TRINITY UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
May 19th 2013
605 West Golf Road
Mount Prospect, Ill 60056
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The world of music recently lost one of its finest, in the passing of jazz guitarist Freddy Rundquist. A lyrical and melodic player, he left a long and distinguished career in the music business. Born ninety miles north of the Arctic Circle in Kiruna, Sweden on January 2, 1918, his family relocated to Chicago in the mid-1920s. Freddy passed away at age ninety-one on February 25, 2009 at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago of complications from pneumonia.
Growing up in Chicago, Rundquist started playing guitar at age seventeen and was self-taught. He was part of the music scene here for nearly seventy years, and still gigging as recently as 2007. A World War II veteran, Freddy played in the U.S. Air Force band at Scott Field in Belleville, Illinois. While stationed there he was in the same unit as Henry Mancini, who Fred said was a nice mellow guy always writing charts.
A highly respected and consummate musician, Freddy backed up some of the most famous names in show business, such as Judy Garland, Perry Como, Peggy Lee, Danny Kaye, Vaughan Monroe, Eddy Arnold, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Nancy Wilson, Frank Sinatra, and Mel Torme. In the early years Freddy played not only guitar but also violin and sang as well, usually in harmony with the other group members. There were many clubs in Chicago, all with live music, and Freddy played his share of joints.
Also, in the 1940s Freddy was part of a popular trio called We Three, which consisted of either Hank Debrow or Vic Pauloff on accordion, and either Eddy Stapleton or Lenny Miller on bass. Going back to 1934 while teenagers attending Amundsen Junios High School, Freddy and Art Van Damme met for the first time, living only blocks apart in the Ravenswood neighborhood. Years later, in 1944, Art started working at NBC. Freddy joined NBC around 1948 and started playing with Art, replacing guitarist Claude Sheiner, and began a lifelong friendship and association with the great Art Van Damme Quintet.
One of the many shows the quintet backed up was The Bob and Kay Show, Bob Murphy and Kay Westfall, in the mornings, five days a week. The group consisted of Art (accordion), Freddy Rundquist (guitar), Chuck Calzaretta (vibes), Lou Skalinder (bass), and Max Mariash (drums). This popular dynamic group toured all over the U.S. and much of Europe, South America, and New Zealand making countless recordings on Columbia also German labels Saba and MPS.
From the late 1940s through the sixties, Freddy was on staff at NBC for eight years and CBS for six years, playing behind many of the stars that came through town. While on staff at WBBM, Freddy played in the radio band called The Skynoters, made up of leader and accordionist Sam Porfirio, reedman Lenny Druss, vibrophonist Chuck Calzaretta, harpist Russ Grandall, trumpeter Dick Judson, bassist Herb Knapp, drummer Max Mariash, and of course Freddy Rundquist on guitar. Between WBBM AM and FM, news, music, and interview shows ran nearly round the clock, with a staff too big to entirely mention. Some of Freddy’s co-workers at the station were Joe Vito, Don Orlando, Joe Rumoro, Porky Panico, Warren Kime, Kenny Soderblom, Carole March, and Hank Mitchell.
Aside from the posh downtown venues like The Empire Room and College Inn, there were many gigs Freddy played years ago at neighborhood places such as Helsing’s Vod Ville Lounge at Montrose and Broadway, the Sutherland Lounge, at 47th and Drexel, the Argyle Lounge at Argyle and Broadway, the Crown Propeller on East 63rd Street, and the Club Silhouette on Howard Street by the El, where he played opposite well known comedian-musician George Gobel.
As a band member in party scenes, Freddy appeared in two motion pictures, Stop Your Killing Me with Broderick Crawford and Judy Holliday (1953), and Against the Mob filmed in Chicago in 1990. Freddy also appeared on nationwide TV with The Art Van Damme Quintet, on The Mike Douglas Show in 1967.
In the 1970s Freddy played a number of gigs at Rick’s Café American with the Art Van Damme Group, then consisting of Art, Frank Winkler (vibes), Jim Atlas (bass), Jerry Coleman (drums), and Freddy on guitar. In the 1980s there were a few Chicago Jazz Festivals. A couple that come to mind: one with Freddy with Eddie Johnson, Eric Schneider, John Bany, and Bob Cousins; and another with the Norm Murphy Group.
After so many years in the business there’s hardly a musician in Chicago that hasn’t worked with Freddy and enjoyed his musicianship and dry sense of humor. Freddy could not only swing with a group, but was also proficient at playing solo guitar, especially ballads, and with his smooth accompaniment was a favorite among singers. He worked and recorded with vocalists like Dinah Shore, Helen Merrill, Jeri Southern, Jo Stafford, and was the guitarist on the well known recording “At Last,” by Etta James.
Over the years Freddy performed with jazz musicians including Louis Armstrong, Ira Sullivan, Marion and Jimmy McPartland, Benny Goodman, Gerry Mulligan, Page Cavanaugh, and Johnny Pate. Other notable gigs Freddy was proud of were with fellow guitarists Tony Mottola on The Perry Como Show and Hank Garland on The Eddy Arnold Show; and concerts including the music of Duke Ellington, conducted by Gunther Schuller, and another with the Geoffrey Ballet. The great Judy Garland was so touched by Freddy’s guitar playing she had him take a bow in front of a huge crowd at the Civic Opera House.
When it comes to guitar players, Freddy was good friends with and had the respect of his peers; people like Joe Pass, Tal Farlow, Barney Kessel, John Collins, Mundell Lowe, Howard Roberts, Bucky Pizzarelli, Barry Galbraith, Jimmy Raney, Joe Diorio, Johnny Smith, Herb Ellis, George Barnes, Wayne Wright and Les Paul. He also admired the playing of the late “Bobby Roberts”, and “Johnny Gray” whose fat chords could sound like a whole section, said Fred.
The warm hospitality of the Rundquist home on Wilson Avenue would very often find the guitar greats sitting around jamming and munching on Swedish coffee-cake, or sipping on homemade Swedish glögg at Christmas time. There were many good times there with friends and traveling musicians alike. Freddy’s mother, Ida, and brother, Carl, made it seem just like home.
With a lifelong list of credits and recordings to his name, Freddy was a modest man who never boasted about his accomplishments, he was a down to earth guy, and a gentle giant. He often helped friends, and selflessly gave gigs to his fellow guitarists and others whenever possible. A thoughtful guy.
Never forgetting his roots, he remained active in the Swedish community performing regularly at the Swedish Museum in Andersonville with one of his favorite accordionists and friend, Mike Alongi. He was also a member of two Swedish Fraternal Organizations, the Independent Order of Svithiod Verdandi Lodge #3, and the Vasa Order of American Kronan Lodge #179, and was also a member of the Royal Order of Moose, in Morton Grove (Lodge # 376).
Art Van Damme, who called Freddy “Knute,” also nicknamed him “The Swedish Angel” because of his elegant touch and warm tone. Freddy Rundquist will be missed by musicians and friends in Chicago and around the world, for his generous, charming personality and unique sense of humor, to say nothing of his beautiful and tasteful guitar playing.
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