Freddie Greene and Those Rhythm Waves
These days the guitar needs the help of electricity before it can even
begin to compete with its more obtrusive companions. But Basie's guitarist,
Freddie Greene, centerpiece of one of the world's most admired rhythm
groups, still plays acoustic guitar. He never plays a solo. Clearly
he is destined to remain one of the backroom boys of jazz.
This youthful-looking 46-year-old seems content to sit year after year
feeding the Basie band with accurate chords and an incisive beat. Because
of the unspectacular nature of his band duties, he can hardly be expected
to win polls or influence people. Nevertheless, he has now, somewhat
late in his professional life, been so honored. British critics named
Freddie their favorite guitarist in the recent Melody Maker poll - and
a few readers immediately complained that the result was ridiculous.
But DownBeat's International Critics poll placed Greene second among
the world's guitarists.
First Time On Top
When I asked him how he felt about it, he replied: "How should I
feel? This is the first time with me. I have run second or third before
but this is the first poll I ever topped." I asked if he had done
any single string work. "Well," he said, "I experimented
with a couple of things when I joined Basie in 1937. About half a chorus,
that's all. Then people started looking at me as if to say: 'What's happening?'
So that was the last I did of that. There was so much going on that the
only thing to do was to play straight rhythm. And it was my first band
job. I thought: 'If that's what they want, why I'll do it.' "
penetrating quality of Greene's chording has been noted and I wondered
if there was anything abnormal about his guitar or method. The instrument
is a Stromberg, 'cello-built, and Freddie plays it tilted almost flat. "I
feel it better that way," he says, "And I have the strings
up higher than the average guitarist because I find that you can be heard
When he joined Count Basie, Greene was just 26, a self-taught player
from Charleston, South Carolina, who had been discovered by the perceptive
Greene's thoughts, mirrored on his face, are often betrayed
on-stage by worried looks in the direction of any offending sound. The
which illuminates his features when the band begins hitting properly,
came into play as he talked of Ellington.
"I still like Duke's band. That feeling, that train of thought is still
there. And those rhythm waves. You can distinguish the band the moment
you hear it." Then he returned to Basie and a question about the
celebrated Basie-Jones-Page-Greene rhythm section. "It just happened," he
said. "We didn't work out any sound, you know. We created it while
we played it. How does the Basie rhythm maintain its high quality?
That's hard to say. Basie mostly gives us a foundation. He finds the
plays around until he finally decides this will be it. Then, of course,
every player is important. A section of bands has to move together
"Now you asked about people I admired. At one time Lester Young was my
idol. I loved to play in the background for him. He seemed to ride
it - it's those rhythm waves again." He pulled his ear and smiled
ruefully, as though I might be thinking he was putting too much emphasis
matter of rhythm. Which is perhaps natural, for Greene is one of
the few survivors of the vanishing race of true rhythm guitarists.
Date: November 10, 1957
Our thanks to Mr. Ian Frew, of Stewarton, Ayshire, "bonnie" Scotland,
for kindly supplying a copy of this article.