“The Parade” by Loft Drummer Ron Free

By the time I was eight years old, I already knew what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I wanted to be a jazz drummer.  Go figure.

How does one account for such a peculiar “calling?”  Well, for starters, I suppose it helps to have a father who is a jazz buff and owns many 78 rpm recordings of the Norman Granz Jazz at the Philharmonic series featuring the likes of Roy Eldridge, Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown, Lester Young, and many other giants of the day.  And to top it all off, there were the famous drum battles between Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa.  I was hooked, especially when I discovered that I shared the same birthday with Krupa, January 15th (one that we now have in common with Martin Luther King, and that everyone enjoys as a national holiday.  More about MLK in a future blog). Surely my destiny was in the stars!

My father also took me to hear live music whenever possible, especially the big bands when they came through my hometown of Charleston, South Carolina.   I remember standing ringside to catch Louis Bellson and his revolutionary  two-bass drums with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, Buddy Rich with the Harry James Band, and, when I was 12 or so, Gene Krupa himself brought his big band to town.  And he actually let a very scared and awed little boy sit in with the band to the cheers of a huge home town crowd. Talk about a first class gentleman; Krupa broke the mold.

But prior to all of that, my first recollection of really being smitten with the drum bug is graphically portrayed in a poem I wrote a few years ago. Sam and Dan suggested I include it on the Jazz Loft Project Blog, and I’m delighted to do so.  It’s a just a simple little child’s poem, really, and I cried tears of joy when it first came through me. It arrived almost in its entirety with very little tweaking required. Hope you enjoy.

The Parade

The crowd, the clowns, the straining to see
Over shoulders of people much taller than me,
When suddenly in the distance I hear
The sound of the drums drawing near.

Then add a few trumpets and other brass horns,
The floats, the horses and pink unicorns.
I’m six years old and do not expect
To feel hair standing up on the back of my neck.

Louder and louder the sound of the drums
As something wondrous this way comes.
Along with the drums my heart is beating
Over and over the cadence repeating.

Parump-ta-tum-tum, parump-ta-tum-tum,
How compelling, how thrilling the sound of the drum.
Goose bumps crawling all over my skin,
Street beats repeating again and again.

I push through to the front so that I might see
This wonder of wonders so inspiring to me.
Girls with batons flying high in the air,
Other little children are standing near.

All looking and listening to the music coming,
The sound of the brass and the drummers drumming.
Many years have passed since that day,
My eye has grown dim, my hair turned gray.

Yet how vividly I still can recall
The sight, sound, taste and scent of it all.
And to this day there’s been no greater joy
Than the sound of the drum to that one small boy.

–Ron Free

The Parade from The Jazz Loft Project on Vimeo.


  1. Richard Mitnick Said,

    January 5, 2010 @ 6:16 pm

    Video is a powerful tool. It is terrific to be able to see Ron Free.

  2. Henry Ferrini Said,

    January 14, 2010 @ 4:08 pm


    I’m sure many musicians relate to Ron’s poem.

    For me it conjured up an image of 1915 New Orleans and a young Lester Young “following the joy” listening to a wagon full of players twist through the Crescent city streets.

  3. Hal Bigler Said,

    January 25, 2010 @ 5:32 pm

    I lived at the loft on and off for more than a year with Gary Hawkins but I only got to play with Ron for about 30 minutes one evening. Fity years later I still think of him as the best drummer I’ve ever gotten to play with. I started on drums myself (inspired by Gene Krupa) but swiched to bass in the army. And for me, for years after, I only heard the drums. And band music was just an excuse to get a drummer to play.

  4. Frank Amoss Said,

    February 5, 2010 @ 5:02 am

    Ronnie Free’s poem is is indicative of the sensitive nature which makes him such an inspirational drummer.

    I met Ron in Charleston, S. C. in the summer of 1960, shortly after he left New York. The only thing I learned about him at that time was he had played with Mose Allison, which greatly impressed me. I was doing one nighters throughout the South with a 12 piece band led by Dean Hudson, one of the last territory bands to survive the big band era. After a gig at the pier ballroom at Folly Beach a few of us went to Ronnie’s gig in Charleston. He had invited us to come and jam, which we did all night.

    The next time I heard Ron’s name was a year later when I was living at 821 6th Ave. and Gene Smith told me the “playing in traffic” story.

    Fifty years later he and I once again crossed paths at Sam Stephenson’s book release at Lincoln Center in NYC. Neither of us looked the same as that time in Charleston but I, for one, once again appreciated the fruits of spending a life as a player.

  5. Tom Wayburn Said,

    February 27, 2010 @ 8:14 pm

    I enjoyed the way you read your poem. That’s the way all poems should be read according to E. A. Poe. I saw your comment under “Jimmy and Me”, but I don’t remember where I wrote the comment for you. If you see it, let me know. I wondered if it got a response. Sam’s Jazz Loft Project has located lots of our old friends. I want to get in touch with Dave Frishberg and Hal Bigler too. I am at twayburn@att.net.