, whose family was musical, has reported that "Bud Freeman was the only guy that had not had any training, consequently he was slow picking up the music . . . Tesch used to get disgusted with him and say, 'Let's throw that bum out.' But I said, 'No, no, no, don't. He's coming on, he's playing'."

The "coming on" was perhaps slow but it was sure. And it was built on a perceptive taste. "I was influenced by Louis, Beiderbecke, Bessie Smith, Ethel Waters, Buster Bailey, Fats Waller, James P. Johnson, Earl Hines — by drummers - Dave Tough ... I was greatly influenced by jazz dancers."

By late 1928, a maturing Freeman, now on tenor sax and fresh from a Paris trip with Dave Tough, had made some recordings under his own name, the recently-reissued Crazeology and Can't, Help Lovin' Dat Man. And by 1935, after several years of work with leaders like Roger Wolfe Kahn, Ben Pollack, and Red Nichols, Bud Freeman had become a featured member of Tommy Dorsey's band. "Tommy naturally had to feature what he did, which was a sweet, melodic trombone, but he did really have a great love for jazz . . . if a guy could play, he would really let him 'go.' "

The big bands, in Freeman's opinion, "needed individualists — they needed stars. Certainly, leaders might have had trouble with some of us, but we believed what we were doing, we grew up with jazz, felt strongly about our music and each of us developed in his own way, becoming both distinct individuals and soloists."

From Dorsey, Freedman went with Benny Goodman in 1938. And from Goodman, he returned to small group jazz with his own ensemble called the Summa Cum Laude Orchestra (in honor of the Austin High past), featuring Max Kaminsky's cornet, Pee Wee Russell's clarinet, Eddie Condon's guitar, and Dave Tough's drums. This ensemble, in Hadlock's opinion, "developed into one of the most cohesive small bands of its time."

Then the entire unit quit night-club work to join Swingin' the Dream, a musical version of A Midsummer Night's Dream, and the show lasted only a couple of weeks after its Broadway opening. However, Freeman found more work for his group at home in Chicago, again in New York, and in an expanded, eighteen-piece version, on the road.

Back in Chicago for a rest and a visit, Freeman found himself with enough offers to keep himself busy, and he eventually ended up leading a kind of house band at the Sherman Hotel. "The owner . . . asked me if I could get a band in 17 hours. I called up eighteen men, rehearsed all night, and opened with a big review in the Panther Room." Bud Freeman spent most of World War II as a member of the Army's Special Services in the Aleutians. On his return to civilian life, he worked for a while as house leader for the newly formed Majestic Record Company in New York. When the company failed, he returned to free-lancing.

In 1953, Freeman was back in New York after a tour of Chile and Peru, and a failed marriage. He was anxious to get to work again, but he had lost confidence in his playing. However, he was acquainted with some of modernist Lennie Tristano's recordings, thought him brilliant, and knew that he did some teaching. Freeman studied with Tristano for about three months, and, wisely, the pianist did not attempt to change Freeman's style but was able to help him re-learn his own way of playing. "He did give me terrific confidence," says the saxophonist. "He seemed to like what I was doing ... I had to do what is me, what I honestly can say was my own playing." Freeman then returned to the small groups which were his first inspiration and first love. He became a member of: George Wein's Newport All Stars, with time off for other projects, including a European tour. More recently he joined the remarkable Lawson-Haggard World's Greatest Jazzband.

This energetic organization, which also boasts veterans like Billy Butterfield on trumpet, Lou McGarity and Carl Fontana on trombones, Bob Wilber on clarinet, and Ralph Sutton on piano, explains its billing by saying it is a jazz band whereas the other medium and large ensembles, with all due respect, are swing bands. Its repertoire, on the other hand, is up-to-date, and may feature Freeman on a quasi-Dixieland arrangement of, let us say, Up, Up, and Away or Mrs. Robinson.

Duly confident though he is, Bud Freeman still approaches each appearance with the kind of sound apprehension that a dedicated and sensitive improvising musician may be expected to show. On the road, he likes to reach his destination a day ahead and rest up, if possible. And before he performs, Freeman will probably complain that he doesn't feel well, has a cold, is tired, or whatever, and then goes out and plays his head off with the same genuine enthusiasm he has had since his twenties.

"I am interested in the individual," he says, returning to a favorite theme. "If he is sincere, I can see he's sincere." And, looking back, he added to Ira Gitler, "People responsible for jazz were individuals. If a musician believes in a thing, then the public will believe in it." (1969)

Let’s close this brief look at a musician who deserves to be remember with all of the Jazz greats of the tenor saxophone with these insert notes by Anatol Schenker to the 1995 Classics reissues of 1939-1940 performances by Bud’s Summa Cum Laude Orchestra and his Famous Chicagoans which included Jack Teagarden on trombone.

The music on this CD, played by Bud Freeman's regular band of the time, was coined "Nicksieland Jazz" by columnist Ralph Gleason after the night club in Greenwich Village where the Summa Cum Laude Orchestra appeared regularly. Its style differs considerably from the recordings it tried to imitate, those made by the Chicagoans in the late twenties. Although influenced by Bix Beiderbecke and Frank Teschemacher, Bud's band manages to merge those older concepts with current big-band swing, causing John Hammond to conclude in 1940 that "here is a combination of all the great forces in modern jazz".

Lawrence "Bud" Freeman was born in Chicago, Illinois, on April 13, 1906. He received his first tuition on "C"-melody saxophone from Jimmy McPartland's father, a music teacher. Freeman was among the founder members of the "Austin High School Gang". After extensive practice and a lot of playing with his early musical friends, Freeman joined the "second" Wolverines band (after Bix Beiderbecke's departure), which appeared in the Chicago area in 1926. He also worked with many other leaders, including Art Kassel and Herb Carlin. After his first important recordings with Eddie Condon (see Classics 742), Bud joined the Ben Pollack Orchestra.

Following an engagement in New York and a first brief trip to Europe, he then toured with the Red Nichols band. After short spells with various bandleaders in Chicago, in 1935 he signed up with the Ray Noble Orchestra. Bud next played in Tommy Dorsey's band for nearly two years, then worked with Benny Goodman for about eight months in 1938. 

In 1939, he formed his own "Summa Cum Laude" Orchestra, which cut a number of highly successful records and appeared at "Kelly's Stable" in New York, He managed to keep the group together until the summer of 1940. Freeman then played in Joe Marsala's group, as well as continuing to work intermittently with Eddie Condon. In 1943, he was drafted and fronted a service band in Maryland as well as on the Aleutian Islands. After demobilisation in 1945, Bud played at Eddie Condon's own night-club. In the late forties and early fifties, he undertook frequent engagements in South America, including residencies in Rio, Peru and Chile.

He later also visited Europe on dozens of occasions, often on tours organized by pianist-impresario George Wein. In 1969, Bud joined the "World's Greatest Jazz Band". Then he lived in London for many years, but returned to the U.S. in the late seventies. After decades of travelling, Bud Freeman died in his native Chicago on March 16,1991, 

This second volume of the complete recordings of Bud Freeman under his own name, presented in chronological order, includes all sessions by his Summa Cum Laude Orchestra. The first date for Bluebird may well be the most impressive. 

Bud's fierce playing on his showcase, "The Eel", followed by an equally fine contribution from Max Kaminsky's muted trumpet, is truly outstanding. "Easy To Get", more modern than most of the subsequent sides by Bud's group, generates enormous swing. Now recording for Decca, the ensemble is in particularly impressive form on "As Long As I Live", The next eight compositions are closely associated with mid-twenties recordings by the "Wolverines". The closing session for Columbia is a gem. Jack Teagarden's addition to the band for these tracks proved a felicitous decision, the trombonist having rarely played or sung better than on these magnificent cuts. The rhythm section is driven by the astounding Dave Tough, at his best on "47th And State". Great music throughout!”

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