Email from England: A Tune Named ‘Ronnie Free’

Drummer Ronnie Free.  Photo by W. Eugene Smith.  Circa 1959.

Drummer Ronnie Free in 821 Sixth Avenue. Photo by W. Eugene Smith. Circa 1959.

Over the weekend we received the email below from bass player Greg Cordez.  We asked him if it was okay to publish his email here.  He said, no problem, as long as readers knew it was a casual note drafted during a breakfast of coffee and toast. – Sam Stephenson

Dear Mr. Stephenson,

My name is Greg Cordez and I’m a musician based in the UK/Europe. I’ve recently withdrawn from the freelance session world to study for a Masters degree in Jazz.  I play upright bass.

A couple of months ago I was working in Athens, Georgia, recording with the wonderful Jim White, and I stumbled across your Jazz Loft Project book on Jim’s bookshelf. The book literally fell open to the story of Ronnie Free. I was enraptured by his story and your telling of it.  It left an impression on me.

Anyway, as part of the Masters program I have to compose original music.  This has been my Achilles heel so far in my career.  It is my greatest fear.  I play bass in the band.  I’m not normally exposing myself through my compositions.  Part of the reason to take on the Masters was to run head-on into these types of problems.

I spent yesterday trying to compose, and trying to get something out.  Then I was reminded of the Ronnie Free story.  Somehow, a tune, my first one in 10 years of trying, emerged. I was quite excited about this and I scored it to play with on a quartet gig last night.  The gig was at quite a decent jazz club in Bristol.  I should have felt nervous about debuting a tune written hours before the show.  My tune was buried in the first set amongst some standards and the other musicians’ compositions.  People were still eating, etc. during the first set and it’s a safe time to try out new tunes. We played my tune and it got quite a surprising reaction from the audience.  It was requested that we play it again and we closed the final set with it.  This was the most pleasant surprise of my playing career.  I now hope to continue composing.  My aim is to play my compositions now and hope that my reticence and fear doesn’t get the better of me.

The tune is tentatively called ‘Ronnie Free.’  It is about the most respectful gesture I could come up with for Ronnie and yourself.  People came up to me after the gig and inquired about Ronnie Free.  They asked me who he is.  I told everyone to go home and google his name, and to look out for your book as well to get the full story.

I am going out on a limb here.  But I’m (really, really) hoping that you could help me contact Mr. Free.  His playing, his life, and your telling off it has been such a wonderful discovery and it helped finally get a tune out of me. It would mean a lot if somehow Mr. Free and yourself could hear it.  Or I could send the score.  It will probably be tweaked over time, but it would mean the world to me if Ronnie could hear it.

Would it be possible to get an email address to send it as an attachment? Or a postal address so I can send a CD recording to him?

If you are reluctant to give out any contact details, could you perhaps at least forward this email on to him.  I hope that I got the tone of this email right and that my sincerity somehow gets across.  My discovery of Ronnie and your writing has been a highlight of an already very good year for me.  I very hope that you can help me in this matter.

I look forward to any kind of response from you.

Regards,

Greg Cordez

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