RCC Honors History Project

Bud Freeman, Tenor Saxophonist and Jazz Innovator, Dead at 84

Posted by dmcneal347 on May 23, 2009

By JON PARELES
Published: Saturday, March 16, 1991

Lawrence (Bud) Freeman, a leading tenor saxophonist, died yesterday at the Warren Barr Pavilion, a nursing home in Chicago. He was 84 years old.

A spokeswoman for the nursing home said that he had had cancer but that the official cause of death had not been determined.

Mr. Freeman was born on April 13, 1906, in Chicago. In 1922, he and some friends from high school formed a jazz group, the Austin High School Gang; the group also included the trumpeter Jimmy McPartland, who died on March 13. During its residency at the Friar’s Inn, the group modified the New Orleans style of group improvisation, working with such musicians as the guitarist and banjoist Eddie Condon to create what became known as Chicago jazz.

“We were like kings,” he once said of that time. “We worked very hard, were delighted by it and lived luxuriously.”

By the end of the 1920’s, Mr. Freeman had developed a light, songful style that made him one of the most distinctive white saxophonists of the era. He made his first recordings in 1927 as a member of the Chicagoans, led by Condon and Red McKenzie, and in 1933 recorded his best-known solo, on “The Eel (Home Cooking)” as a member of Condon’s Chicago Rhythm Kings.

During the 1930’s, Mr. Freeman worked with the big bands of Ray Noble, Paul Whiteman, Benny Goodman and others; from 1936 to 1938, he was a featured soloist with the Tommy Dorsey big band. He performed in 1938 with a group that included Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller. Worked With Eddie Condon

In 1939 and 1940, Mr. Freeman led the Summa Cum Laude Orchestra, an all-star Chicago group; when it dissolved, he briefly led his own big band. After serving in the Army from 1943 to 1945, leading a service band at Fort George, Md., Mr. Freeman came to New York, where he once again worked frequently with Condon. He performed and recorded in small groups through the mid-1960’s, and was a member of the Newport Jazz Festival All-Stars, which regularly opened the festival during the 1960’s.

Mr. Freeman joined the World’s Greatest Jazz Band in 1968; he was with the group through 1971 and sporadically thereafter; in 1970, the group performed at the White House. During the late 1970’s, Mr. Freeman lived in London, before returning to Chicago. He wrote two memoirs, “You Don’t Look Like a Musician” and “If You Know of a Better Life.”

He is survived by a sister, Florence Charles of Los Angeles.

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