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Read the latest edition of Hot House Magazine! View and download here in Acrobat: September 2014
Winning Spins by George Kanzler
Popular music and jazz have long been entwined, but this incestuous relationship is the most entangled when it comes to singers. Endless debates arise not only about what constitutes jazz singing, but even: Who qualifies as a jazz singer? Do they have to improvise? To scat? Does it depend on the material being sung? The musical context?
Back in the 1950s, Mercury Records actually divided the output of Sarah Vaughan and Dinah Washington between two labels, reserving Mercury for “pop” and Emarcy for “jazz,” based largely on the musical backing and the repertoire.
Today, we readily put the jazz label on singers who perform with jazz musicians or who interpret the classic, pre-rock, American Popular Songbook―preferably with more than a modicum of that ineffable quality called swing. One singer featured in this Winning Spins, Rebecca Kilgore, comfortably meets those criteria. The other, Cyrille Aimée, challenges our conceptions of jazz singing, although she does things definitely associated with that genre, including scatting, which Kilgore mostly ignores.
While both are accompanied by combos, the instrumentation and dominant jazz styles are very different. The Harry Allen Quartet, backing Kilgore, is a swinging, mainstream jazz band. Aimée’s quartet/quintet features two or three guitars, bass and drums playing predominantly in a gypsy jazz style. While Kilgore delves into classic and more obscure popular standards, Aimée’s selection ranges from Michael Jackson to bebop, chansons in French to Ellingtonia.
I Like Men, Rebecca Kilgore with the Harry Allen Quartet (Arbors Records), explores the theme and serves, in part, as a tribute to the title tune’s writer, Peggy Lee, including other songs Lee wrote or sang. Like Lee and Rosemary Clooney, Kilgore honors worthy songs by bringing a keen intelligence to her interpretations. She sings them with affection and enthusiasm, infusing them with emotional weight and, when appropriate, effervescent swing. In the latter sense, she’s ably abetted by tenor saxophonist Allen; their long collaboration ranks them up there in jazz history with Billie Holiday and Lester Young, and Etta Jones and Houston Person and his trio, especially with pianist Rossano Sportiello.
The program surprises in both selection and interpretation. The title song swings in the 2/4 associated with Frank Sinatra, as does the unexpected “Goldfinger.” Kilgore and Allen make the most of dipping, gliding notes on a waltz-time “The Boy Next Door;” “The Man I Love” becomes a fast swinger showcasing Kilgore’s deft legato phrasing and “Down Boy,” a rarity from Hoagy Carmichael and Harold Adamson, has the singer putting down eager male “wolves” with a saucy swagger.
Kilgore proves adept at a variety of tempos and moods: from the rumba-tinged “An Occasional Man” and slithery 6/8 of “For Every Man There’s a Woman” to the snappy clip of Lee’s “He’s a Tramp.” Allen’s obligati caress Kilgore’s voice on “Marry the Man Today,” from the stage version of Guys and Dolls, and “He Needs Me.” The extra treasures are the obscure gems including “One Man Ain’t Enough,” a song cut from Broadway’s House of Flowers by Truman Capote and Harold Arlen, and “He’s My Guy” done as an instrumental (but do search out Sarah Vaughan’s definitive vocal on Emarcy).
Rebecca Kilgore and the Harry Allen Quartet appear at Birdland on Sept. 25 to showcase their new album.
“PJ Rasmussen interviews Bucky Pizzarelli as part of his Boardwalk Jazz concert series. For 17 weeks, PJ brings jazz legends, Grammy winners, and rising talent to the Jersey Shore. See more videos and upcoming schedule at www.boardwalk-jazz.com.”
George Freeman: Chicago’s Jazz Monarch By Guy Arseneau
It has all the unspoken yet understood intimacy of a family secret, but represents an experience and state of mind commonly shared by the world at large. Sensual, seductive and invitingly private, it nonetheless continually offers up a high-profile public face that is brashly familiar to music lovers across America. The issue in question is “jazz” and its interpretation both through and by the reigning Chicago-based jazzmeister and family patriarch, George Freeman.
Born in 1926 on Chicago’s rough and tumble South Side, he came of age during the era of Prohibition, Al Capone and the emerging styles of urban music. A jazz guitarist of epic stature, Freeman represents a generational bridge in a family legacy that is now eponymous with musical virtuosity in the Windy City and beyond.
“Jazz means everything to me: the beginning, the middle and the end,” states the 88-year-old Freeman. “Whenever I’m strumming a guitar, that instrument becomes a person to me; it talks; it feels and it’s alive.”
Freeman’s connection to his music is a relationship he nurtures and sustains daily. “I play every day, and I mean every single day,” he says. “If I didn’t play, my fingers would get cold, so to speak, and I’d know it. Most of all, the people hearing me would know it, too.”
The younger brother of the late tenor saxophonist and jazz legend, Von Freeman, George credits his older sibling for sharing his musical skills with him. “Von was my best friend and he taught me how to play and sing ballads,” Freeman recalls fondly.
Over the course of the last century and up to the present, the musical skills George learned from his brother have served him well and firmly secure a prominent place for him in the history, development and growth of jazz as a uniquely American art form. The full measure of Freeman’s contribution to the world of jazz, understood through the legendary stature of those he has played with, encompasses the major jazz players of the past 50 years. Charlie Parker, Illinois Jacquet, Buddy Williams, Lester Young and Freeman’s nephew, Chico Freeman, are among the jazz greats who counted George as an indispensable partner to their musical repertoires.
In addition to his club appearances all over the United States, Freeman has also provided jazz buffs with albums that showcase and preserve his perspective and sense of musical style. These works include Birth Sign, George Burns, All in the Game, At Long Last George and Man & Woman.
Showing no signs of slowing down due to age or any other factors, Freeman is a welcome and familiar figure at various park concerts and clubs throughout Chicagoland. Over the last several years, he has appeared as an honored artist at Chicago’s famed Millennium Park Jazz Festival and he’s well known to jazz patrons at Chicago’s Andy’s Jazz Club, Constellation and the Green Mill Lounge.
Mike Allemana, a family friend for more than two decades and chronicler of the Freeman family, was a business adviser to Von, and now works as a band member with George. “I’ve known the Freeman brothers since 1992,” he says. “I provided business advice to Von right up to the time of his death. Right now, George and I have jam sessions together and we play various club dates all over Chicago and in cities across the nation.”
Currently enrolled as a PhD candidate at the University of Chicago, Allemana is pursuing a degree in ethnomusicology and writing his dissertation on Von Freeman. “George and I started a jazz band in 1997 at the New Apartment Lounge here in Chicago,” he notes. In describing George Freeman and his contribution to jazz, Allemana states, “George is truly the last living bebopper. The man lives and breathes his music.” That’s a fitting legacy for some musicians but only a summary of things yet to come from George Freeman and his guitar.
The quartet of George Freeman on guitar, Eric Alexander on tenor saxophone, Mike LeDonne on Hammond B3 organ and Kenny Washington playing drums will perform Sept. 26 and 27 at Smoke Jazz & Supper Club. Freeman will also give a solo performance at the Lounge (Hudson View Gardens) Sept. 28.