Bud Freeman wanted to be a Shakespearean actor, instead he became one of the first great innovators on tenor sax. He was a top soloist in swing bands led by Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey, but Freeman was happiest leading his own smaller, hot jazz bands. Listen to recordings of Bud Freeman playing his complex, uptempo compositions like “The Eel” and you can hardly believe he had little formal musical training. Except for a few basic lessons when he was a kid, his music education consisted of “total immersion” in live jazz performances. Bud Freeman grew up in the golden age of Chicago-style jazz. It was the early 20s and Freeman fell in with a group of jazz-crazed high school students known as the Austin High Gang. A number of them developed into key stylists of Chicago jazz—and one became an icon of the Swing Era. There was cornetist Jimmy McPartland, pianist Joe Sullivan, guitarist Eddie Condon, Frank Teschemacher on alto sax, and a very young Benny Goodman on clarinet.
In 1923 New Orleans jazz masters King Oliver and Louis Armstrong ignited a musical revolution in clubs and dance halls on the Windy City’s South Side. Bud Freeman and his friends from Austin High spent their weekends absorbing the style and swing of Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band at a ballroom called the Lincoln Gardens. Freeman later said of Oliver’s band, "There was nothing else like it on earth. If you couldn’t dance, it made you dance. We knew we were hearing the real thing."
On this edition of Riverwalk Jazz, San Francisco Bay Area actor Jesse Caldwell joins The Jim Cullum Jazz Band to tell Bud Freeman's story with scenes from his book Crazeology: The Autobiography of a Chicago Jazzman. Also featured on the broadcast in live performances recorded at The Landing in 2001 is tenor saxophonist and Cullum band member Brian Ogilvie.
Photo credit for home page: Bud Freeman © William P. Gottlieb courtesy jazzphotos.com
Text based on Riverwalk Jazz script by Margaret Moos Pick ©2006