AS A KID growing up in Frankford, George Ballard liked to follow the American Legion parades through his neighborhood, and would march along with the drummers.

Maybe it was then that George decided he wanted to pound those drums himself, because somehow he conveyed the ambition to his father, who gave him a set of drums he bought from a pawnbroker when George was only 10.

That was how it started. George took drumming lessons for 75 cents a session, and by the time he was 16, was allowed to sit in on the Herb Thornton Band, which he heard playing at the Philadelphia Boys Club.

George Edward "Butch" Ballard went from there to perform with some of the biggest jazz artists of his era, and was still swinging at 90.

He died Oct. 1 at the age of 92, leaving behind a long career that tracked much of the history of jazz in America.

George also found time to be involved with politics in Frankford, where he was Democratic leader of the 23rd Ward. He also was a sought-after percussion teacher.

After performing with a band in Philly, George, at the age of 19, began playing with Louis Armstrong's band, the Dukes.

Three years later, he moved to Harlem - taking the A Train, of course - and joined the band of Cootie Williams, Duke Ellington's former trumpeter. Singers with the band included Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington and Pearl Bailey.

During World War II, George joined the Navy and served in the South Pacific with the 29th Special Construction Battalion (Seabees). He also played in a military band.

After the war, he got gigs in New York with Armstrong, Illinois Jacquet and Ellington's son Mercer.

In the late '40s, George joined Count Basie's Orchestra when Basie's drummer, Shadow Wilson, left to play with Woody Herman.

In 1950, George did the unthinkable: He turned down Duke Ellington. Ellington had contacted him to back up drummer Sonny Greer, who was not always reliable.

George became Greer's backup, but when Ellington asked him to permanently replace Greer, he refused. He said he didn't want to change his drumming style to suit Ellington, who favored double bass drums.

Although Ellington hired Louie Bellson as his permanent drummer, George continued to play occasional sets with the Duke in 1952 and 1953. He was the drummer on the classic "Satin Doll."

George was born in Camden and grew up in Frankford. He attended Northeast High. He married his wife, Jessie, in 1940.

Over the years, George played with jazz legends John Coltrane, Fats Waller, Bootsie Barnes, Cat Anderson, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, Eddie Vinson, Arnett Cobb and Clark Terry.

His wife died in 2000. He is survived by a son, Brenton Randolph, a brother and sister, and three grandchildren.

Services: 11 a.m. today at Second Street Baptist Church of Frankford, 1801 Meadow St. Friends may call at 9 a.m. Burial will be in Fairview Cemetery, Willow Grove.