Sara Fishko is an Executive Producer and Host at WNYC, specializing in culture.
In the extras for episode 6, Ron Free, WNYC goes back to the loft today with Ron Free. This web extra also features a quote from Dave Frishberg and a photograph of a young Ronnie Free from W. Eugene Smith.
Free tells us how he lived then, barely getting by, staying on Gene Smith’s couch for months at a time, playing jazz every night. He relates his story of drug addiction and his eventual realization that if he didn’t leave NY he might succumb completely to the addict’s life. We learn that these tapes are the proof for him that he did play well, that he did live a life aside from drugs — that he did not ‘invent’ his own story. We hear some of the tapes featuring Free. With Ron Free, Jim Hall, Steve Swallow, Jimmy Stevenson, Mose Allison, other musicians who knew him and played with him.
Photos: © 1957 - 1965, 2009 The Heirs of W. Eugene Smith Audio: Jazz Loft audio clips courtesy Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University.
The thing I remember most vividly about the loft…about my experiences at the loft was playing with Ronnie Free and Freddie Greenwell. Freddie Greenwell was a saxophone player, a tenor saxophone player from Seattle, and I met him in the loft and we became friends and for a period of about a year, we played frequently in that loft. Freddie might have even been staying there part of the time. He was often there when I came, and I’d hoped he was there, because he was my favorite guy to play with. And with Ronnie Free, that was my favorite little group to play with, and we played without a bass sometimes. Sometimes we had bass players, one of them that played several times with us was Bill Takas who became a friend of mine, as well. And somebody told me that some of the records…some of the recordings the Eugene Smith made on those tapes was of that combination, of me and Ronnie and Freddie Greenwell and Takas. I’d love to hear that because those were some of the great moments of my life at playing music. I never…I’ll never forget how exhilarated and thrilled I was at the music that we were playing together. And Ronnie was a big part of it. That’s just the way he played drums. He just electrified me when he played. So those were big moments in my life, and to think that those might be on a tape really knocks me out.”
PLUS: Take a tour of the Jazz Loft today with Ron Free.