Mike Freeman ZonaVibe brings together a heady blend of musical elements in an original and highly engaging ensemble. The vibesman behind many notable musicians and groups, Mike emerges from the tradition forged by Cal Tjader, Tito Puente, and the groups of Joe Cuba that placed the vibraphone at the heart of Latin music. His many years of playing in several of New York’s hottest salsa groups and natural affinity for Caribbean, African, and Brazilian rhythms combined with strong writing skills, a thoroughly developed jazz background, and dynamic performing style underscore the performances of ZonaVibe.
Traveling to the Caribbean, ZonaVibe and Vibe Caliente (Mike's salsa group) gave fiery and enthusiastically received performances at the Trinidad & Tobago Steelpan and Jazz Festival. ZonaVibe performed at the Festival Internacional on the island of Terceira in the Azores and was part of Central Park’s Harlem Meer concert series in New York City. Several First Night celebrations include Vibe Caliente in Binghamton, NY, 2008, with ZonaVibe bringing in 2009, in Westport, CT. Other past performances for Mike as a leader include: the Flood Relief Concert in Des Moines, Iowa; opening for Stan Getz in Boston; performing to a huge hometown audience at the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, NE; the Berks, Rehoboth Beach, Hennessy Greenwich Village, and JVC Newport jazz festivals as well as an extensive tour of Portugal, cosponsored by the Fulbright Foundation and the American Embassy.
His recordings of original music have gained national and international attention and extensive airplay charting on jazz, contemporary jazz, and World music radio. From the start, the music Mike wrote and performed ranged from jazz, Latinjazz, Brazilian, fusion, and R&B. Mike Freeman & Spellbound’s 1985 self-titled debut recording was followed by the highly successful “Street Shuffle” with Jeff Jenkins, Dave Stryker, Kip Reed, and Graham Hawthorne (now with Paul Simon). His next recording “Wiggle Stomp” reflects a deeper immersion in the Latin scene that began in the mid 1990’s. With his lastest CD “In the Zone”, Mike takes that exploration to yet another level. He displays the considerable range of his marimba playing—along with the vibraphone—and his artistry and knowledge of bringing salsa forms into a jazz context.
In addition to leading his own groups, Mike performs and records with: Lucho Cueto’s all-star group Black Sugar, which gave a pair of blockbuster performances for many thousands of frenzied fans at the Toros y Salsa Festival in Dax, France, and is soon headed to Lima Peru; acclaimed percussionist Ray Mantilla’s Good Vibrations Band (with Edy Martinez) that has toured Italy far and wide. "Good Vibrations" on Savant records was Jazzweek's top Latinjazz recording on radio, 2006; salsa singer Julio Salgado (from the Conga Kings, George Delgado, and Charansalsa); Son Boricua with Jose Mangual Jr. and Jimmy Sabater; and Mark Holen’s eclectic Latin blues band Zambomba. Mike also performed on the Latin Legends concert at Aaron Davis Hall with the Harbor Conservatory Latin Band, directed by Louis Bauzó, and with the Spanish Harlem Orchestra, directed by Oscar Hernandez, and legendary sonero Cheo Feliciano at Madison Square Garden.
Recording/concert producing, engineering/mixing/mastering credits include: Band Together, a Hurricane Katrina Benefit Concert at Manhattan Plaza featuring the R&B of Bobby Harden and Chris Carter, the jazz of David Schnitter’s quartet, the solo piano of Amina Claudine Myers, and Mike’s own Latinjazz group with Ray Mantilla. Proceeds went to Tipitinas Foundation for New Orleans–area musicians and the Humane Society; Mark Holen Zambomba, “Three Gold Coins”; a production in progress with Julio Salgado.
Master classes and arranging: New York University and the Berklee College of Music, among others, have hosted Mike as a guest artist/clinician. His music arranged for big band has been a successful component of his performances with jazz department ensembles. Mike created the book for Jorge Jimenez’s group Timba Vibes and wrote a series (spanning several years) of commissioned compositions and arrangements for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Percussion Scholarship Program.
Music in the family: Mike’s grandfather was a drummer and leader of Ron Freeman and the Melody Masters, a popular band that was heard on the radio in the Midwest. Neal Hefti played in his band before becoming famous in California. Mike’s paternal grandmother sang and played the organ and marimba. His maternal grandmother was a talented piano player in her youth. Mike’s father, Harry Freeman, worked his way through college playing the saxophone.
Born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska, Mike Freeman began playing professionally at the age of thirteen. He started learning drums at five and became interested in jazz music by listening to drummers Max Roach and Buddy Rich. He played in local rock bands and a big band called Resurrected Swing that’s still in existence today. At twelve, he began playing the vibraphone, and by fifteen, he was a percussionist for the Omaha Symphony. He also gave lessons at the local music store. During his last year of high school, he began traveling to Chicago to study with renowned percussionist and veteran studio musician Bobby Christian. Just before entering the School of Music at DePaul University in Chicago, Mike started to concentrate on the vibraphone and composition. In college, he began leading his own groups, performing at clubs, both in Chicago and Omaha, and working as a side musician. At DePaul, he studied with jazz pianist Alan Swain and saxophonist Tom Hilliard, and received a Bachelor of Music (composition) with high honors in 1981. In New York, where he’s lived and worked since 1981, Mike studied with composer/arranger Hale Rood, who wrote for Louie Bellson, and attended the BMI composers workshop.
"...strong songwriting, thoughtful arranging, and professional performances let In The Zone stand on its own as an intoxicating Latin Jazz gem" —Chip Boaz, Latinjazz Corner
"Mike Freeman and Zona Vibe is a top-notch Latin jazz quintet that often sounds like a bigger band." —Ken Dryden, All Music Guide
“... a fine, inventive vibraphonist and an exciting jazz group...” —Lee Prosser JazzReview.com
Mike Freeman ZonaVibe - In The Zone, 2007
16 Weeks on JazzWeek’s World Music Chart, On nationally syndicated Jazz After Hours and cable radio's Music Choice
Mike Freeman -- Wiggle Stomp, VOF recordings, 2000
Charted on Gavin’s jazz radio chart * On nationally syndicated “Jazz After Hours” radio show * Heard on the “Joey Reynolds Show” WOR-AM radio network
Mike Freeman & Spellbound® -- Street Shuffle, Best Recordings, 1991
Major U.S. distribution and airlay * Gavin Jazz Chart, Gavin Adult Alternative Chart; Radio & Records chart; MAC Report chart * Aired on David Sanborn’s Nationally Syndicated Radio Show * United Airlines in-flight playlist
Mike Freeman & Spellbound, debut recording, 1985
Other recordings include:
Mark Holen Zoambomba, Three Gold Coins, 2009
Lucho Cueto's, Black Sugar, 2007
Ray Mantilla, Good Vibrations Jazzweek's #1 Latinjazz recording, 2006
Son Boricua, Fabuloso 70's, 2004
Mark Holen Zambomba, Streching The Truth, 1997