The entertainment at Music Heaven has gotten a lot hotter this month, if you’re into 40’s big band sounds.
Courtland Freese, who died on December 12 at the age of 93, was the last surviving brother of a unique musical institution that continues to thrive today, more than eight decades after the Freese boys brought swing music live in Granite State, and years after all four have played together.
For anyone familiar with the Freese Brothers Big Band, which was born in Pittsfield around 1940, a clear, nostalgic snapshot emerges, now that Courtland has passed away and joined his band mates.
Jack and Bill are in the front row on saxophones, George and Courtland behind them on trumpets, all dressed in white shirts and dark ties, playing with their 20-piece marching band, cheeks swollen and toes tapping, filling the air with nostalgia, the sounds of Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Frank Sinatra and Tommy Dorsey.
Even the angels stamp their feet and wave their wings.
The group lives here too, strong and polite, but Courtland, who is part of the core and soul of this entity, was the last connection to the original Fab Four, and the death of the last surviving member resonated with lovers of the region. kind of music.
“He was the last of the four, so it’s quite an important event in our hearts and minds,” said Peter Imse, longtime band member and lawyer for Concord. “They were the spirit of the group.”
Imse dates back to the Freese brothers’ first concerts in the early 1980s. By then they had been singing songs for decades, starting with a family troupe called the Homespun Broadcasters. They even had their own little bus, with instruments stacked on it.
But it wasn’t some bogus Partridge family TV show about a band touring and singing their way through life.
The brothers played in high school and college and in the military. They played together and they played in different groups.
The family was certainly well known for founding Globe Manufacturing – the largest manufacturer of firefighter protective clothing in the country, sold by the family five years ago – in the 19th century and bringing it to Pittsfield.
But the music from the brothers also had its share of the spotlight.
They nailed down the swing sounds of the 1940s that, at that time, mingled with black and white images of a world at war. It’s almost impossible to revisit this local treasure without Glenn Miller’s “In The Mood” coming to mind.
They spread out in different directions, leading other groups, and then returned to the brotherhood and chemistry that had been created over the decades.
In 1982, they formed their last group, the Freese Brothers Big Band, and began recruiting. Dr Jack Freese, a dentist who died in 2014 at the age of 92, delivered his speech to the patients, simply asking them if they played an instrument.
“Someone could be in the chair and Jack could probe their mouths and he would ask them,” Imse said. “He was very persuasive. “
Imse, in fact, was surrounded by Dr. Jack in a cafe. He dusted off his old sax, unused for 10 years. Now he cooks with the group.
They brought in some old veteran musicians and high school kids. They were training all the time. They have broadcast the Gospel of Swing Music, performed in the Presidential Ballroom at Balsams Grand Resort and in the quaint bandstands of Alton Bay.
They charged money and gave it to high school students as part of a scholarship program. And they did more.
David Tirrell Wysocki plays the tenor saxophone in the band. He said the brothers always made sure to create a team environment. Family feelings.
“The four of them weren’t just leaders and inspiration,” Tirrell Wysocki said, ““ but they were the support group and they were the cheerleaders and role models, and well that they were the founders of the group, they were not the directors of the group.
“That’s what they gave us,” continued Tirrell Wysocki. “The real joy of sitting together and making music. “
Courtland was a detail-oriented person. Convenient too. He used to walk the floor of his manufacturing plant in Pittsfield, mingling with employees, boosting morale, going from the bottom to the top.
He was focused on the laser, always finishing what he had started, at work and with the group, but a smile was never far away.
The brothers, all four, last performed together in the mid-1980s. Bill died in ’85. It was then that they created the scholarship, which to this day has raised approximately $ 80,000.
George was 77 when he died in 1997. Jack, the dentist, died in 14, aged 92. And then there was one.
Courtland’s grandson Cody Herrick, 27, was not born when Great Uncle Bill died. He was too young to remember Great Uncle George. He remembers Jack and got particularly close to the man the grandchildren called Daddy.
And, of course, Herrick was playing an instrument. The trumpet, for about 15 years. He played with his cousins at the Crystal Lake family home in Gilmanton. On the ground floor in the finished basement.
Dad was the conductor.
“I was always amazed at how many instruments they could play, their overall musical talent,” said Cody, who lives in Bow. “I would go to see him in the morning and he would sing a song he had just made up. Everything about him was musical.
Courtland has remained active and lively, only slowing down recently. The Covid, of course, complicated everything. His wife, Shirley, could not be reached for comment.
Research shows the brothers hadn’t played together for 35 years. Not all four. But the other three have had a 15-year journey, and together the four represented the start of something different that continues to this day.
The Freese Brothers Big Band has a concert on New Years Eve at LaBelle Winery in Derry. Their schedule, in fact, is full.
They still play in Wolfeboro, near Crystal Lake, and not too long ago, Courtland visited to hear and see what he had created.
“He was showing up at a place and it was great to see him,” Imse said. “You would see him in the audience smiling.” “