Guitar madness (with a heaping of genius)
When George Freeman was a young man, one of his treasured moments was hanging out in his South Side home listening to the sound of Coleman Hawkins' tenor saxophone waft over from a jazz club a couple of blocks away. Who knows? George was so enamored of Hawkins's sound that if his older brother Von hadn't beaten him to the saxophone, George might be playing it today.
But as much as he loved the mighty Hawk, one of the immortals with whom he performed during the 1940's, another legend exerted even more of an influence on him. At the age of 13, George gazed through the side door of the Rhum Boogie Cafe and saw Texas guitarist T-Bone Walker perform. Instantly, his future was decided.
"He was wearing a white coat, gray slacks, patent leather shoes and had a conk," said Freeman. "He was doing splits and playing behind his head and people were throwing money at him. I knew then and there that I had to play guitar."
The wonder is, at the age of 87, he's playing guitar with no less soulful expression or idiosyncratic risk. Co-headlining the next-to-last show of JazzCity's remarkable 2014 series, he'll team up with Von's longtime guitarist and music director, Mike Allemana in what will be a delectable contrast of styles – George's steely pointillism meeting Allemana's ultra modern concept. The setting is their ongoing quartet with B-3 organist Pete Benson and drummer George Fludas.
I knew success would come late in life because my playing was always ahead of its time," Freeman said several years back. "Whatever people were doing, I was doing something else."
One of the first bebop guitarists, he toured with organist Richard "Groove" Holmes and Chicago tenor giant Gene Ammons in the '50s. Tired of being a polite sideman, he rebelled during an all-star gig with Ammons, Sonny Stitt and Dexter Gordon. "I looked them dead in the face and cut loose."
Fortunately for us, he's never stopped cutting.