Book Excerpt: The World of Count Basie

Book: The World of Count Basie
Author: Stanley Dance
Copyright: 1980
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 nicknamed "Fiddler".

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 Tempos
"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 with Freddie
"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 to Basie
"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 me.
"I'm quite sure he meant it, too, and when we went out again he was in."

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...."

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