Article: Condon Plus Green Equals Rhythm

Periodical: Jazz Journal
Date: August 1970
Pages: 16 - 17
Author: Bill Esposito

Editor's Preface: This article is about Eddie Condon and Freddie Green. The following excerpt is the Freddie Green portion. - Michael Pettersen

Charlie Christian's amplified guitar style served to eliminate almost completely the role of the guitar as a rhythm instrument, and, over the years, the instrument has virtually disappeared from the jazz orchestra, large and small. Only two men have continued laying down the basic chords of rhythm to keep the guitar alive as an instrument of support rather than solo...Eddie Condon and Freddie Green.

Such is the position of the amplified guitar and the talent of the many young musicians who handle it that Condon and Green, although still very active, have passed into the legendary status reserved for the giants of the jazz world. While many have imitated Christian, none have taken Condon and Green for inspiration. Steve Jordan comes the closest. Steve does not use an amplifier and is a strong rhythm guitarist, but unlike Condon and Green he takes a full share of solos.

Freddie Green is a retiring man who hasn't sought the spotlight in any fashion over his long career. At a Count Basie concert, Freddie quietly strolls in, unpacks his guitar, sits in a remote and often hidden corner of the bandstand, and strums away. At intermission, the crowd circulates and clusters around the famed Basie stars - Eddie 'Lockjaw' Davis, Al Grey, Eric Dixon, or the Count himself, a real friendly gentleman, particularly when a young fan approaches for a word.

Off by himself is Green, quaffing a soft drink, taking in the excitement with an amused and tolerant eye. If someone say hello, Freddie answers in kind, but no long conversations. He doesn't seem to be part of the band but he is the band's basic strength. Eric Dixon, latest of the long line of Basie tenor sax stylists, simply put it that "you know Freddie is there". Out on the bandstand, signals known only to Basie and Green flash between the two, and one of the most beautiful things to hear is that solid backing of the compact, tightly controlled and loosely swinging Basis organization. A long solo by the leader, with Green's shading behind him, is a good approximation of rhythmic heaven.

Green's career has been spent with Basie. He joined the Count in 1937 and has been with him ever since. Now 59, Freddie was born in Charleston, South Carolina, and raised in New York City. He is a self-taught musician and jobbed around New York in the Depression years. John Hammond, a man who has done much for jazz purely through his intense love for the music, never did jazz a bigger favor than when he heard Green playing at a Greenwich Village club and recommended him to Basie. Hammond had pushed the Basie band originally and was instrumental in bringing it to New York.

Green joined a rhythm section that stayed together for several years and by common concensus was the greatest of them all. Basie was at the piano, the huge and gentle Walter Page was on bass, and Jo Jones was the drummer. Arguments to the contrary will not be tolerated here - just listen to any of Basie's Decca recordings through 1939 or to his Columbia efforts into the mid-1940's. They will speak for themselves.

The team played on many small combo dates of that time, sometimes with the Count, sometimes without him, and the individual musicians were in constant demand for recording sessions, Green in particular.

The best case for Green is to play one of the Count's swinging sides on the original 78's. Through the crackling and surface noise comes Freddie's constant statement, never overplayed, never shouted, never a shred of waste material. He slips in and out, playing behind the full band or the solo men, with a consistency that is matchless. You might not hear him at all but you know he is there and you know that if he wasn't there, it just wouldn't be the same.

There are few instances of a solo by Green and that is as it should be; solo work would detract from his status as an elder statesman, and if Freddie soloed, who would supply the rhythm? (A fine example of an amplified guitar backed by a rhythm guitar can be found on the Count's 'Time Out', one of his early recordings (August 9, 1937), in which Eddie Durham, possibly the first man to use the amplified guitar on a jazz recording, is ably assisted by Green.)

Today, Green is still on the job with Basie; you get the idea that if Freddie departs the Count, Gabriel will blow his final trumpet passage. So Condon and Green continue to roll on, powerful voices who will not be stilled even though not too many listen to their vital message. When they talk of the great guitarists of the past, no mention is made of Condon, or of Green. Their contributions are taken for granted. That's the accolade given only to those who have done their job so long and so well that only the best is expected of them and is not appreciated when they give it.

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