Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Freedman, Bob (Robert Morris)

Freedman, Bob (Robert Morris), arranger, conductor, pianist, saxophonist, educator; b. Mount Vernon, NY, 23 January 23 1934. His family moved immediately thereafter to Wollaston, MA and eleven years later to Cranston, RI. His father, Morris Freedman (1900), was born in Manchester, England and immigrated with his family to the U.S. ca. 1912. His mother, Florence (1901) (nee Hill) and father were married ca. 1924. His sister (June) was born in 1929. His son, Rob was born in 1955; his daughter, Melissa, in 1958.

Morris and June both sang for pleasure and both played piano and violin. Morris had no formal musical schooling but was very adept at ad libbing harmony parts, especially bass lines. Much time was devoted to singing in three-part harmony when the family would take automobile trips as well as when they'd spend time at home, gathered at the piano. Florence was not "musically inclined" but she was a great audience.

Bob picked up piano by osmosis, given the amount of time Morris and June spent at the instrument. He took piano lessons at age five or six from a neighborhood lady who used the John Thompson series of beginners' books as training materials. Piano lessons lasted only a few months.
In 1940 Bob, then age 6, sang an unaccompanied version of "God Bless America" on a demonstration of closed circuit television at the New York World's Fair.

At age ten Bob asked for a guitar, which was denied for reasons no longer recalled. He then asked for a trombone, with similar negative results. For some reason he then tried for a clarinet and that wish was granted in the form of a metal, all-weather student model. Quickly, people like Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Barney Bigard, Carmen Lombardo et al, became idols to be (quite incompetently but very enthusiastically) emulated.

In 1946 Freedman won an audition to perform as a clarinetist on a kiddie's amateur show which broadcast on local radio each Saturday morning, from Fay's Theatre in Providence, R.I. As a result he also became a member of the backup band, Skippy Lombardo And His Three Jacks (Skippy played accordion, his brother, Bobbie, played drums, a big kid named Vinnie played rhythm guitar and the band was filled out with a kid who played multi-pedaled steel guitar and who could get some very hip sounding chords therefrom).

Fay's Theatre also provided a vaudeville show as well as a movie on Saturdays. The professional band which played for the vaudeville extravaganzas was made up of top-grade players: trumpet, three saxes and three rhythm. They were great professional role models for the kid clarinetist.

The radio station that produced the talent show from the theatre also had a Sunday evening show which originated from their studios in Pawtucket, R.I. In 1947 Bob was asked to join the backup band for that show, which was a bit more formal than the Saturday A.M. kiddie festival. Bob got to write some arrangements for that grown-up band, which was comprised of two clarinets and rhythm section. More great experience for a youngster. And of course the price was right for the producers: $00.00. Most of the back-up work was done "by ear,: as the singers generally did not have charts.

At age 14, Freedman joined the Providence local of the A.F. of M., in order to be able to join the band of Tommy Reynolds, leader of a fairly well-known territory band, who needed a baritone saxophone player who doubled on clarinet and alto sax. Bob had picked up some experience playing alto and was able to borrow an ancient bari from the Cranston High School stash of instruments. So in the summer of 1948, Bob had his first taste of belonging to a professional band, on the road.

The pianist on the Reynolds band was Richard (Dickie) Twardzik, a true genius who was a little older than Freedman. {Just a few tears later Twardzik went on to play in the Chet Baker quartet.} The pianist took Bob under his musical wing and taught him a great deal about jazz. The two would jam together and play tunes in keys far from their original settings. Dickie would point out things like how dome of Bird's licks were formed, some of Art Tatum's incredible feats. He also taught things like artistic protocol. For instance, if your soloing at a session and nothing much of worth is coming out of your instrument, don't just keep playing on and on in hopes that some miracle is going to make something happen for you. Just stop at the soonest opportunity and give somebody else a chance.

During the period from around the mid-40's there was a lot of great music being played in the Boston/Providence area. (Musically, the two cities were sort of joined at the hip.) There were a lot of paying gigs to be had, and not enough piano players to go around. So Freedman found himself getting work as a pianist. His technique wasn't much but he could accompany (comp) well and was fortunate enough to get work with a leader (a great Italian tenor player whose name cannot be recalled) who forced Bob to expand his pianistic horizons.

In January of 1951, on his birthday, Bob joined the Army. After a few months of different types of military training, Freedman ended up at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, in the newly-formed 77th Army Band. Shortly thereafter, the bands ranks were enlarged by a few new guys from California's Presidio, one of whom was Chet Baker, a trumpet player of whom seemingly everyone had heard. Baker and Freedman became fairly good friends and when the search was on for places to blow (jam sessions) Bob was once again relegated to the pianist's function, comping for Baker.

Later that year, after Baker had instigated his own early discharge from the Army, Bob was sent on temporary assignment to the Navy Music School, near Washington, D.C. There he got to do some writing for a decent big band and an octet. Among the other instrumentalists there were Julian and Nat Adderley and a few other players who went on to earn varying degrees of justifiable fame.

Time passed and Bob was again itching for new experiences, so he volunteered to be sent to Korea. Fortunately, while he was in Japan, becoming familiar with the brand new carbine he was supposed to use to shoot people in Korea, a classmate from the Navy Music School stint spotted him marching down the road in a sea of other Korea-bound G.I.'s and told him to meet up later that evening. As it turned out, the 10th Special Services outfit, which was based there in Japan, needed an arranger to write charts for the shows that were being performed for the soldiers in the battle zone. A corporal who was then named Don Peduto (he later became Don Vincent, long-time music director for Wayne Newton) "auditioned" Bob and the transition from rifleman back to musician took place subito.

Don and Bob sat in their own office, in Japan, writing arrangements of tunes from current Broadway shows (the head of Special Services was a lady who had once been a Rockette) as well as some jazz charts to keep the band (and the arrangers) happy. One of the players on the 10th Special Services band was a bari player named Park Adams. He later became better know as Pepper Adams.

Once out of the army, Freedman got a job playing piano with the Johnny Long Orchestra. After tiring of the road he became part of the Boston jazz scene. This was due primarily to the fact that Herb Pomeroy gave Bob an open end invitation to write for the big band that played at The Stable (a popular jazz nightclub) two nights a week. Bob was hired to play intermission piano at the club and eventually got to play the jazz alto chair on Herb's band. Pomeroy recorded a few of Freedman's charts on the Roulette and United Artists labels. One of Bob's originals, "Theme For Terry" was also chosen to be included in the Smithsonian CD collection, "Big Band Renaissance". He got a barely-deserved job teaching at the (then) Berklee School of Music, at the same time working at a local recording studio as staff composer/arranger. In that position Bob benefited from on-the-job training doing jingles, song demos, music for filmstrips, covering many of the pop singles of the era, etc. An album entitled, "Music To Strip By", released under Freedman's name, was a product to this period.

Being in the right place at the right time, Bob was asked to substitute on the second alto chair on Maynard Ferguson's band at Storyville, which was directly across the street from The Stable. (Carmen Leggio was called away for a couple of days.) As a result of that pleasant weekend, Maynard commissioned Bob to compose and arrange a piece for his upcoming record album. That piece turned out to be "And We Listened", on the LP, "A Message From Newport".

Eventually Freedman acquired the itch and the confidence to make the move to New York. Initial employment in The Apple was at a so-called music house which supplied music for radio and television commercials. Eventually, contacts like Bill Berry and Joe Ciavardone provided Bob with opportunities to get gigs "ghosting" for other, better-known arrangers. Then came chances to shrug off the sheet and write under his own name. Clients included Sarah Vaughan, Grady Tate, Buddy Morrow, Joe Williams (with the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis band), Ruth Brown (also with the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis band), et al. There were frequent gigs arranging and orchestrating for shows at The Radio City Music Hall. One of the highlights of this era occurred when Gary MacFarland commissioned Bob to do his own album for Skye Records, "The Journeys Of Odysseus", a jazz suite for chamber orchestra. Some of the featured players on the LP were Ron Carter, Hubert Laws, Marvin Stamm, Jerome Richardson, Jay Berliner, et al.

Bob functioned sporadically as music director, arranger, conductor and accompanist for Harry Belafonte and Lena Horne. Belafonte performed Freedman's tune, "Turn The World Around" on The Muppet Show. He was also an occasional guest music director on the Merv Griffin television show.
He was orchestrator for a few Broadway musicals, most of which either never got to Broadway (having died out of town) or which had very short runs in town. The exception was "Raisin!" which did run for quite a while. Bob was substitute conductor of that show near the end of its run.

In the late 1970' and early 1980's the recording and television scenes got pretty bad for musicians so Freedman headed for the Nashville area based on a mistaken idea that a lot of sophisticated business was going to be happening there. However, all of the meager work that came his way required him to 'commute' back to New York or Boston. The one big chance that came along in Tennessee was the opportunity to compose a 30-minute film score for a promotional reel produced by the Film Board. Compensation for the score, which Bob also conducted, was a credit at the end of the film and a promise of more work to come. The credit was provided as promised, but the future work wasn't.

Answering an ad for a teacher at the Berklee College of Music, Bob, his wife (and three dogs) headed back to Boston. There followed a 10-year stint at Berklee (1982 through 1992), during which time Freedman attained the chairmanship of the Commercial (sic) Arranging Department. Fortunately, a few arranging jobs also came in from 'the real world', including arranging and conducting Wynton Marsalis' album on the Columbia label, "Hot House Flowers". There was also an album project for the same label (thanks to George Butler) for Arthur Blythe. At the end of 1992, Bob rejoined Harry Belafonte for a tour of six with-symphony-orchestra concerts, and in January of 1993 he moved to Arizona. (As of 2002 he still resides in that state.)

Some other (out of sequence) arranging clients (directly or indirectly)  were: Billy Joel, Michelle Lee, Herbie Mann, David "Fathead" Newman, Makoto Ozone, Rebecca Parris, Renee Rosnes, Carly Simon, Paul Simon, Phoebe Snow, Grover Washington, Jr., the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, Marvin Hamlisch, Sergio Franchi, Nnenna Freelon, Connie Francis, Chanticleer, Ron Carter, The Boys Choir Of Harlem, Dianne Reeves, Gene Bertoncini, Kenny Hadley Band, Nobuya Sugawa, Paul Lavalle and The Band Of America, Toshiko, Mikio Masuda, Hiroshi Tachi, Jake Holmes, John Allmark, Jerry Donato and Dick Johnson.

Other television credits include writing for ABC World News This Morning, Monday Night Football, Monday Night Baseball and the Indy 500. Non-ABC projects included The New Adventures Of Mighty Mouse and Disney's Rescue Rangers. Some films on which he worked were: One Trick Pony (appeared on screen as conductor of string sweetening session), The Wiz, China Syndrome, For Love Of Ivy and The Seduction Of Joe Tynan.
In 1998, he conducted the string orchestra for W. Marsalis's appearance on the David Letterman television show. Freedman re-orchestrated the Rudolph Friml operetta, The Vagabond King, for The Houston Opera Company.

Playing gigs included: Bari sax with Woody Herman, tenor and clarinet on Duke Ellington's original production of My People, piano with the Serge Chaloff sextet and piano with the Vido Musso quintet.

He won a Grammy award in 1978 (co-arranger for the movie soundtrack album of The Wiz); four other Grammy nominations. Got no award but arranged (sweetened) "Honesty", from Billy Joel's Columbia album, "52nd Street". (The tune and the album both got Grammy's.) He played on Woody Herman's vocal album, "Songs For Hip Lovers", playing baritone sax (even though credit was mistakenly given to someone else on the CD version). He also played piano on two combo cuts on Grover Washington's CD, "Aria." His original ballad "Thank You, Love" was recorded by Lena Horne with Michel Legrand;
He produced or co-produced albums for Nnenna Freelon, Makoto Ozone, Dennis Spears and Grover Washington, Jr.

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