If you're coming from downtown Chicago, the ride to the "Southside" seems a million miles away. As I made my way there by Highway 90 and 94 all I could do was anticipate seeing the icon, the true great one, a legend in time, one who had performed the Jazz scene before I was born, a man who had more Jazz in his finger tip than I had in my ardent soul. Why? Because that man is the MAN! Saxophonist, Von Freeman had been around for decades. He had played with some of the best. Von had breathed, walked, talked, and lived Jazz.
Von's son Chico Freeman was also a great Jazz musician. He's saxophone player like his Dad.
But, Von Freeman created Chico and not the other way around. I had the distinct feeling that I was about to experience history in the making.
Ah!!! Finally!!! We turned on the street of the home of the Apartment Lounge. The taxi driver said, "Where is it"? He was looking around with a perplexed gaze. I spotted it and exclaimed, "There it is! I pointed excitedly to the left side of the street to a small building with a couple of guys standing out front shooting the breeze on a warm summer night. The driver looked and said, "Okay, Okay...Have a good time" and I hopped out the car.
Once inside it’s as though you entered another decade on time. The Apartment Lounge on the Southside of Chicago looks like a bar in an apartment building. The bar and seating area is located in the front of the entrance to the club. There are a couple of small tables across from the bar and a separate room where card games, billiards, and conversation occur. I passed the stage area and stepped up to the bar to ask the prize question - "Is Von Freeman here tonight"? A courteous woman serving a drink to a gentleman said with a smile, "He’ll be here at 10:30 honey, can I get you a drink?"
I sat on one of the stools; I noticed the atmosphere couldn't have been more relaxed. The only thing missing was a couch and lounge chair. Since there wasn't any music yet, there was a television on blaring local news. A gentleman and the friendly bartender chatted in reference to the local news. I talked with another patron as we eagerly awaited Mr. Freeman's entrance. Most of the band was from The University of Chicago, eager Jazz apprentices of Von with energy levels that matched the most devoted veteran.
Bassist - Matt Fergerson
Drummer - Mike Rainer
Guitarist - Mike Allemena
Von comes in the door, sort of shuffling his feet casually with a determined look in his eye.He greets everyone with familiarity an starts to assemble his horn, fingering the keys and blowing into it once or twice then frowns. He asks the bartender in a polite voice for some water and pours some from the cup into a section of the horn! I look amazed as I've never seen such an approach. "Wow" mutters the lady on the stool next to me. "Yeah"...I respond at a lost for words. I had never seen anyone clean the pads or the horn in that manner.
After baptizing the horn, Von plays a little, chord, scale or something to warm up the horn. The Sax was suddenly repaired by the expert Octagon musician. Von would then proceed to play his horn with chops like you have never experienced. He nearly knocked us off our stools with stamina, grace, ingenuity and passion.
"Ain't Misbehavin" was the first tune and a very loving "Embraceable You" was next.
Von and his quartet moved into there own very pulsating version of "Bebop"
A really grooving piece called, "Ski-Wee". The Bebop infused "A Night in Tunisia".
Von's rhythm section had ample opportunity to strut their stuff and that's exactly what they did on individual soloing as well as amalgamating as one with Von.
Listening to the ferocity of the horn, earnestness of the drums, deliberateness of the guitar and rhythmic pulse of the bass at 75th Street on the Southside allowed me to dream and imagine I was in a time of the 1930's or 30's when the air was alive with live Jazz from corner to corner.
"Vonski" as some of the locals affectionately call him took us to a harmonic heaven.
The band with him took us back in time with each captivating tune.
A vocalist known as "The Electric Lady" from the neighborhood stopped by to share shock waves by way of her chops for the crowd with A Billie Holiday favorite, "Pennies from Heaven". She also brought the house down with "Love for Sale".
Tuesday night at Apartment Lounge is dedicated to the preservation of unfiltered and untainted Jazz that includes straight ahead at the highest level, succulent standards, and ballads. It's better than Chicago Pizza and more desirable than the best chocolate.
If I could dive in every Tuesday I would immersing myself in the warmth, soul, and richness of the wonderful Jazz coming from Vonski's horn, Mike's ferocious yet delicious drumming, Mike's sweet and musically sensitive strumming on guitar, and Matt's alluring and blues-felt bass work. The combination was euphoric. Each musician individually expressed musicality, brilliance, humility, oneness, and passionate commitment to the art form of Jazz and their individual instrument.
The Apartment is a treat not to miss if you're in Chicago. If you're a local...head over there every week!!! You won't ever regret it.
The crowd is diverse, engaging, and kindred spirits for serious straight ahead lovers.
The New Apartment Lounge is located on the Southside at 504 E. 75th St., Chicago, Il.