Olivet Nazarene University assistant professor Freddie Franken was born and raised in Aruba where he acquired an early love of Gibson arch top guitars.
His early interest in guitar was nurtured by the island’s rich musical and cultural traditions, specifically Brazilian, Latin, Afro-Cuban and native Caribbean music.
He began a full-time professional music career when he was 17, playing six nights a week with dance bands, club orchestras and Salsa bands at hotel clubs.
“I grew up playing in hotels and you have to play a variety of everything to please the crowds,” Franken said. “It exposed me to all different types of music.”
Franken will play this weekend when he directs the Olivet Nazarene University jazz combo, Turnaround, in a free “Jazz in Stained Glass” concert at 3 p.m., Sunday at First Presbyterian Church of Kankakee, 371 E. Court St.
There is no charge for the concert, but a free will offering will be collected. After the concert, a reception will be held and a church tour will be offered focusing on the history of the church and the stained glass windows.
“The concert takes place in our beautiful 125-year-old sanctuary surrounded by three sides of stained glass,” said Paul Johnson, church music director and organist and building manager. “The high vaulted ceilings in the sanctuary create an extraordinary acoustical space.”
The eight-person Turnaround group is under the direction Franken. The one-hour performance will include a variety of jazz styles including Latin jazz, straight ahead jazz, contemporary jazz with some jazz songs incorporating funk and fusion.
“Jazz is intricate and complicated by nature,” Franken said. “But Turnaround members are terrific players. Our goal is not to play the notes, but to make music and to make the audience feel something and I think that will happen.”
The combo name Turnaround refers to jazz terminology. A turnaround often occur at the end of a song and is used to “flip you back to the top” to start the next section, said Franken.
Turnaround members are Zack Sisk, guitar; John Donovan, upright and electric bass; Phillip Glover, drums; Zach Ackerman, tenor saxophone; Brennan Weech and Danielle Murawski, alto saxophone; Josh Kelly, guitar; Sarah Loisch, piano; and Curtis Snow, vibraphone.
“I try to bring the best out of each student,” Franken said. “I pick songs that are complicated, but manageable by each person. When we put the song together, it’s really an intricate thing that’s happening.
“The show will be awesome. It’s free and it’s local. Hopefully people will come hear the music, see how much there is offered at Olivet and see and appreciate what there is in the community.”
Glover said we all come together under the same belief that God gave us this talent to play and share.
“The community, the fellowship and the amount of talent in this group is amazing,” he said.
“I wanted to study with professor Franken. He’s a monster musician,” Donovan said. “I knew I’d learn a lot about jazz and music in general, and I have not been disappointed.”
Ackerman, added, “Prof Franken is a Godly man, and I respect him dearly. He has had so many different experiences in his life and through that, he bestows that knowledge and experience to us to better our understanding of jazz and working as a combo.”
“I enjoy being able to make really cool jazz music with other musicians and learning to be an overall better musician,” Sisk said. “It helps us all grow and become better players.”
Much like his students, Franken has been playing music his entire life.
“I started playing guitar at a young age, and I’ll probably never retire,” he said. “Why should I? I love what I do. It’s a God given talent.”
His teaching career started at the Aruban School of Music in 1981. He later studied classical guitar at the University of Rhode Island, earned a bachelor’s from Governors State University and graduated from Berklee College of Music in Boston with a degree in professional music. He will complete his master’s in jazz performance in December from the University of Illinois.
“I am first a performer,” Franken said. “I got an opportunity to work in education and at Olivet I teach a lot of contemporary music and jazz music classes.”
In addition to his work at Olivet, Franken works as freelance guitarist for studio recordings, pit orchestras and live stage performances. He conducts master classes, serves as an instructor and advisor to regional high school music educators helping to develop and teach guitar programs in local schools and teaches at his private studio.
The Jazz in Stained Glass concert is funded in the memory of Ron Redenius, a longtime church member.