Posted by boston.com November 21, 2013 05:25 PM
By Tyler Salomon, Globe Correspondent
From a distance, the first thing passersby might hear is the faint sound of a whistle and a banging cymbal. As they approach the man with a tambourine on his head, the words “Ramblin’ Dan” written on it, the sound grows louder – a cacophony of whistles, bells, guitars and drums, all synced together.
If it sounds like a one-man band, well, it is – or more specifically, Daniel Friedman’s Professor World Band. Friedman celebrated his 60th birthday last Sunday. He also celebrated the 30th anniversary of his traveling one-man band show with a small party in the Boston Public Garden for friends, family, and audience members just passing through. It included a homemade cake and hot beverages donated by the restaurant Boloco.
“The way I see it, I will keep doing this for as long as I can,” said Friedman, who has made his Professor World Band show into a career.
Friedman says he never formally studied music, but taught himself to play a variety of instruments over the years, including xylophone, electric guitar, ukulele, and drums. And even after 30 years, he says he tries to add something new or different to every performance.
“Sometimes I’ll play one song or sometimes I’ll do 10 or 15 songs. It really depends on how the crowd is feeling,” he says.
Friedman often brings out a variety of small hand bells, tambourines, and other children’s instruments for the kids to accompany him on as he performs. He gets his share of strange looks, he concedes. But the kids, and their parents, keep on coming. Over the past five years, Friedman has performed throughout most of the year in Boston’s Public Garden primarily and, occasionally, in the Boston Common.
Bill Nigreen, 66, of Boston, who has been a fan of “Ramblin’ Dan” for three years, says its really amazing what Friedman is able to do with his performances.
“I’ve seen a few of these one-man bands and some of them really capture the spirit [of performing] and Dan’s got it,” said Nigreen. “He’s got rhythm…He’s not Paul McCartney, but then again McCartney isn’t playing for tips in the park.
”The Professor World Band show has had about a dozen incarnations, according to Friedman, since it began in early 1970’s as a “Peace-wave Generator” in response to the Vietnam War. From those peace demonstrations, Friedman continued to perform for crowds singing a
variety of his own original songs and what were then contemporary pieces, including songs by Bob Dylan and The Beatles.
“I got a great reception from people when I first started at the various eace] demonstrations in New Haven, and the Professor World Band evolved from there,” he said.
As the name suggests, Friedman has taken his show across the world. For more than 20 years, he toured across Europe, parts of Asia and South America in a “slightly” beat up blue van. Along the way, he says, he has entertained children, locals, and tourists from Israel to Switzerland, Yugoslavia to Argentina, just to name a few.
Finally, in 2008, Friedman decided it was time to come back to the United States to be closer to his family, including his sister and brother-in-law who live in Sharon. He says he moved into a co-op at in Cambridge with 11 other housemates.
And soon, he had developed a new set of fans.
Daniel Brotman, 47, has brought his daughter, Eteline, 4, to the Public Garden almost every weekend for a year to watch Ramblin’ Dan perform because she loves to dance to his music.
“There are other heart beats in the Boston Common and the Public Garden but, [Ramblin’ Dan and the Professor World Band,] is certainly one of the main ones,” said Brotman. “People from out of town come to Boston for its uniqueness and he is definitely part of it.”
As for the future, Friedman says he’s currently tinkering with a smaller, more portable version of his musical peace-wave generators to play on the road in elementary schools and in other indoor spaces.
“My plan is to start playing in the T stations during the winter months, so I don’t have to stand out in the garden when it gets really cold,” chuckled Friedman. Those interested can learn more about Ramblin’ Dan and the Professor World Band and his upcoming performances at
This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and Emerson College.