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REVIEW | George Freeman's "The Good Life"

George Freeman The Good Life

High Note, 2023

By Jeff Cebulski | ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

The most remarkable thing, to me, about the Freeman brothers, saxophonist Von and guitarist George, is how smoothly they moved through the varying stages of jazz, starting with bop, advancing into post bop, gliding through soul jazz (especially George), and holding their own as they influenced several generations of musicians. We lost Vonski in 2012, but George prevails, now at 96-plus.

A new album, The Good Life, is the result of an opportunity for an aging, beloved figure to play with contemporary jazz greats. Recorded in Freeman’s 95th year, the collection has its own joy and bittersweetness, being maybe the last time we’ll hear Joey DeFrancesco on record, in three cuts including the famed drummer Lewis Nash. On the other four, the elder stateman plays with jazz ambassador bassist Christian McBride and veteran drummer Carl Allen.

The album begins with the classic “If I Had You,” a leisurely, lengthy but still impressive stroll with DeFrancesco mildly comping Freeman, who still has plenty to say. George’s own tribute to the late great keyboardist, “Mr. D,” follows, slowly amping up the Blues, as Joey gets a chance to express himself in tandem. The third effort, “Up and Down,” kicks with more bop flavor; Nash’s impressive drive initiates Mr. D’s spirited response before George more than adequately answers back. In his solo I hear vestiges of the stuff Freeman was producing when he was playing with Charlie Parker at the Pershing.

It’s really too bad we can’t hear George and Mr. D pair up again.

The next trio’s contributions begin with a sultry-for-an-old-guy blues, “Lowe Groovin’.” McBride’s woody, tasteful support boosts Freeman’s direct expression that glides smoothly into a richly toned McBride solo that never steps too hard. “1, 2, 3, 4” marches into form, New Orleans-style. McBride’s beat is impeccable, and Freeman is free to dance as he pleases. “Sister Tankersley” is a deep gospel blues tribute to George’s mother, who also lived to a ripe old age. Again, McBride’s bass sings behind the sharp fingering of a mother’s son. The finale is the title cut, one of only two covers played, among Freeman’s compositions. Hearing it following the death of Tony Bennett gives the album a greater resonance, a poignant ballad with exquisite Freeman picking, the guitar being George’s own voice in the ongoing conversation. A third of the way in, McBride picks up the pace and Freeman responds nicely, as if stating “I’m not through yet!”

Indeed, he is not.

I ended the listening of The Good Life with the thought that if one were to live that long, living in the style of George Freeman and his music wouldn’t be bad at all. Thanks to many friends and fans for asking HighNote’s producers to give us one more reason to enjoy George Freeman’s existence.

Freeman and his nephew Chico, with the Chico Freeman 100, will be featured performers on night one of the 2023 Chicago Jazz Festival at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennial Park, Thursday, Aug. 31, at 6:30 p.m.

George Freeman, The Good Life. HighNote, 2023

George Freeman, guitar

Joey DeFrancesco, organ

Lewis Nash, drums

Christian McBride, bass

Carl Allen, drums


About Jeff Cebulski

Jeff Cebulski, who lives in Chicago, is a retired English educator (both secondary and collegiate) and longtime jazz aficionado. His career in jazz includes radio programs at two stations in southeast Wisconsin, an online show on Kennesaw State’s (GA) Owl Radio from 2007 until 2015, and review/feature writing for Chicago Jazz Magazine since 2016, including his column "Jazz With Mr. C". He has interviewed many jazz artists, including Joshua Redman, Charles Lloyd, Dave Holland, John Beasley, and Chris Brubeck, as well as several Chicago-based players. Jeff is a member of the Jazz Journalists Association. Contact Jeff at


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