Book Excerpt: The World of Count Basie
Book: The World of Count Basie
Author: Stanley Dance
Publisher: Da Capo Press - New York
ISBN: 0-306-80245-7 (paperback)
Pages xvii and xviii - Freddie's Early History
The joint interview with Basie and guitarist Freddie Green in The World
of Swing revealed some of their beliefs regarding swing and tempos. Green
joined Basie in 1937 and apart from a brief interval in 1950, has been
with him ever since - the longest tenure of any sideman in the band. His
role in the rhythm section is of great significance. In Basie's view,
"it holds things together". A reserved, dignified man, Green
was born in Charleston, South Carolina, where his close friend, Lonnie
Simmons (tenor saxophone and organ), got him his first professional job
with the Nighthawks. Another friend, trumpet player Samuel Walker, whose
father taught at Jenkin's Orphanage, helped Green to learn to read when
he began to play banjo. Although he was not a member of the famous Jenkin's
Orphanage Band, this friendship led to his first experience of "the
road" when he toured with the band - along with Cat Anderson - as
far as Maine. Green went to New York in 1930 and stayed with an aunt,
in whose house he became familiar with rent parties and stride piano.
He worked as an upholsterer by day, and at night in an after-hours club,
the Yeah Man, where the manager advised him to switch to guitar. 'Lonnie
Johnson came in one night and upset me,' he recalled. More invaluable
experience came when he worked at the Exclusive Club with Willie Gant,
a stride pianist. Gant had a huge repertoire and Green had to learn to
accompany singers in all kinds of keys. Because there was no room for
drums, maintaining a good beat was essential and, since there was no room
in the club for dancing, tempos were important too. When John Hammond
heard him at the Black Cat in Greenwich Village in 1936, he was working
with Kenny Clarke (drums), Lonnie Simmons (tenor saxophone), Fat Atkins
(piano), and Frank Spearman (bass), Clarke's stepbrother. He auditioned
for Basie at Roseland and got the job, thus determining the pattern of
his life. Acoustic rhythm guitar is seldom heard in the few remaining
big bands, but Freddie Green's guitar continues to be a vital part of
the Basie band's pulse.
Page 5 - The All-American Rhythm Section
The main source of inspiration in the band has always been the rhythm
section. Much credit must be given to such other members as that great-hearted
bassist, the late Walter Page, the inimitable guitarist, Freddie Green,
and the peerless drummer, Jo Jones. "You may think you're the boss,"
Basie once said, "but the drummer is really the head man; when he
isn't feeling right, nothing's going to sound good".
Page 12 - Claude Williams - Freddie's Predecessor
When Basie and Harlan Floyd got back to the club one night (after a day
at the horse racing track), Freddie Green was standing outside enjoying
the evening air.
"How did it go?" asked Freddie.
"Real well. A horse in the last race called 'Fiddler's Green' paid
seventeen to one."
Freddie smiled his biggest smile, remembering his predecessor in the band,
Claude Williams. Claude, who played violin as well as guitar, had been
Page 14 - Count Basie on Freddie Green
"Freddie Green joined when we were working at Roseland. John Hammond
came by one Sunday afternoon and said he had a guitarist he wanted me
to hear. It seemed strange to audition a guitarist, but we went down to
the dressing room. He was on the bus the next day when we went to Pittsburgh,
and he's been with us ever since. Freddie Green is Mr. Hold-togetherer!"
Page 54 - Jo Jones on Freddie Green
"At one time I had about seventy-five records of Duke Ellington
and I used to carry my record-player around. I think Freddie Green and
I must have put words to about twenty of Mr. Duke Ellington's tunes, before
anybody else thought about putting words to them. We'd just get in a room
and play the records and find words to go with the tunes. "
Page 93 - Dicky Wells on Freddie's Nickname
"He (Harry "Sweets" Edison) and Prez (Lester Young) just
about (nick) named everybody, and when Prez named anybody the name stuck.
Basie was 'The Holy Main'. That meant 'tops' in the way you'd apply it
to someone your greatly admired. *** Freddie Green was 'Pep' ".
Page 103 - Harry "Sweets" Edison on Setting
"He (Basie) was and is the greatest for stomping off the tempo. He
noodles around on the piano until he gets it just right. Just like you
were mixing mash and yeast to make whiskey, and you keep tasting and tasting
it. Or you're making a cake and tasting the mix to make sure you've got
the ingredients and everything to the point where you know it's going
to be all right. Freddie Green and Jo Jones would follow him until he
hit the right tempo, and when he started it they kept it. They knew where
he was going at all times, but if the tempo was too fast he would bring
it down gradually, not abruptly, so nobody would ever know. And if it
was too slow, he would bring it up until it was just right."
Page 160 - Preston Love on Crabbing in Atlantic City
"Freddie Green, Ted Donnelly, my son, and I went crabbing once a
week. We had brought ropes and crabbing baskets, and we would walk several
miles to an inlet where we stood on a little bridge and caught hundreds
of ocean crabs. Freddie was from Charleston, South Carolina, so he was
right at home on the seacoast with crabbing basket in hand! He was also
a master swimmer. Emmett Berry, singer Bob Bailey, and I once made the
mistake of trying to swim with him in the ocean. The three of us had a
frightening time when we found ourselves far out beyond our safe limits."
Page 176 - Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis on Freddie
as a Golfer
"Among musicians, for instance, we have intellectual and sportsman-like
types. We have some fine golfers like Freddie Green and Sir Charles Thompson.
We have many jazz artists who could endorse golf balls, golf bags, and
such products, if the manufacturers knew about them."
Page 264 - Gene Ramey on Freddie's Guitar Style
"I say no band was great unless it had a strong rhythm section. It
had to have a motor. With the exception of Duke's, there weren't many
that were great. Earl Hines had fine arrangements and sounded so beautiful
on piano. He had a good rhythm section but it wasn't even till he got
Alvin Burroughs. Neither Cab Calloway nor Fletcher Henderson had good
rhythm sections at the time Walter Page was sitting down and telling the
guys 'Now listen, we gotta get the balance! You gotta stay out of the
way, or we'll have to get rid of the piano or the guitar.'
This was right in Basie's lot, because when he came to Texas
with Bennie Moten they would play places with only one piano. Moten would
sit there and play the bass part, and Basie would play the treble. They
learned how to stay out of each other's way, so there was no problem at
all for Basie to stay out of the way of the guitar.
" Freddie Green, that famous guitarist in Basie's band,
does not flirt with the chords. Chords can follow progressions. Or chords
can just stay on rudiments, and that way people know where you are and
don't have to clash with you. Why Freddie's so great is that he plays
the fundamental chord and doesn't get in the way of the piano. When bop
came in, they eliminated the guitar player because he was clashing with
the piano. Then when the amplified guitar arrived, not only did the piano
player have trouble, but the bass player as well!"
Page 294 - Gus Johnson Jr. on Freddie's Committment
"When we did the first job at the Brass Rail in Chicago, Freddie
Green wasn't with us. There were just Clark Terry, Buddy DeFranco, Bob
Graf on tenor, Jimmy Lewis on bass, Basie, and myself. We were there about
a month and we sounded good, but I missed Freddie because we were pals.
I saw him when we got back to New York.
" 'Man', he said, 'tell Basie to hire me back in the band!'
" 'Yeah,' I said, 'I told him already.'
" 'You're kidding? All I do is dream about that band,' Freddie told
"I'm quite sure he meant it, too, and when we went out again he was
Page 303 - Paul Quinichette on Freddie's Tempo Control
"Basie was doing the Kate Smith show then and everything was fine.
He had Freddie Green - 'Green Bay' or 'Pepperhead', as we used to call
him - and I think he'd be lost without him. If you put the tempo too fast,
Freddie kept it down there, always controlled. He's got it right there,
in his wrist. And Basie listens to Freddie Green, one reason why he's
still successful to this day. He might not listen to me, but he's going
to listen to Freddie, because he knows that's where it is. Basie would
stomp off the tune two or three times, getting it right, what I call the
right slot, the right tempo. When Walter Page died, the only one he had
left was Freddie, the only one he could rely on to keep tempo."
Page 321 - Eddie Barefield on Freddie as a Soloist
"In those days that (keeping tempo) was important. Of course, Walter
Page's bass was the big thing, and working with him was the making of
Freddie Green, who's not an outstanding soloist, but for time...."