Editor’s Note: Hardcore jazz as a musical way of life

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Dave Matthews, John D’earth, and Carter Beauford met at Miller’s and have collaborated on different projects over the years. D’earth got his start arranging orchestral music when Matthews tapped him for a series of his performances with the Richmond Symphony. Photo courtesy John D'earth. Dave Matthews, John D’earth, and Carter Beauford met at Miller’s and have collaborated on different projects over the years. D’earth got his start arranging orchestral music when Matthews tapped him for a series of his performances with the Richmond Symphony. Photo courtesy John D'earth.

I discovered my love of jazz music at a club called the New Apartment Lounge on Chicago’s South Side, where tenor saxophonist Von Freeman held down a Tuesday night residency with his band for decades. A hard-drinking man who had played alongside the likes of Charlie Parker, Roy Eldridge, and Dizzy Gillespie, Freeman was a proponent of what he called “hardcore jazz,” an art he practiced until his death last year at age 88.

If you saw Freeman play, you got the sense of what he meant by hardcore jazz. He had that no nonsense, no nice guy approach to his band—saner than Thelonious Monk and looser than Wynton Marsalis, but still running through so many backup musicians that only the most rigorous and attentive music school kids could gig with him. He also drank vodka straight out of a tall glass during pauses, when he’d survey the room, his eye resting on individuals. Freeman didn’t expend much energy touring or recording, preferring to treat his residencies on Monday and Tuesday nights more like an oracle than a professional, his message broadcast through the mouth of his instrument to whomever cared enough to come down to 75th Street.

Von Freeman at the New Apartment Lounge…

This week’s feature on John D’earth is long overdue. He’s never been on the cover of C-VILLE Weekly, even though he helped put our town on the jazz map playing his Miller’s residency on Thursday nights. D’earth would be the first to tell you that there are many other people in his world who deserve recognition, some of whom (Jospé, Spaar, Beauford, etc.) are mentioned, and others, like Scott DeVaux and Dr. Roland Wiggins, who aren’t. Jacie Dunkle, who’s made Fellini’s #9 a regular venue for the area’s working musicians, also deserves a tip of the hat.

D’earth is a pied-piper, a standard-bearer, a keeper of tradition, and a wise man in a jester’s cap. Mostly, though, like Freeman, he is a teacher of jazz as a discipline, an art, and a way of life.

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