Book Excerpt: Count Basie - A Bio-Discography

Book: Count Basie: A Bio-Discography
Author: Chris Sheridan
Copyright: 1986
Publisher: Greenwood Press
ISBN: 0-313-24935-0

Description: This 1,350 page tome lists every known recording of the Basie band, including broadcasts, films, videos, and amateur recordings. Also included are every tune recorded by Basie and where it appears, the band's travel itinerary from 1936 - 1984, all the personnel changes throughout the years, and reports of the band's activity between each recording session date. Truly an amazing opus!

Page xxiii
In Green's hands, the guitar became a rhythm instrument sans pareil - no greater mastery of tempo and rhythmic shading has ever been exhibited on the instrument.

Page 25 (February 1937)
In the Black Cat Club, Freddie Green was playing in a quintet that included drummer Kenny Clarke, and John Hammond brought him to Roseland to audition for Basie. Many years later, Basie told Stanley Dance that Freddie was hired immediately and was "on the band bus" when they left for their next major engagement, at Pittsburgh.

That much is true, but Basie already had Claude Williams doubling guitar and violin, and "Fiddler" (Williams) remained in the band throughout the engagement at Pittsburgh's posh William Penn Hotel (Basie's band was the first black band to play there), as the earliest series of broadcasts by the Basie band revealed.

Page 25 (February 1937)
WBAE broadcast via the Mutual Network twice a day from the Chatterbox Room (located in the William Penn Hotel). These recordings give a glimpse of the raw style of the early Basie band. And, all the time, Freddie Green watched from the sidelines, or sat in his hotel room.

Page 176 (January 10, 1944)
After completing a short series of one-nighters, they broke a different kind of record with a marathon transcription session for Lang-Worth, cutting 18 titles at a single sitting in three and one-half hours. Freddie Green mysteriously missed the session, so the rhythm is left with a curious hole in it, like Gruyere cheese.

Page 312 (February 1950)
Not only was the (smaller) size of the (Basie) band a surprise, but, to some, so was the personnel. Opening night at the Brass Rail (in Chicago) found Basie with only Clark Terry and Gus Johnson as holdovers from his old big band. The others in the new sextet were Buddy DeFranco (clarinet), Bob Graf (tenor sax), and Jimmy Lewis (bass). Harry Edison told Stanley Dance: "We didn't even know Basie had a small band until Freddie Green, Ted Donnelly and I met one afternoon (in New York) and were told Basie had flown to Chicago."

The new Basie combo stayed at the Brass Rail until the last week of March, returning to New York to play the Strand Theater between movies and opposite Billie Holiday. The Musician's Union agreement dictated expanded personnel for stage shows. And it is almost certainly at this point that Freddie Green re-attached himself, never again to be absent from a Basie line-up except for reasons of sickness or holiday.

Page 318 (March 1951)
By now, Basie had begun to think about re-forming a big band and duly opened at the Apollo near the end of March with a 16 piece orchestra build round the combo. (The rhythm section consisted of) Freddie Green - guitar; Jimmy Lewis - bass; Gus Johnson - drums.

Page 582 (October 30, 1961)
It was a lively (recording) session, with Basie in especially humorous form, and further sitters-in materialized as the days passed. Additionally, Sam Herman, once with the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra, sat in for an absent Freddie Green.

Page 667 (October 1967)
The band two days in Paris but, for reasons which remain unclear, the concert scheduled for the Salle Pleyel on October 3 did not take place. Instead, Basie, Eddie Davis, and Freddie Green went to the Jazzland Club in Paris and jammed with Johnny Griffin, Alby Cullaz, and Art Taylor.

Page 719 (December 1967)
In the following week, Basie lost his entire rhythm section, one way or another. Freddie Green succumbed to the flu, Norman Keenan (bass) broke a finger, and Rufus Jones left the band. The new drummer, Harold Jones, was in place when the band's performances were televised live to celebrate New Year's Eve, as was Freddie Green, just recovered, but Norman Keenan was being subbed by Al Lucas.

Page 731 (September 1968)
The band's last engagement in California was to close out the Friday night session at the Monterey Jazz Festival, though, by all accounts, the audio system was so faulty that unamplified Freddie Green somehow drowned out the rest of the orchestra! (Editor's note: It is quite feasible that Freddie's guitar was miked very close and the rest of the band was miked at a distance. This would explain the balance problem between the guitar and the rest of the band.)

Page 746 (June 1969)
Freddie Green took a rare solo vacation while the band traveled a few days through the Midwest and then on to a week in Montreal, where Green rejoined them.

Page 805 (August 1973)
A notable engagement in mid-August was the Norman Granz concert at the Hollywood Bowl - entitled "The World's Greatest Jazz Show". Harvey Siders, reporting the event in Down Beat (November 22, 1973 issue) noted: "Basie's band took a long time to get it together and, even when they did, someone played them (and the audience) a dirty technical trick. Freddie Green's microphone was non-functional, and let's face it, when you can't hear the reassuring chomp-chomp of Freddie Green, you're not hearing the reassuring swing of the Basie band." This probably explains why, unusually, there are no extant Pablo recordings from the concert.

Page 941 (March 20, 1981)
After turning north mid-month, the band flew to New York to prepare for an all-star tribute to Basie, scheduled for March 20 at Carnegie Hall. It was, however, an occasion that received a mixed press, not least because of the sparing use made of Basie himself by the organizers. The concert itself, featuring George Benson, Tony Bennett, Sarah Vaughan, and Joe Williams, was a sellout attracting an enthusiastic audience and it was recorded by CBS Cable TV for broadcast to subscribers in October 1981. E. Condon Whatey wrote in Down Beat (April 1982 issue) that "More Count would have been a plus" and felt the program suffered by comparison with other televised tributes to be recorded in 1981.

One major problem was the absence of Freddie Green with an unexplained malady. The absence of Freddie Green was marked, especially when one considers that, over the previous 45 years, one barely needed the fingers on one hand to count his previous ones. Writing in Jazz Journal (June 1981 issue), Lee Jeske likened it to seeing Venus Di Milo with arms but no legs. He added: "The chair was there, the music stand was there, and there were even two guitars standing next to the chair, but Freddie Green, who is to the Basie band what motor oil is to a car engine, was in absentia. Although the band sounded in top form, it didn't look right and it didn't feel right."

[Editor's note: According to Jon Burr, Tony Bennett's bassist at the time, Freddie refused to perform because of the disrespectful treatment he and other musicians received from the television production managers. Burr notes that many of the musicians that did perform supported Freddie's boycott of the event. Also, the guitars seen on stage were likely George Benson's, not Freddie's. And in this editor's opinion, the band did not sound "in top form" at this performance.]

Page 953 (May 11, 1983)
Freddie Green had been hospitalized missing that recording session (for the Pablo LP "88 Basie Street") as well as the forthcoming Japanese tour, that lasted three weeks.

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