Remembering Vonski

ImageLast week the jazz world lost a mystical force on the horn, Von Freeman, a serious unsung hero of the music and school of tenors. The 2012 NEA Inducted Jazz Master hails from Chicago and came up in the last real school of legendary Chicagoan saxophonists like Clifford Jordan, Gene Ammons, and Johnny Griffin. Although he really never left his Chicago roots and got the notoriety like many of his contemporaries, Von lived his long and illustrious career drug and alcohol-free throughout his life, and was a major staple on the Chicago music scene.

Earle Lavon Freeman was born on October 3, 1923 in Chicago, Illinois. His father, George Freeman, was a police officer and was dear friends with the legendary Louis Armstrong. He and his brothers were exposed and played jazz music growing up as kids. While he was barely in this teens, Von took up the saxophone. His parents allowed to play bars and clubs under the strict guidelines of roles enforced to keep Von focused and out of trouble. Von’s first professional job was playing in the famed Horace Henderson Orchestra. Upon graduating from DuSable High School in Chicago, he enlisted in the Navy and played in their jazz band. Soon after he was discharged, Von returned to his hometown of Chicago where he became a fixture on the local scene for close to 70 years. He and his brothers played as the backing band at the famous Pershing Hotel Ballroom playing with the likes Dinah Washington, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and a slew of jazz legends.Von even played in bandleader Sun Ra’s band before he moved to New York City and made a name for himself.

The Chicago Tribune once wrote of his playing style as “For technical brilliance, musical intellect, harmonic sophistication, and improvisatory freedom, Von Freeman has few bebop-era peers.” Von hails Lester Young as one of his main musical influences. “Because I loved Prez (Lester Young), but he didn’t have that power. He had a relatively soft tone, though beautiful. And Coleman Hawkins had all this power — man, he could blow. You could hear him around the block, but he didn’t have this floating thing of Prez’s. But when I heard Dave Young, he had the power and floating sound, like Lester, and that’s what I wanted to try to get.”

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For that, many outside of the Chicago have never heard of this legendary saxophonist. The reason being is that Von choose to keep in musical roots based in his hometown. After his father was killed while on duty, Von and his brothers took care of their beloved mother up until his death. He also had a family and wife to support. He made records throughout his career including “Doin’ It Right Now” produced by the saxophonist and jazz icon Roland Kirk and the landmark “Father and Sons,” which featured the musical Marsalis family and Von’s son Chico playing sax. Von also took part in fellow Chicagoan Muhal Richard Abrams Association of Creative Musicians, a non-profit organization that is still on the front-lines “nurturing, performing, and recording serious, original music.”

Von had turned down many offers to play with some the legendary musicians of his day including Miles Davis, Billy Eckstine, and Max Roach.

It was his local residency at the famed New Apartment Lounge where Von played with up-and-coming jazz musicians in the Windy City. Von played at the New Apartment Lounge and Andy’s Jazz Club right up until his death.

Von died at the age of 88 of heart failure at the Kindred Chicago Lakeshore care center on August 11, 2012.

 

The Revolution Will Be Televised,

Brian Pace

The Pace Report   

www.thepacereport.com

thepacereport@yahoo.com

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A Hairdo That’s Laughing All The Way To The Bank

ImageAs the world ended yet another stunning and competitive Summer Olympics, the swan song of the entire Olympics was on a young sista from Virginia Beach, Virginia by the name of Gabrielle Christina Victoria Douglas. This 16-year-old made history as the first person of color and woman of color of any nationality to win a gold medal in the individual all-round. Douglas along with the US woman’s gymnastic team won the team all round gold medal at this year’s 2012 Summer Olympics. Although she placed eighth in the uneven bars and seventh in beam balance, Gabby broke barriers during this year’s games as the first to win both areas of competition for team and individual events.

What is find interesting about Gabby’s story is not only her amazing journey, but the idiotic and painstaking comments from black women on her hair as she wins and makes these important strides for people of color. But, most importantly, how she and the entire US woman’s gymnastic team represented this country and the world well. I’ll address this hair thing in a second. Gabbie’s story his one of ones sacrifice and courage to win against the odds.

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Gabbie’s mother, Natalie Hawkins, chose to let her daughter move to West Des Moines, Iowa two years ago to let her train for the Olympics. At 14, Gabbie moved over 1400 miles to live with Travis and Missy Parton, a white family that took her in as one of their own, to help her focus on her goal to become an Olympic champion. Her coach is the legendary Liang Chow who trained and coached Olympic gold medalist Shawn Johnson. It was Chow who happened to be attending a gymnastics clinic in nearby Virginia Beach, Gabbie’s hometown, where he taught her some difficult techniques. Gabbie’s siblings were the ones who encouraged their Mom to send her away to train with Coach Chow. Through prayer and their profound faith in Christ, the Parton’s and Ms. Hawkins decided Des Moines was where Gabbie needed to be in order to pursue her goal in becoming a professional gymnast. 

Over time she had to adjust to being one of the few people of color in an all-white city but her persistence and dedication paid off. But on the back end of Gabbie’s high profiled success, her mother was living another nightmare. Earlier this year, Natalie Hawkins filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy. “Hawkins also lists roughly $80,000 in debts. The bulk of that is from her mortgage. Hawkins is separated from her husband and lists about $2,500 in income a month, which comes from Social Security disability benefits and child support.” Hawkins, while on disability from a medical related matter, was behind on both Gabbie’s training expenses and mortgage payments, in addition to feeding her three siblings.

As Gabbie became the world’s new athlete darling, so did the national endorsements. In a weeks time of her incredible accomplishments, Kellogg’s signed her immediately as well as Olympic sponsor Proctor and Gamble. It is now reported that Gabbie will earn an estimated $90 million dollars in endorsements after the dust settles from the Olympic hoopla.

Over the last two weeks Gabbie has shown the world what you can do at 16-years-old if you put your mind to it. But my black people, including my black women need to ashamed of themselves. Many women used social networking to post negative comments about Gabbie’s hair as she was making important strides as a person of color internationally. What really disturbs me as a black person is when we make these important strides as a race, we’re the ones that bring ourselves down! I really think the last thing Gabbie, who’s been doing cartwheels and other crazy stretches, was thinking about her appearance before and after her events! Yeah right! I want to see the women who made these crazy statements about her hair walk a mile in her shoes! Also, I wanna see these same women talk that same talk after sweating up a storm after a couple of hours like she and the rest of the gymnasts did that afternoon! All Gabbie was thinking about was representing this country and living her dream: as some envious(jealous) woman and ignorant comedians tried to destroy what they don’t have.

If anything, Gabby, like President Obama and his family, represent something the mainstream press and some black people have a hard time digesting. There are many people of color that don’t have tattoos all over their body, are well-educated, speak and dress properly, and also aspire to live out their dreams. Gabby should be something that all young Black girls should want to be instead of the foolishness that the mainstream press continues to perpetuate and denigrate Black women. Gabby and her family are laughing all the way to bank while some people are still twitting their life away with nonsense and mindless frivolous chatter. 

Congratulations Gabbie Douglas on what you’ve accomplished and the road that you’re taking to wake people of recognizing and accomplishing their own dreams.

The Revolution Will Be Televised,

Brian Pace

The Pace Report   

www.thepacereport.com

thepacereport@yahoo.com

 

Moving From The Deluxe Apartment From The Sky

ImageOn January 18, 1975 television viewers entered the world of George and Louise Jefferson “in the big deluxe apartment in the sky.” Groundbreaking producer and show creator Norman Lear was riding high with the success of All In The Family, Sanford and Son, Maude, and Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. Lear made it point to make viewers deal with the social ails and issues that were prevalent during the 1970’s. Racism, sexism, classism, and all the ‘isms’ were nothing that Lear didn’t take lightly. At the same time both Lear and Aaron Spelling owned the airwaves as well integrated the dramas and comedies that dominated the Nielsen top ten shows at the time.

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As a kid, I’d watch this show along with the CBS line-up that made for “must-see TV” with my parents every Sunday night. Shows like Alice, Trapper John M.D., M.A.S.H., and 60 Minutes are always etched in my head as family night for The Paces. As they laughed at George and Florence pull the dozens, actors Sherman Hensley, Marla Gibbs, and Isabel Sanford would make history as one of the best and beloved situation comedies of all-time. Up there with The Honeymooners, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Beverly Hillbillies, and The Cosby Show.

As I got older and began to digest and analyze the genius of creator/producer Norman Lear, The Jeffersons stick out in my mind just like All In The Family. One, George was a black bigot just like his arch-nemesis, Archie Bunker. But the show was more direct with race and class than any show that I’ve come to realize. The Jeffersons were ahead of its time and Lear for 11 season kept millions of viewers on the floor in stitches in many living rooms around the world.

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It was the first time I heard the term “nigger,” “whitey,” and “honky” used on television by a actor of color loosely on national television. For me, I heard the word used by comedian and actor Richard Pryor, but the usage was for his stand-up routine and for film. Television was a different medium and there were some restrictions on when you could use certain language during certain times of the day. Actor Sherman Hemsley along with comedian Redd Foxx used those racial epithets for the show while in character. Although George Jefferson’s role came from Harlem, New York; his working class roots moved he and wife to Queens where his role portrayed him as a hard working black man who worked up the ranks of society to provide a better life for he and his family. Basically, living the American dream. As the Jeffersons moved up the social and economic ladder, the show dealt with those issues via comedy and drama.

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One of the most important and key components on The Jeffersons were George and Louise’s best friend and neighbors, Tom and Helen Willis, played by the late Frankln Cover and Roxie Roker. The Willis’ were the first interracial married couple portrayed on national television. Although Louise and Helen were best friends, for 11 seasons the Willis were the butt of George’s mean spirited and risque jokes.It was Helen and Florence, the Jefferson’s maid(played by Marla Gibbs) that wouldn’t put up with his nonsense. 

It was the episode where Florence and Louise took a CPR class and they encountered two men that belonged to the Ku Klux Klan. Later in the show George would attend a meeting in the building with Mr. Willis and Mr. Bentley thinking it was community neighborhood watch meeting due to some recent burglaries in the building. The two men(a father and son) would later get in a altercation with both Mr. Willis and Mr. Jefferson about white supremacy rhetoric he was preaching. As the bigot kept on his racist spew, he goes into cardiac arrest and George gives the man CPR. As the bigot is laid out on the stretcher and is about to be wheeled out, the man’s son told him “dad, the paramedics said if Mr. Jefferson hadn’t given you CPR you wouldn’t have made it!” The man looks at his son and says: “He saved my life? You should’ve let me die!”

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Another episode that I vividly remember is when George flashes back to 1968 when he applying for a business loan to start his dry cleaning business while still living in Harlem. This happened to also be the same day that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. The loan officer, who happened to be white, paid Mr. Jefferson a visit. The loan officer was a bigot and took to making offensive remarks. “That’s surprising,” the banker said, when he refers to George and Louise having one son. “Don’t most colored people have large families?” George replies, “Well, I guess not, or then we wouldn’t be called a minority!” 

It was that crass and in your face comedy that made The Jeffersons a staple for most black viewers for 11 seasons. Norman Lear made his situation comedy relevant at a time when he also pushed the social boundaries that made people think about what and who they are in society. Lear also made you think about race as it pertains to class and how it related to the very people you talk to everyday. He made it clear that everyone; black, white, Jewish, Baptist, or Catholic has some kind if George and Archie in them. In some form or another, everyone is and can be a racist.

As we take time to reflect on the work of the late Sherman Hemsley who passed away last week and Norman Lear who turned 90 last week, both men made the world take a look at racism and class in both a sarcastic and realistic way in which made our social inconsistencies consistent through laughter.

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The Revolution Will Be Televised,

Brian Pace

The Pace Report   

www.thepacereport.com

thepacereport@yahoo.com