By comparison to some of his other fellow Chicagoan jazz brothers and sisters, the music of Von Freeman is fairly traditional sounding--that is to say blues, ballads, bossa, bop and a touch of soul-jazz, although his phrasing and mentoring was influential to a rising avant-garde in the city. He may have been less well-known than his funky guitarist brother George and son Chico (there was a less-well-known drummer brother Bruz as well), but he continued with his creative outlet until the end.
He was born in Chicago, the son of a cop. Louis Armstrong was a good friend of the family and even lived with the Freemans for awhile. He learned piano and then picked up the saxophone at 7. He studied with in the famous DuSable High music program which produced a veritable school of giant players under Capt Walter Dyett.
At 16 he joined the Horace Henderson Orchestra before a late '40s run with his brothers backing visiting artists like Charlie Parker & Dizzy Gillespie. (There is a 1950 performance with Bird & the Freeman brothers available). In the early '50s he was a member of the newly-formed Sun Ra Arkestra. He recorded some sax on some doo-wop sides in the mid-'50s, as well as work with young progressive piano genius Andrew Hill and jump-blues singer Jimmy Witherspoon.
He was inactive for a bit but got a record deal with Atlantic, with the help of Rahsaan Roland Kirk, who produced Freeman's 1972 debut full-length Doin' It Right Now. A few titles followed for Nessa, Muse, Black Saint and others. He also cut several records with his son Chico (also a tenor player, and a better-known one), as well as collaborations with Yusef Lateef, Willis Jackson, Kurt Elling, Steve Coleman, Clifford Jordan and others.
He continued to work in Chicago with his son and younger local players until his death a few years ago. Along with Jordan, Johnny Griffin, John Gilmore and Gene Ammons, he was a Chicago tenor legend that inspired players to come.