FREDDY FRANCO, JAZZ GUITARIST, FOUND DEAD
September 27, 2004
The first time I ever heard Bill Evans play "live" was in a trio with Chuck Israels and Paul Motian at Redpath Hall on the McGill Campus here in Montreal in December of 1962. When I got to speak to him he asked me about a Montreal guitarist he got to play with at the Left Bank in New York City. Knowing that Johnny LaSalle (nee Asselin), a pianist and singer from Montreal was a feature at that club (his 1959 Capitol recording "Jumpin' at the Left Bank" was reissued on CD in Japan in 2002) I guessed that he might be talking about LaSalle's friend Freddy Franco and Bill said, yes, that was the name that he was looking for. Bill said he thought this was a musician with an IMMENSE JAZZ GIFT and was curious what he had done with it.
It's been a tragic weekend in Montreal, first "Boogie" Gaudet and (in a conversation with David St. James) I learned that yesterday the police found Freddy dead in his home. A friend not having been able to reach Freddy called police and, upon breaking down his door, they found his body. Talk about an unsung jazz hero, I can't find anything about his background; a search on the net brought only a piece that I had written about the death of Art Roberts. John Gilmore's "Who's Who of Jazz In Montreal" (Vehicule Press) gives us: "Only confirmed work leading [a] quintet (Art Roberts, piano, Stan Zadak, bass, Curly Vergel, drums, Eve Adams, vocals) quickly expanded to [a] sextet (George Kennedy, tenor sax added; Billy Barwick replaces Vergel) at the Vieux Moulin (winter 1959-60). [He] recorded with the Al Baculis Singers (1967)." It's too bad that Gilmore didn't do more research on Freddy (and George Kennedy for that matter). It wouldn't have been too difficult to find Franco at the time this book and its companion "Swinging In Paradise" were written. Freddy didn't leave much of a recorded legacy, I remember a 1983 broadcast from Biddles done for my radio show "Jazz 96" and how excited I was to have the chance to air same and bring this talent to the attention of listeners. For the record the other players that night were Cisco Normand, vibes, Dave Gelfand, bass and Bernie Primeau, drums.
Other memories are of Art Roberts' basement music room on West Broadway in the late 50s when Art, Freddy, Barwick and bassist Stan Zadak would gather to play and (just prior to settling in NY) Paul and Carla Bley could also be found - bringing with them (then) new music written by Carla and by Ornette Coleman. I felt privileged, as a non-musician, to been allowed into that circle of players.
Freddy was always kind, I remember mentioning to him that I had heard and was moved by William Walton's "Five Bagatelles" and receiving the sheet music to same in the mail shortly thereafter--I guess he forgot that I didn't read music, but I'll always remember the gesture. I reciprocated by finding and sending him a copy of the CD reissue of the 1958 recording , "The Arrival of Victor Feldman" with Feldman on vibes and piano, bassist Scott LaFaro (his debut recording) and drummer (and photographer) Stan Levey, one of Freddy's favourite sessions. Freddy was a close friend of Rene Thomas during that guitar master's stay in Montreal [1956-61) and when I later got a call from NY from a musician named Bob Mover looking to reach Rene's daughter Florence, it was Freddy I called for a phone number. That visit turned out to be a lasting musical love affair between Mover and this city's jazz community. The last two occasions that I saw and spoke with Freddy were at the funerals of Buddy Fasano and Art Roberts. Today's news will take sometime to shake off. God bless and thanks for the wonderful music.
© Len Dobbin 2004
Montreal, Quebec, Canada