Everybody Say Yeah!
(Southport Records)


Back in 2019 Chicago-based Southport Records turned jazz-heads around with the album George The Bomb! by jazz-guitar legend George Freeman. Why George’s name isn’t better well-known among post-modern bop-jazz guitar enthusiasts is a mystery, considering that in his 95 years he’s played with some of the greatest jazz legends of the 20th Century. Born in 1927, George has outlived many of the contemporaries he recorded with and performed alongside, including Charlie Parker, Richard “Groove” Holmes, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan to name just a few. Hats off to Chicago-based Southport Records and to Southport masterminds Joanie Pallatto and Bradley Parker-Sparrow for releasing a selection of solo albums by George Freeman since he joined the label as an artist back in the 1990s. 

In celebration of George Freeman’s 95th birthday on April 10th 2022, Southport released a compilation featuring some of George Freeman’s finest tracks entitled Everybody Say Yeah! A number of artists take part in backing George’s guitar sound on the 14-track, 79-minute album, including Freeman family members Chico Freeman, George’s nephew on soprano and tenor sax, Von Freeman, George’s brother on tenor sax and piano, Billy Branch on harmonica and many other fine musicians. Even with the album showcasing so many gifted musicians, the main focus of Everybody Say Yeah! is on George with his guitar sound front and center.

Everybody Say Yeah! features mostly instrumental jazz and fusion tracks composed by George, although track five, a spellbinding 10-minute, previously unreleased 1999 cover of the George Gershwin classic “Summertime” features vocalist Joanie Pallatto, here backing George on the album’s lone vocal cut. Harry Warren’s “There Will Never Be Another You”, from 1995, features George together with brother Von on piano while another unreleased track, Dizzy Gillespie’s “Manteca” is from 1999. Another highlight on Everybody Say Yeah! is a 2022 new version of George’s track “Perfume”, here re-recorded in November 2021 as a duet between George and fellow guitarist Mike Allemana.

Although George Freeman has released and appeared on a number of albums, including his own releases, over the past 52 years, Everybody Say Yeah! draws solely on modern era tracks released on albums by Southport Records, including Rebellion (1995), George Burns (1999), All In The Family (2015) and of course 2019’s George The Bomb!

Those that are new to the George Freeman guitar phenomenon will be impressed by the diversity of sounds and styles on Everybody Say Yeah! You can also go back to his early 1970s funk-jazz albums on Delmark and Groove Merchant yet, for an overview of George Freeman’s latter day works from 1995 onward, Everybody Say Yeah! is the way to go. As this excellent compilation points out, George Freeman remains one of the essential guitar heroes of post-war jazz and now as then, his music is still worth hearing decades later. Jazz buffs and instro-jazz guitar watchers can’t go wrong by picking up a CD of George Freeman’s Everybody Say Yeah! presents an interview with
Joanie Pallatto Speaks To George Freeman about Everybody Say Yeah!

mwe3: Joanie, tell us how and when you met George Freeman and when you discovered his music and what is his significance to you and Southport Records? I realize it’s history with lots of details and George is 95 this coming April. When did you first hear George and his music and what does his legacy mean to the Chicago music scene and the jazz and guitar world overall and are you familiar with his early albums?

Joanie Pallatto: I met George through his brother, the late, great tenor saxophonist Von Freeman. Of course, I knew about the legacy of the Freeman family. We had recorded a date with Von in 1989 and released the CD Von Freeman "Walkin' Tuff!" A few years later, I asked Von if he'd record again with us, and he remarked "Oh, no, it's George's turn!" Sparrow and I both agreed that it would be a great opportunity for Southport Records to have George Freeman in our catalog. We had a production meeting about the musicians to record with George, and I asked Von who would be on piano. Von's reply was simply, "Me!" We were actually surprised and hadn't realized that Von played piano. Von's playing on the recording was the perfect foil to play alongside his brother. That recording date in 1995 became the CD George Freeman "Rebellion" which was a group of carefully chosen standards that George loved.

The group was rounded out with the late, great Penny Pendleton on acoustic bass and Michael Raynor on drums, who had been playing a lot in the clubs with Von at the time. I remember when George came into the studio, he said to me "Joanie, make me loud! So many times on a record I felt that my sound wasn't brought out. Make me loud!" For some reason, Sparrow and I decided to record live, direct to digital on a Panasonic 3700 DAT machine. The tracks were then transferred to the ATR 102 1/2" analog machine. No "fixes", no overdubs, just straight up live recording. Thinking back, we were probably crazy to do it that way, but the recording has a really immediate and live feeling.

George Freeman has been making great music his entire life. Growing up in a household full of music, from his father, a policeman who had a grand piano that George used to hide under, waiting for Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller to stop by and play in the parlor, to his mother, herself a guitarist and Gospel singer, George developed and forged his own unique sound on the electric guitar. Growing up with his eldest brother Eldridge (known as Bruz) on drums and middle brother Von on the tenor sax, George Freeman was destined to become what he is today, a true Jazz Legend.

mwe3: Several members of the Freeman family appear on Southport’s 2022. CD by George called Everybody Say Yeah! Tell us about your friendship with the Freeman family and what Freeman family members play on Everybody Say Yeah! A number of other musicians play on Everybody Say Yeah! including guitarist Mike Allemana. Tell us about some of the other musicians on Everybody Say Yeah!

Joanie Pallatto: Sparrow and I have a deep love and respect for all the Freemans. We had the chance to meet Bruz many years ago and regret that we were never able to record him. We did have a fun time with Bruz, and brought him to the studio that day. George tells stories of many Chicago club dates where the three brothers played together- Von, Bruz and George. During the creation of the new CD, Everybody Say Yeah! we got a chance to really get to know Mark Freeman. Mark is Von's son, and George's nephew. He jumped right in and worked as a kind of musical liaison between George, Sparrow and I.

George had definite ideas of what songs he wanted to include in this compilation that became The BEST of Southport – Remastered plus a new recording and unreleased tracks.
The new recording date was November 8, 2021. George had planned to play solo, and I suggested that we lay down some solo tracks, and also invite his friend and fine guitarist Mike Allemana to the session and try some duets. Mike has been a great supporter of Von thought the years, in fact, he wrote his doctoral dissertation on Von Freeman and just released a CD, Vonology. When Von passed, Mike took the reigns and started working with George non-stop. Their recording of "Perfume" is on the CD. We included a quote from Howard Reich that ran in a 2019 Chicago Tribune review: "Freeman toned everything down with his ballad, 'Perfume,' a testament to the poetry he's capable of. Beyond the lyric beauty of the song itself, Freeman caressed its motifs as only a very seasoned musician could, the feathery quality of his tone matched by the tenderness of his phrasing."

So many of Chicago finest musicians recorded with George on his four Southport CDs that can be heard on Everybody Say Yeah!

Mike Allemana, electric guitar;
Ruben Alvarez, congas and timbales;
Tatsu Aoki, acoustic bass;
Harrison Bankhead, acoustic bass;
Billy Branch, harmonica;
Kirk Brown, piano;
John Devlin, electric bass and accordion;
Hamid Drake, drums;
Luiz Ewerling, drums and percussion;
Chico Freeman, tenor sax and soprano sax;
Von Freeman, tenor sax and piano;
Lou Gregory, piano;
Joe Jenkins, drums;
Joanie Pallatto, vocal;
Penny Pendleton, acoustic bass;
Alejo Poveda, drums;
Michael Raynor, drums;
Phil Thomas, drums;
Eldee Young, acoustic bass.

mwe3: How many George Freeman albums has Southport Records released, when was the first one recorded and released and how many albums are represented on the release of Everybody Say Yeah!?

Joanie Pallatto: We have four CDs in our Southport Catalog with George Freeman on Electric Guitar as a Leader. Everybody Say Yeah! is a compilation of all four CDs, the newly recorded "Perfume", two unreleased tracks from 1999 ("Summertime" and "Manteca") and three tracks from George Still Burns (Groove Colors Records 2000), licensed tracks from Southport. Rebellion with Von Freeman, Penny Pendleton, Michael Raynor (S-SSD 0027-1995) George Burns! with Eldee Young, Von Freeman, Phil Thomas, Lou Gregory (S-SSD 0057 1999) All In The Family with Chico Freeman, Harrison Bankhead, Hamid Drake (S-SSD 0143 2015) and George The Bomb! with Billy Branch, John Devlin, Luiz Ewerling and Joanie Pallatto (S-SSD 0148 2019)

mwe3: A standout track on Everybody Say Yeah! is the album’s only vocal track “Summertime” which features your vocals backing up George’s guitar. Tell us something about recording “Summertime” with George. The album notes say it was recorded in 1999. What can you tell us about that session and who else plays on “Summertime”?

Joanie Pallatto: We had released George Burns! in 1999 (one of Sparrow's best titles!) The rhythm section was the late, GREAT Eldee Young on acoustic bass, Phil Thomas on drums, Lou Gregory on piano, with special guests Von Freeman on tenor sax, the late amazing vocalist Ron Cooper, myself on vocals and a fun track with Sparrow, "Tee Hee."

During that time, bassist Tatsu Aoki was playing tons of live dates with George and he was approached by a label in Japan, Groove Colors Records/Music Camp, Inc. They wanted to license several of the tracks from George Burns and have George record more Latin songs. We set up a session with Tatsu Aoki on acoustic bass, and the fantastic rhythm duo of Alejo Poveda on drums and Ruben Alvarez on timbales and congas.

George and I had been playing gigs around Chicago during that time and had developed an arrangement of "Summertime" so it evolved into the recording on that session. "Summertime" was not released, and last summer (2021) I burned a CD for George of all the songs we had recorded on that session. He went crazy for "Summertime" and thought it should be on a record. He couldn't believe it had never been released. That's really how the concept of Everybody Say Yeah! got started. I just love it!

mwe3: How would you describe George’s guitar style and sound as well as his approach to recording? It seems to be instrumental music but there are various elements in play in his music as well. Is it a kind of a composite of jazz, funk, smooth jazz and various instrumental genres.

Joanie Pallatto: George Freeman is jazz and bebop to the core! You can always hear the concept of jazz throughout his playing. He loves to get down and funky with rhythm, the blues are in there, but always through the lens of jazz. George can also challenge the listener to an avant-garde approach with his wild and far reaching solos. Within an ensemble, comping is essential to George because it supports the soloist by driving and propelling the music, whether it's a ballad or a groove. The mark of a true artist is their own unique sound. No guitarist sounds like George Freeman. His tone is all his own.

mwe3: Now that George is turning 95 in April, is he in a reflective mood? Can he offer any reflections about his long time career in music, how he feels about Everybody Say Yeah! and how he feels the album encapsulates his music from the past 25 years or so? It’s so rare musicians get to have such a lengthy career but he has really lived up to his legacy in style.

Joanie Pallatto: I will ask George this question.

George Freeman: "I feel great! It's a long time coming, but I'm looking forward to other things happening. Marshall Allen, Sun Ra's player is 98 and he's alive as you can possibly get. He's amazing. What he's doing is so interesting. He's still walking around like a young man and directing the band and playing his horn. What more could you ask for than that? It's inspiring."

mwe3: Can you tell us about the guitars George plays on Everybody Say Yeah! and some of his favorite guitars in his collection? Who are some of his favorite guitar players over the years? Was he influenced by Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell and even some of the other guitar greats like Jimi Hendrix?

Joanie Pallatto: I can tell you that George Freeman has been playing with a very unusual variety of guitar picks since I've know him. He's likely to choose a metal dresser drawer handle. He says it helps him dig in to the strings, and I think it's part of his tone.

Of course George loves all the iconic guitar players throughout history! When he was so young he couldn't even get into the clubs on Chicago's South Side, he would hang outside to hear the music. He sneaked a peek on the stage and saw T Bone Walker playing the guitar behind his neck, and was amazed. That moment may have defined his life in music! He was also blown away years later when he went to a jazz club in New York with Gene Ammons and heard Sonny Sharrock go OUT. He told me that inspired him to play free and to mix jazz with soul and rock. I will ask George this question, he has more to say:

George Freeman: The first guitar player I saw was T Bone Walker playing on the stage behind his neck. I was a just a kid. There was one guitar player I saw in New York, Sonny Sharrock, and he was the first one I heard go OUT. I thought, what in the hell is that? His approach influenced me, not his playing per se. I didn't have any favorite guitar players; I love them all.

My favorites were horn players, I was interested in Charlie Parker, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, and my brother Von Freeman. They all influenced my playing. I went a different route. They skyrocketed me and they still do. John Coltrane, we were good friends. Bebop has been my answer. I came up with all the Cats - Dizzy, Bird. I wasn't even interested in guitar players.

My brother Bruz brought home Benny Goodman records and I heard Charlie Christian. My daddy brought the first Bird record home. I heard bebop and it turned me completely around. I'm still turned around by it.

Bruz was the main one that told me about the STORY that's being told. He hipped me to that. He told me you got to listen to what they're saying. You're going to the bridge, the last 8... listen!
Mother took me to church and the next thing I knew; I could feel it and I could hear it! They rhythm and the beat.

So, I have 4 or 5 guitars, they have all been important at different points in my life. The main one is the Gibson. I've had that since Richard "Groove" Holmes bought it for me in the early 1960s after we came back from L.A.

Before that I was in New York City sitting on the curb, and Grady Tate said Will Bill Davis, the organist was looking for a guitar player. Grady said go and talk to him! They were leaving for LA the next day. I didn't have a guitar, I had taken it to the pawn shop and got $15. Wild Bill Davis said don't EVER pawn your guitar, so he went and got the guitar out for me. Then we all went out and I stayed in Englewood, California for a while until I stayed with Bruz and his two kids.

mwe3: It’s a remarkable testament to George that he has lived so many years as a successful musician and recording artist. What advice would he give to old and young musicians and anyone looking to be in the music business as far as having a long and fruitful career?

Joanie Pallatto:
I will ask George that question.

George Freeman: That's so important. You got to like what you're doing. If you don't like it, how are you ever going to play it? I could hear all the different sounds, jazz and bebop, on the radio! I loved it, and swing music. Just to hear it. I still love to hear it now, to this very day. Don't copy nobody, just like what you're doing.



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