`The Jazz Goddess is smilin' tonight!"
At intermission Saturday night, that's how Chicago jazz legend Von Freeman described the mood of the evening.He was right. The Jazz Goddess and the audience doin' a lot of smilin' - and swayin' and clappin' and finger-snappin' - to the smooth and swingin' tunes singin' from Freeman's tenor sax.
The 68-year-old artist conceded (during a chat at break) that Friday night, "Things just didn't quite come together." But during the Saturday concert at Snowbird's intimate Cliff Lodge, "It all worked just right," he said.
The veteran saxophonist who stole the show at the 1990 Utah Jazz and Blues Festival in July returned to Utah playing with soul, technical precision and gutsy improvisation.
"Playin' great jazz is about playin' what you feel. I wear my feelings on my sleeve through my music. I don't play the sax 'cause I want to or because I should. I play 'cause I just got to. I was born to play the sax," he said.
At age 3, Freeman created his first "sax" when he took the horn off his father's old Victrola (that played old 78s of Louis Armstrong), punched a few holes in it, made a mouthpiece and blew. After that, his exasperated father bought him his first sax.
Freeman's seemingly innate talent was brightly exhibited Saturday as Freeman charmed the Utah crowd with an impressive range of top-notch jazz, ranging from ballads, to blues and hip be-bop.
"I blow from my stomach. Most guys blow from their necks," he said, explaining his unique style. Watching his fingers slide up and down his sax with ease, his whole body swing with the rhythm and his tireless blowing of his heart and soul into his music was sheer pleasure.
In Chicago, Freeman has a reputation as the "jam master" for his sessions that last until the wee hours of the morning. His energy was contagious as he urged the audience to "loosen up and feel good." He skillfully used his wit and knack for storytelling to develop a rapid rapport with the Utah crowd.
The white mountain backdrop mirrored through the Cliff Lodge windows provided quite a contrast to the dark, smoke-filled clubs he "jams in" at home. Freeman praised the beauty of Snowbird and the enthusiastic reception he received - even though he teased he wasn't used to seeing his audience or hearing his music so clearly.
The crowd coaxed Freeman to sing some of his blues.
In a deep and raspy voice that reflects a lot of living, Freeman sang:
"Don't nobody love me but mama,
I swear I know that's true
But mama might be jivin' too. Oh yeahhhhhh."
He told the crowd about his recent performance at Lincoln Center. "New York critics have the power the ruin careers," he said. "If they don't feel your music, they're severe." But Freeman and his long-time piano accompanist "Young" John Young received glowing reviews, he reported with a wide smile.
Obviously a talented improviser, Freeman played with two Utah artists - Mark Chaney on drums and Jim Stout - as though they had toured for years together. Freeman graciously shared the spotlight, stepping back to listen as each artist played rollicking solos.
Saturday night was an engaging escape from earthly worries (Iraq?? Recession??) into a world of sassy jazz with an gifted artist and new friend to many Utah fans.