Book Excerpt: A Thousand Honey Creeks Later:
My Life in Music from Basie to Motown
Author: Preston Love
Publisher: Wesleyan University Press Hanover, New Hampshire
Freddie Green, Ted Donnelly, my son, and I went crabbing once a week.
[In 1947, the Basie band was booked at the Club Paradise in Atlantic
City for the entire summer]. We had bought 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!
pages 182 - 184
Early in 1983, Buddy Tate began to correspond with me about a proposed
tour of Europe for a group of the original and early members of the Basie
orchestra. [The rhythm section was] Nat Pierce on piano, with Frank Capp
on drums, Freddie Green on guitar, and Ed Jones on bass. Freddie Green
took three weeks off from the then-current Basie orchestra to be with
us. He is essential and indispensable to any band aiming to play the "real" Count
Basie style. Freddie Green's guitar has always been the quintessential
embodiment and sound of what we refer to as the Count Basie style. Even
in the cases where Basie had drummers and bass players who didn't fit
his style all that well, Freddie Green still gave them some semblance
of the traditional Count Basie rhythm section sound. Of course, the rhythm
section of Page, Jones, Green, and Basie was without equal in the annals
of swing or jazz. That rhythm section was largely responsible for all
the successes that Count Basie had. Some later bass players and drummers
with Basie were reluctant to admit this, but I think it is axiomatic.
Freddie Green had come to Omaha quite often since my return there in
1971, so it was probably had only been a few months or weeks since I
had last seen him, but being with Freddie again was a pleasure because
we had always had a fine rapport.
The rhythm section [for the 1983 European tour] was quite acceptable
in spite of the fact that I couldn't appreciate an amplifier on the bass
violin of a Count Basie rhythm section. The reeds, however, were an immediate
disaster. Freddie Green just sat looking at the section with a sorrowful
expression on his face. Occasionally, he just shook his head in disbelief.
After Paris, we flew to Madrid, and upon our arrival at our hotel there,
Freddie Green said, "Love, take the lead [alto] book. Take the lead
book, and get those guys together for a rehearsal!" I said, "Aw,
Freddie, I couldn't do that and embarrass Earle [Warren] like that." Freddie
knew of my great worship of Earle, as did all of the older member's of
Basie's band, and he understood how it would hurt me to do this. So Freddie
said, "Listen, Preston, nobody in the audience will know who is
playing lead so long as you can get that section together and sounding
like a real reed section." Shortly afterward, the saxes gathered
in my room, and we carefully rehearsed each piece of music with myself
on lead [alto] and Earle on second alto. Freddie came
to listen to the rehearsal and constantly nodded his approval as we were
able to clean up the parts.
pages 207 - 209
Another blow came in 1987 when Freddie Green died of a heart attack on
March 1. On the occasion of Green's death I wrote a column for the "Omaha
World Herald" stating that the event eliminated any reason for the
continued operation of an orchestra bearing the name Count Basie. I noted
that the members of the then current Basie band might continue to be
a fine band, but Green had been the quintessential exponent of the Basie
style for all of the fifty years that he played with the band. This was
especially true of the late Basie bands, for with the passing of each
era, these bands lost more and more of the distinctive Basie style and
sound. This is not to say that these bands were not good; they were sometimes
excellent, but they didn't retain that singularly exclusive "Basie
thing". Green joined Count Basie in March 1937 and played with the
Basie band continuously until his death, except for a few months in 1950
when Basie operated a small combo. Green was not a stranger to adversity:
each of his wives dies at a relatively young age, and his youngest son
died of a heart attack while only in his early forties.
Green was often called Basie's left hand, which to some degree was true.
I have often said that any band with Freddie Green on guitar would take
on the flavor of the Count Basie style, while a band without him could
never hope to get it. Even the Basie reunion band we took to Europe in
1983 immediately sounded like the "real" Count Basie the instant
Green strummed his first notes on the guitar, despite the fact that most
of the band members had grown quite old and some were badly out of practice.
Freddie was the last living member of the great Count Basie rhythm section
that consisted of Basie on piano, Green on guitar, Jo Jones on drums,
and Walter Page on bass. There aren't many jazz or swing critics who
haven't referred to that rhythm section as the greatest in history. Green
was the cohesive element and unifying force of that section. He was
never a soloist, but his rhythm was the steadiest of any guitar player,
and he actually produced a more powerful sound on his guitar than traditionally
dominant instruments such as the
drums or bass.
Green's sense of tempo was flawless, but the main thing
that set him apart from other guitar players and that made it almost
them to imitate him successfully was that Green changed the voicing of
the chord with each beat, even if the chord remained the same for several
bars. [Editor's note: Freddie did often play moving lines; see the "Transcriptions" section
for examples. But to state that he "changed the voicing with each
beat" is incorrect.] This always made him and the section seen to
be "walking" or moving. His touch made the strings sound as
if they were singing.
Green was a very quiet man, but he was not dull.
He had a rather droll sense of humor. We had a good friendship that