Chico Freeman was born Earl Lavon Freeman Jr. on July 17, 1949 in Chicago, Illinois to saxophonist Von Freeman. His initial outing on his musical path came from his brother Everett who introduced him to the trumpet and began playing, inspired by Miles Davis. In 1967 he attended Northwestern University on scholarship for mathematics and played the trumpet in the school, but did not begin playing the saxophone until his junior year.
Changing his major to music, he graduated in 1972, proficient playing saxophone, trumpet, and piano. After graduation, Freeman taught at the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians School of Music in Chicago and started taking classes as a graduate student at Governors State University, earning a master’s degree in composition and theory. Though focused on jazz during this period he also played blues in local clubs with Memphis Slim and Lucky Carmichael.
1976 saw the release of his debut album as a leader, Morning Prayer and moving to New York City the next year he widened his musical influences. He would experience his most productive years of his career, releasing albums such as No Time Left, Tradition in Transition and The Outside Within which earned him Record of the Year from Stereo Review. Coming to prominence in the late 1970s Chico was part of a movement including Wynton Marsalis of modern players steeped in the traditions of jazz.
He went on to record for independent labels India Navigation and Contemporary Records enlisting the talents of Wynton Marsalis, Bobby Hutcherson and Cecil McBee. He formed the band Guataca with Hilton Ruiz, Ruben Rodriguez, Yoron Israel and Giovanni Hidalgo and released Oh By the Way… in 2002. Freeman has toured internationally, both with his band as well as with Chaka Khan, Tomasz Stanko, Celia Cruz and Tito Puente.
His electric band Brainstorm brought together Delmar Brown on vocals and keyboards, percussionist Norman Hedman, bassist Chris Walker, and Archie Walker on drums. By the end of the Nineties he was producing Arthur Blythe’s album NightSong and beginning his teaching role at New School University.
Tenor saxophonist, bass clarinetist and trumpeter Chico Freeman, who was a recipient of the New York Jazz Award, continues to compose, perform and educate.