Ronnie Free

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Drummer Ronnie Free is one of very few performers whose surname is a genre in itself, although in this case not the one he plays in. Fair enough, Free's association with players such as Lee Konitz and…
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Drummer Ronnie Free is one of very few performers whose surname is a genre in itself, although in this case not the one he plays in. Fair enough, Free's association with players such as Lee Konitz and Lennie Tristano aligns him with a style of jazz that indeed produced some of the very first examples of so-called free improvisation, although not a great deal of it. The drummer's discography is more densely packed with recordings done with the small group of pianist and singer Mose Allison, not free jazz but rather easygoing, bouncy rhythmic swing with more than a touch of Southern rhythm and blues.

Another application of the Free name could be in description of the pay scale at jam sessions in New York City's jazz lofts and pads, so thick is the drummer's association with historic casual playing events of epic length in the years following his arrival in the Big Apple. Just barely 20 years old in 1956, Free already had more than a decade of playing in his background. His father started him up on drums when he was only eight; Free was gigging, and not for free, with local bands around Charleston, SC, in his earliest teen years.

Bassist Oscar Pettiford and pianist Sonny Clark were among his regular rhythm section cohorts in both professional and aforementioned jam session situations in New York City, so greater company might not have been possible. The drummer gigged in the late '50s with Woody Herman and Sal Salvador as well as Allison. Free's activities in ensuing decades obviously focused more on live shows than recordings. In 1992 he showed up on screen among a quartet of jazz musicians utilized in a film entitled Love Crimes. Saxophonist Wayne Shorter is also in these scenes.