George Freeman – New Improved Funk

George Freeman – New Improved Funk from the Groove Merchant 45

Since I started off the week with an unsung guitar player, why not keep the topic going and turn to another great one. This cat has shown up in dusty boxes of old 45s, been reissued several times, and since I turned up another copy of it this past week, I figured I’d do an impromptu theme. Now Larry over at Funky 16 Corners is the King of theme post and podcasts, but I’ll do my best to put one out this week. Here’s a short one for midweek, George Freeman with “New Improved Funk” on Groove Merchant Records from 1972.

Born in Chicago, Freeman was brought into this world to a musical family. His father was a policeman, who would walk the Chicago beat near the Grand Terrace. Coincidentally, he was also an inspiring pianist and singer. Freeman remarks that his father had a Majestic radio on all the time, which opened his eyes and ears to the great range of music as much as 8 or more hours a day, sometimes causing him and his brothers to be dragging the next day at school. With his father being so close to the clubs on his beat, he would meet and mingle with Jazz greats such as Earl Hines, Fats Waller, who would all come over to the house and play. It reminds me of the Soul Tornadoes, how the organ greats would all be eating, drinking and playing music in the family household when they came to town, right along side the kids. Of course these kids would grow up to become geniuses. a similar situation. His mother and grandmother were guitar players, his brother Von played tenor saxophone, and eldest brother Bruss played drums. Influenced personally by musicians like T-Bone Walker, the first guitar player he ever heard and saw play live, (where women were throwing money at him on the stage and Walker played the guitar behind his neck) and Charlie Christian, Freeman knew where he wanted to go as a musician. Freeman approached band director Walter Dyett in high school, and his career as a guitar player began. Later on, he and his brothers would go on to back Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie when they came to town. In 1947, he would travel to New York City, the Mecca of Jazz and Jazz culture at the time, to play. He’d rub elbows with Diz and Bird of course, but also Miles Davis, and would be blown away by guys like Max Roach and the rotating musicians who would play til dawn at the Savoy and all around 52nd Street. Freeman has written music for Groove Holmes and Gene Ammons (He’d write the hit “Black Cat” for Jug, which was the first time Ammons would chart. Originally titled something else, the record company chose Black Cat due to Ammons’ bad luck). As a sideman, he’s backed greats Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, Diana Washington, Billie Holiday, and Etta Jones. Freeman has released sides on Delmark, Birth Sign, (reissued by Ubiquity in recent years), Groove Merchant, New Improved Funk, Man and Woman, and LRC, All in the Game, before retreating back to Chicago until the mid 90’s, where he’d start releasing records again.

This side is a little bit of Soul Jazz, a little bit Funk . Produced by Sonny Lester, he’d assemble a great cast with Freeman to produce some of the more funkier stuff he’d put out. With Bobby Blevins on organ, his brother Von on tenor sax, and Marion Booker on drums, Freeman is the last piece of this mixed bag of styles of a side. His Jazz background is evident and George and company fuse genres and lay down a short, but smoking track. Another unsung Jazz guitarist of our time here people. I hope you dug some cool Chicago funky Soul Jazz for your midweek fix. Keep Diggin’!

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