Citylife: End of summer

August 27, 2010

 

The waning days of summer on 75th Street mean that at 11 p.m., at midnight even, you can find this street corner scene: a teenage girl giggling, sitting on the hood of an American car, her boyfriend leaning in at 45 degrees, his arms roping around her, a luminous and joyful smile on his face.

The soundtrack? Maybe "Sweet and Lovely," maybe "It Could Happen to You," or maybe nothing with a name on it -- just a string of warm and vital notes gliding along the cool summer concrete that leads to a sturdy but blank brick building, fuzzy green neon lettering on its long horizontal window.

There's a paper sign on the door of The New Apartment Lounge, like in so many places on 75th Street now, that says, after 11, whatever's going on here is for those 30 and over, for adults only; what it means is, if the good stuff coming from the four guys shoehorned into that little corner up by the green lights has you nodding in recognition, it's cuz you've earned your happiness.

The Tuesday night axis is 88 year-old Von Freeman, gold-plated tenor sax hanging off his neck. Freeman -- thin, ethereal -- barely moves during a set, and frequently just leans back against the jukebox, letting his crack support trio go off on their own. But when he comes in, he lassos and herds them however he wants, blowing classic, then peculiar little riffs that have his bandmates -- youngsters all -- running to catch up.

Around the curvy two-toned blue Formica bar -- imagine one of those kidney shaped-pools from 50s L.A. -- fans and friends whoop and clap and, sometimes -- if it's jaunty enough -- dance. Guys older than Freeman sit and drink and nod then hug him. Young North side musicians -- probably students ignoring the sign -- slouch in, look around, breathe relief and grin. They're hoping to sit in, to cut their teeth, to say they once got a chance with him. Neighbors step up and sing, but this ain't no open mic. Freeman barely twitches to say yes or no.

At the bar, there's beer in bottles -- nothing on tap -- whisky, gimlets, gin and tonic, martinis -- and, in spite of the reverence, there's talk: old job, lost job, d-i-v-o-r-c-e, child support, retirement, bills to pay, fucked up politics, old love, new love, or just that good-looking honey sitting at the other end of the bar, and who's that? Oh hiiiiim.

Freeman volleys, shakes hands, lets himself be petted and caressed, stood next to and leaned on for a picture. Vonsky grins for the ladies: "Where you been hiding, love?" His eyes get big, green and bright in that light. He's got a really good grip, and a really sly wink.

When he's on his own, Freeman's mouth is hooked to that horn as if it were as precious as an IV. He sways, he taps and you'd swear he's better than ever now; you could swear to God that "¦ you want this man to play forever, that's what you really want.

Because this is the scary feeling lurking under all that lively jive and joy in that room: We're here now, for just a little while longer. And then... and then...?

So, yeah, the lovebirds outside playing keep away and kissing games on the hood of that big American car? They stay outside, until it happens to them some summer, and the sweetness they feel comes deserved and with just a bit of tang.

This year, the 11th Annual Englewood Jazz Festival, will be dedicated to Von Freeman. It's Saturday, September 18, from noon to 6 p.m., at the Hamilton Park Cultural Center, 513 W. 72nd St.