Article: A Jazz Guitar Pedigree

Periodical: Jazz Journal
Date: May 1970
Pages: 10 - 11
Author: Don Roberts

Editor's Preface: This article covers many jazz guitarists. The following excerpt is the Freddie Green portion. Included are my annotations to correct factual errors that unfortunately have been perpetuated about Freddie Green's guitar style.
- Michael Pettersen

"It wouldn't be right to end the pre-Charlie Christian era without mentioning Count Basie's right hand man Freddie Green. Although he hardly ever takes a solo, his rhythm is as solid as a rock with an excellent tempo and swing. His drive hasn't faltered over all the years he has been with Count Basie and he helped balance the rhythm section and provide a greater emphasis behind the piano."

Editor's Note: The precise recording date is December 24, 1939. The locale is Carnegie Hall. The ensemble is the Kansas City Six: Freddie, Buck Clayton, Lester Young, Charlie Christian, Walter Page, and Jo Jones. This recording is available on CD as "Swinging At Carnegie Hall", Vanguard Records 79553-2, issued in 2000.

"A study of the track 'Good Morning Blues' recorded1939 defines his technique in unmistakable terms, for unlike some other of his recordings, his playing on this track is extremely well recorded. He plays four equal pulses in the bar by playing quavers (quarter notes) and resting on the second half of each beat. A transcription of this track reveals that he is playing four string chords on the lower four strings."

Editor's Note: I listened to this recording multiple times and disagree with this conclusion. 1) The recording does not have enough detail to transcribe Freddie's voicings accurately. 2) The voicings that can be ascertained are definitely not "four string chords on the lower four strings" as claimed by the article's author. Such voicings tend to sound very "muddy" on guitar and therefore would rarely be used by an experienced rhythm guitarist like Freddie Green

"This assumes that he is using the conventional guitar tuning rather than tuning down a fourth as some have done in the past."

Editor's Note: I have never read of such a lowered tuning and believe this statement to be in error. George Barnes played a guitar with a higher tuning: the highest string was tuned to an "A", a fourth higher than the typical "E". George Van Eps played a seven string guitar with the lowest string tuned one octave below the fifth string "A". Eddie Condon and Tiny Grimes played four string "tenor" guitars. However, no rhythm guitarist to my knowledge played a six string guitar tuned a fourth lower than normal as that lowered pitch would have encroached into the tessitura of the string bass.

"This means that he has a wonderful control of his plectrum and that the notation of his chords is in the same register as the right hand of the piano. Basie's piano playing is always very economic, interjecting notes here and there, and therefore Freddie Green has literally become Basie's 'right-hand' man."

Editor's Note: Though the notation of the rhythm guitar chords are in the treble clef (piano right hand), the guitar is a transposing instrument and the actual pitch lies one octave below, mainly in the bass clef (piano left hand). Basie did refer to Freddie as his "left-hand" man because Freddie's comping substituted for Basie's left hand chording function, not Basie's right hand melodic function.

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