The Freddie Green Interview

Date: August 9, 1977
Interviewers: Stanley Dance and Helen Dance; husband and wife; Mr. Dance is a jazz critic and writer.

Location of tapes: Institute of Jazz Studies, Bradley Hall, Rutgers - The State University of New Jersey, Newark, New Jersey, USA, 07102, telephone: 201-648-5595, fax : 201-648-5944

Length of transcript: 254 pages; typed, double-spaced; the transcript may be purchased from the Institute of Jazz Studies for approximately $50.

Editor's Notes:

My goal was to condense the 254 page transcript into a smaller document that accurately portrays Freddie Green, the musician and the man. This effort required many hours of editing as the transcript is verbatim, and the tape recording documents an extended conversation between life-long friends. Frequently the conversation would wander, and often Freddie would say very little. For clarity, I have edited out the numerous "ums", "uhs", and other common conversational space-fillers. I also combined smaller quotes into a single larger quote if the subject was the same.

Many pages of the transcript document the Dances expressing their opinions on what might have happened behind the scenes in the Basie band. Freddie's only comments to these numerous opinions were: "mmm-hmmm." These passages have not been included as Freddie did not directly agree or disagree; he was likely just being polite.

Also there are many pages regarding personnel changes in the Basie band over the years, and reminiscences about different players. A Basie historian may find these pages of interest, but they held no information about Freddie Green.

Unfortunately, the interviewers did not ask Freddie about his playing technique. For rhythm guitarists around the world, this was a unique opportunity lost forever. On the other hand, this interview is likely the longest ever given by the reticent Mr. Green. Consequently, Freddie Green admirers owe a debt of gratitude to Stanley and Helen Dance for conducting this interview.

Two final notes: All quotations are Freddie's words unless otherwise noted. And, strangely, neither the Dances nor Freddie could clearly recall when the United States joined World War II (December 7, 1941) even though all three had been adults in the 1940's! This historical lacuna is on page 197 of the transcript.

Michael Pettersen
July 2002

Childhood in Charleston

  • Born March 31, 1911 in Charleston, South Carolina.

  • Lived at 7 Dalts Court near Rutledge Avenue -- a court of twelve houses.

  • Two younger brothers.

  • Clarence

    • Different father than Freddie.

  • Josey

    • Different father than Freddie.

    • Stayed in Charleston.

    • Worked at the Navy shipyard as a cook.

  • Neither brother was musical.

  • Father died when Freddie was ten or eleven.

    • Mother remarries.

    • Stepfather did carpentry and painting.

  • Mother did domestic work.

    • She died when Freddie was eighteen or nineteen.

    • Freddie came back to Charleston for her funeral and stayed over one year.

  • Freddie sold newspapers and shined shoes to make money.

  • When asked if he was a quiet child:

"No, my mother used to have a problem. Like every time she'd come home there was always something that I did. So I wouldn't say I was quiet. Every time that she came home there was always 'Freddie did this and Freddie did that' ".

  • Freddie lived in Charleston until 1923.

    • Moved to New York City at the age of twelve.

    • Went to live with his maternal aunt.

    • This aunt had moved to New York from Charleston.

    • Took the train to New York accompanied by a paternal aunt.


Childhood in New York

  • Housing

    • Lived in an apartment with his maternal aunt.

    • Apartment located between Eleventh Avenue and the Hudson River.

    • Aunt later moved to Harlem, on 141st Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenue.

    • The Rhythm Club (jazz club) was near; dancer "Bojangles" Robinson hung out there.

"It was happening in Harlem. It was jumping."

  • Schools

    • First attended PS-58 located between Columbus and Amsterdam (Tenth) Avenue.

    • When his aunt moved to Harlem, attended PS-5l located near 141st Street and Edgecombe Avenue.

    • Attended Frederick Douglass Junior High at 139th Street and Seventh Avenue.

    • Left school at age 16.

  • Daily Life in New York

"I made a friend with one of the guys in the neighborhood who was supposedly the baddest guy in the neighborhood. I think we had a fight one day. And after awhile, I think I kind of knocked him down. And everybody was amazed that I did that to the bad guy. So then he and I were real close friends. And he was the leader of the gang on the block. We used to go around on different corners, that's when the Charleston (a dance) was out and I could always dance. So he had a ukelele and we used to go on corners and dance."

    • Played baseball and most childhood sports.

    • Skinny as a child.

    • Made pocket money shoveling snow.

Young Adulthood in Charleston

  • Leotha Elmo - girlfriend and future wife

    • Leotha was from Charleston.

    • She was a neighbor in Dalts Court and went to Freddie's church.

"I never forgot her (while in New York). I always thought about her. When my mother died and I had to go back (to Charleston), I think she was the first person that greeted me. And she came in, and she saw me, and I saw her, and I just grabbed her, you know. We got married during the same time I was there to bury my mother."

    • Freddie and Leotha eventually moved to New York and lived with his aunt.

  • Earning money before his musical career

"My father-in-law was a contractor (in Charleston) and I used to help him quite a bit doing odd jobs and what-not."

  • Freddie's children

"My first son was born in Charleston."

Musical Roots in Charleston and Harlem

"I always loved music. It was evidently in me."

  • Father played the pump organ.

    • The organ was in the house of Freddie's paternal aunt, located at 10 Dalts Court.

  • Mother sang in the AME Methodist Church choir

    • Freddie used to sing along with her at home.

"I tried all kinds of jobs and I was never pleased with whatever I did until music came. Until I got something musical and I was much happier doing that."

  • Played the ukelele as a child.

    • He does not remember how he got the ukelele.

  • Sang baritone in quartets as a child.

    • Sang Irish songs on street corners in Charleston.

    • Barbershop type harmony.

    • People that listened gave them nickels and dimes.

  • Liked to dance.

" I was a good dancer."

  • Loved the movies, stage shows, and the theater.

"When I was a kid, my mother used to say when she looked for me I was always at the movie. That's where they had stage shows. And I loved stage shows during that period. I used to go up there and watch them dance. And then come home and imitate them."

" I remember one show that came through was the Whitman Sisters. They had two kids that used to dance. Pops and Louie. They were terrific tap dancers."

"I liked everything about the theater. The lights, and what they were doing on stage, and how they did it. I used to go and just watch them attentively."

  • Jenkin's Orphanage Bands in Charleston

    • Five or six bands made up of underprivileged children.

    • Marching bands of that time also played popular tunes, like St. Louis Blues.

    • Played on street corners for money to help the orphanage.

    • Jazz trumpet player Cat Anderson played in a Jenkins' band in his youth.

"They used to come into my neighborhood. The minute I heard that brass I used to stop whatever I was doing and follow them all over the city."

  • Harlem Theaters

    • Freddie saw top musical acts in various Harlem theaters.

    • The Savoy Ballroom was in operation, as was the Renaissance Ballroom.

    • Heard Vernon Andrade at the Renaissance.

" I really liked the theater. I would spend most of my time in the theaters. I lived in the Lafayette Theater and the Lincoln Theater. I saw Jimmy Lunceford's band at the Lafayette. Lonnie Simmons and I were together. We walked in there and looked up at that bandstand, and looked how everybody was so neatly dressed. Everything was clockwork and they did their thing. It was a beautiful thing to see. That's the way it was back in those days."

  • Listening to Recordings

    • His aunt in Charleston had a Victrola.

    • She had records of comedians like Bert Williams.

" I used to go over to her house and do chores for her. All so I can get into that room (with the Victorla.)"

  • She had records of early Duke Ellington and the McKinney Cotton Pickers.

"I remember hearing Duke's band. There was always something different for me."

  • Hearing Stride Piano Players

"My aunt used to give house rent parties in Harlem. And she used to hire a guy to come in and play the piano. His name was Rock. He was a stride piano player. I really enjoyed the way he played. My aunt would keep drinks on the piano for him."

  • Freddie heard Jelly Roll Morton play at the Rhythm Club near his home in Harlem.

"Jelly Roll was saying 'I taught all you So and So's how to swing.'"

  • First Banjo

"I had the ukelele (in Charleston). And then I picked up the banjo. This is after I had gotten married and came back to New York."

  • Musical Instruction

"A friend of mine in Charleston was a trumpet player. And as far as studying music was concerned, I used to go over to his house. We would use a blackboard. We would go through the routine of scales, and what not."

"I had a book with the (banjo chord) diagrams."

"There was a professor of brass instruments at Jenkins. Professor Blake was his name. We became good friends. I used to go to his house. He was a graduate of Howard University. He was a tuba player. On Sundays we would go through his library where his music books would be, and he'd help me."

  • Early Musical Memories

"There was a group called the Nighthawks in Charleston and the trumpet player's father was one of the teachers at the Jenkins Orphanage. His son was Samuel Walker. He was a terrific trumpet player so he had this group. I think it was trumpet, drums, saxophone, and piano. Four pieces I think it was. They were getting ready to do some dances at a place called Dalts Hall. All of the big bands used to come through there. That's another thing that is just coming back to me. Like the Golden Pheasant band out of Florida. And Belton's band out of Florida. And I would always be there. I would always know when some big band was there. Well small big bands, I think about ten or twelve pieces. Very good bands, though. Good sounding."

" Most of the bands back in those days had banjos. There weren't any microphones. They had a banjo in the back and a tuba."

" I used to go see the Nighthawks. And I heard them again when I went back to bury mother. Then I started fooling around with the ukelele. And then I went to the pawn shop and bought me a banjo. I finally talked the guy with the Nighthawks to let me sit in. I used to rehearse with them. This was my first professional work."

Leaving Charleston to Pursue a Musical Career

"We had our first kid. Then I left Charleston. The Jenkin's (Orphanage) group had a show. They were going to tour the state of Maine. I left with them and went up to Maine with this show they had. Went on the road with them with my banjo. We toured the state of Maine playing in Grange Halls, whatever they had up there in order to accommodate this traveling show. It was something! I don't think we got paid. We played for contributions and the like."

  • The proceeds of this tour went to the Jenkin's Orphanage.

  • The band had two alto saxes, one tenor sax, two trumpets, two trombones, one tuba, one banjo (Freddie), and drums.

"I don't remember a piano player."

"We had a bus. It was a homemade bus; a truck that was made into a bus. Listen, I can't describe it. But it was very uncomfortable."

" We used to have to get up around noon and play all through the streets...a parade, you know. We were in the small towns of Maine. And we had dress uniforms that we wore."

"I wanted to go. I wanted experience. I wanted to get on the road. I didn't like the conditions of Charleston."

"Leotha (his wife) wasn't so satisfied that I went. She didn't want me to be a musician. She didn't really want me to leave Charleston because she didn't really want to leave Charleston."

"After Maine, the band came back and stopped in New York. And I just stayed in New York. I didn't go back (to Charleston). I sent for her (Leotha) and my kid."

Early Musical Career in New York

"I worked as an upholsterer making chairs. After Leotha got to New York, I had two jobs. I'd work at the upholstery during the daytime, and at night I'd work at the Yeah Man. It was in the early 1930's."

  • Freddie played in a trio at the Yeah Man Club with childhood friend Lonnie Simmons on sax and Eric Henry on piano.

"I was working in a club called the Yeah Man Club. I knew how to play the ukelele. And the banjo, well, I could tune it, you know what I mean (laughs). Then I got a few books on banjo chords. As soon as I picked up the banjo, the guitar came in (laughs). Now I had to go through this again, the added strings, you know."

"At the Yeah Man I was playing banjo. And the manager of the club said 'Well, everybody's playing guitar now. You have to get a guitar, okay?' I got one from a music store on 47th Street. King's Music Store. I bought it on time."

"The change-over from the banjo, it was something. It was so abrupt as far as I'm concerned. It could have been because microphones were coming in (to use). I really don't know the reason."

"The first time I heard (guitarist) Lonnie Johnson was at the Yeah Man Club. Lonnie Johnson came in there one night and really upset things! (laughs) He was singing this thing 'Tomorrow Night'. I heard all the celebrities in that club. It was a big thing for me. The stars used to come in after hours. They would come up from downtown. Like Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey. Every time the door would open we would look, because Lonnie (Simmons) and myself, we were two country boys. All of a sudden these big stars are walking in."

"There was a friend of mine at the Yeah Man, Lonnie Simmons. He played tenor saxophone and organ. He and I were real close being he was from the same city (Charleston). He's from right across the bridge in Charleston - a little town called Mount Pleasant. And I remember him from school. He was working with the Nighthawks. Then he came to New York and he got this job at the Yeah Man. He knew about me and he got me a job there. Then later we left there and went to a club called the Exclusive Club."

"At the Exclusive Club, I was playing guitar with Willie Gant (stride pianist). He was in the same class as The Lion (Willie Smith) and Fats (Waller). We got really along musically and socially."

"Celebrities would come into the Exclusive Club, just like the Yeah Man. The Yeah Man was right on Seventh Avenue and the Exclusive Club was at 136th and Lenox."

"Lonnie (Simmons) eventually moved to Chicago. He is still in Chicago. Chicago was a good town."

After the Exclusive Club gig ended, Freddie was hired at the Black Cat in Greenwich Village. He followed Lonnie Simmons to this gig.

  • The band was Freddie, Lonnie (sax), Kenny Clarke (drums), Frank Clarke (bass) , and Fat Atkins (piano).

"Kenny Clarke was a terrific drummer. We had a thing going down at the Black Cat. We had a terrific rhythm section."

"We go to work at twelve o'clock at night and play until four in the morning."

The Roots of Freddie's Guitar Style

  • Freddie worked at the Exclusive Club as a duo with stride pianist Willie Gant. He played rhythm guitar and learned how to play without getting in the way of the piano player.

"It was just the two of us. Looking back on it now, I think this is where I got my training, my ABC's. He (Gant) kind of told me what to do and what not to do. He was a beautiful, beautiful man. He didn't go into anything that made me feel uncomfortable."

"I really got an education playing at the Yeah Man and the Exclusive Club. Singers play in all kinds of keys, a lot of sharps. And the Willie Gant repertoire was endless as far as I'm concerned. All the popular songs."

"There was room for couples to dance. So we had to play tempo things. Most of the things I played with him; some of the numbers I laid out. And then I would come in whenever he wanted to stride."

"In the beginning, I was a little concerned if this piano and guitar thing would go. But I needed a job, you know. I had to be the drummer also, because we didn't have any drummer at all."

  • Freddie was creating a new role for the guitar when playing with a stride pianist. He was not interested in playing solo with Willie Gant:

"I didn't know the guitar well enough then."

First Recordings

"I made a couple of records with (pianist) James P. Johnson and Pee Wee Russell."

  • In 1937, a few days after Freddie auditioned for Basie, he had a recording session with Billie Holiday.

"I was the first one there. I walked in and they were setting up the microphones. Then in walks Pres (Lester Young), then Buck (Clayton), and then came Benny (Goodman). Then I realized I was all alone! And then Lady (Billie Holiday) walked in. I thought 'Wow'. Then in comes Teddy (Wilson), Walter (Page), and Jo Jones, and we got on with it. We all got along alright."

"To me, the recording was easy. I expected it to be a really hard thing. Billie would walk in with her music. Nothing written out, just a piano copy. Teddy would run over it with her. Teddy would say to us 'You've got this and you've got that.' We recorded the first chorus and Lester would come in problems. We didn't do many takes. That (session) was tops."

  • When told by Helen Dance that "Billie (Holiday) always said that the only guy she really loved was you", Freddie laughed and said:

"No, I'm not going to get into that."

Career with the Count Basie Orchestra

  • Hired by Count Basie in 1937.

  • The Roseland Ballroom gig in 1937 was Basie's first New York gig. The band traveled from Kansas City to New York, stopping in Chicago where Fletcher Henderson gave Basie a number of arrangements.

  • Basie reportedly was so scared at the Roseland he sat with his back to the audience and wouldn't look at them.

"I know Basie was scared!"

"I was at the Black Cat doing that thing. John Hammond used to come in there and hear me play. He made me audition when Basie came to town. I auditioned one afternoon at the Roseland Ballroom to join Basie's Band. Basie had a guitar player, Claude Williams. He played guitar and violin. I made the audition with Basie and got the job, more or less. In the meantime, I had a recording date with Billie Holiday."

"At the audition, the Basie guys were all standing around. And I walked in and I was scared. I waited. Nobody came up and said 'Yeah'. I felt really lonely. But I was determined. I said 'Somebody's going to hear me play.' Basie finally came in. I think they started to play something, I think it was the blues, and I just started playing with them. It wasn't a big thing. I didn't know if I got the job or not, really. I just knew I didn't get it. I just said 'Oh, well, okay.' Nobody said anything. The next thing I remember is that Basie said it sounded good, you know. But anyway that night I went to work at the Black Cat."

" The next thing I heard (from Basie) was be at the next job at the William Penn Hotel in Pittsburgh. I went to Pittsburgh alone. Can't remember if I caught a train or a bus, or how I got there. In the hotel that we stayed in, I didn't see anybody. The whole day I arrived I didn't see anybody. They were all in their rooms and I wondered 'Now where is everybody?' I didn't want to go and knock on anybody's door. I mean I was just a total stranger. But then Basie came by and said 'Why don't you come on out tonight?' "

  • Helen Dance opined that the reason Freddie was hired, and Claude Williams was fired, was to improve the Basie band.

  • Mrs. Dance: "John Hammond was well aware (of the band's weaknesses) and he was going to take care of the soft points; the places where people could jump on it (criticize the band)."

Developing his Guitar Style with Basie

"I didn't know what to do (regarding playing in the Basie band). I think I was doing some single string thing. That's what I thought they would like. Hershel Evans said 'No, no. Keep some time.' I said 'Well, okay.' And I started playing, just keeping time like I'm accustomed to doing. I thought I had to. I didn't want to lose this job. So I started playing the rhythm. I thought 'Well, they won't complain to me anymore about the single string thing. I'll just play rhythm.' And I've been playing rhythm ever since."

"I stayed out of the way because Jo Jones, Walter Page, and Basie were doing something else. That's one of the reasons I started playing rhythm, because they would play some stock things. Basie would do something, and Jo Jones would answer him, and then Walter Page would come in. So I figured 'If they did it, maybe it was my turn to come in.' And I went into something and they said 'No, no. Just keep time.' So who am I do say? I just played rhythm. Because what they were doing was something different. They would break the rhythm. And I said 'I'll just keep time while they're doing that.' Keeping the time was what they needed so that's what I did."

The All-American Rhythm Section

"Walter Page was a good time keeper. He would hold things together. He didn't get too many solos. Whatever he did, he did while other things were going on. But he kept everything straight, going straight ahead. Walter liked things to be right."

  • On Jo Jones' tempo:

"We (Green, Basie, Page) wouldn't let him get away. Walter probably held him down as much as anyone. He never got that far out of line, because we had him covered, you know. A lot of people don't understand Jo. But I do. He definitely belongs in a big band."

"It took a while before I felt like part of the band. I really stayed behind so I could feel my way and get used to the rest of the rhythm section. I got my cues from Basie. I knew from Basie that everything was cool. I started feeling comfortable after we made the All-American Rhythm Section quartet recordings. I did enjoy those sessions with just the rhythm section. That rhythm section was a great thing. I really enjoyed that band because it was so exciting. It was something. It was relaxed, loose, free and easy. We just swung and there wasn't much discipline, you know. It was easier to get along with most of the head arrangements, then setting the riffs, and the feeling was close. Everybody was doing their thing. You could feel it. The audience could feel it."

The 1940's Basie Big Band

"The whole band really got along well. With all the different personalities, we were just like a happy family. And we tried to keep it that way."

"I really enjoyed listening to Lester Young and playing for him. I really did. He really made an impression on me because he was different, and he swung like mad, and he was very melodic in his playing. Lester was the most humorous guy in the band. He had some humor that you never heard before. Funny things that he sings and what not. He would say things right off the top of his head. Whatever it was, you would have to laugh. Little gestures he had meant something. There's so many of them. He would call men 'Lady'. Anybody that he would come in contact with, 'Lady This' and 'Lady That'. His reasons? I don't know. It's just funny. He'd keep the bus laughing. He sat in the back of the bus at all times and he would come up with things. It was always a happy thing on the bus. Never a dull moment."

"Lester's sound was different. It was different from what I was used to hearing around New York. It wasn't like Coleman, or like Ben Webster, or Prince Robinson, or even Chu Berry. "

"Paul (Gonsalves) joined the band because Lester (Young) left. It was a quick thing. Paul wasn't drinking and he was in good shape. His playing was wonderful."

"On the bus we played cards, gambled, did everything. Basie rode the bus. He was always there. He stayed with us. He never ran off from us. No, he never pulled rank. He would never do that. Never has. Not as long as I've been there. We all got along as a family, as brothers, really. I was always the peacemaker. I was always saying 'Now, wait a minute...don't do that, don't do this'. We never let things get out of hand no kind of way, you know. The guys used to all go out together and have fun. I'd see some guys doing something wrong...'Wait a minute' I'd say."

"Sweets (Edison), Lester (Young), and Buck (Clayton). We used to go out together. We were close. We would be roommates (when on the road). And they had jam sessions. They used to go out and play. Lester went out quite a bit."

"Basie used to hang out with the guys. We were a big happy family."

"Jimmy talk about funny. He was so funny. He used to keep us all laughing. Jimmy knew a million of them, believe me. He was a big man, but he was very light on his feet."

When quizzed about problems between Basie and John Hammond, he replied: "If it happened, I don't know anything about it."

  • Blee Blop Blues

"It's not really a dance thing. Unless you're playing for the Lindy Hoppers. Because they like those fast things, like 'Jumpin' At The Woodside'. It's the figurations and it's kind of hard on the trumpets. But it's like a showstopper as far as the public is concerned so that's why we do it."

The 1950's Basie Small Group

"In 1950, Basie cut it (the band) down to a small group. They cut everybody, including me. After being there so long. I was out of the group for about two months. And all of a sudden! The most miserable two months I've ever seen in my life. At night, I dreamt about the band. Right after they let me go, I went to work with Lester Young at Birdland. Then for some reason they said 'We'd better get him back'. Then Marshall Royal joined the small group. That's when Basie started augmenting the band. That's when he started building the band all over again."

"The small group went as far as Canada, and that's about it. We had fun. We used to play small places. We didn't play any big places. It was like small clubs and what not, you know. It had a different feeling, but the only thing that kept it basic, basically was the rhythm section and Basie. I know the band lasted about two years."

The 1950's Basie Big Band

"I think you could say that the band had a different character because of (saxophonist) Marshall Royal. He was like the band leader. He kept everything going musically, and Basie let him take charge of the band as far as directing the band and what not. He had an awful lot of influence as far as the sound is concerned. More musical discipline and definitely more in rehearsal and (musicianship) standards. Another phase was the new arrangements by Neal Hefti, and the two arrangers in the band which were Frank Foster and Ernie Wilkins. They really contributed quite a lot to the band."

"Our European trip in 1954 really affected everybody. Everybody was looking forward to it. We had been trying to get the whole band there for years. It was very, very exciting as far as I'm concerned. It was a big thrill. We had to go to the Continent first. And then we went on into England. Unbelievable reception that we got over there. We also went abroad with Tony Bennett. And we went abroad when we did that thing at the Royal Festival Hall with Frank Sinatra. And then we did that gig again with him at the Palladium."

"After we got Frank Foster and Frank Wess, we got kind of back as a family unit. We got back into a family groove during that period. Like when we were at Birdland. We spent an awful lot of time in Birdland. We used to go in there and spend four weeks or six weeks. Sitting back in one spot and just really enjoying ourselves. It was a beautiful thing for us and the way the band sounded in there. That place was it. We used to go over to the Waldorf and play. Maybe five weeks, four weeks, then come right back over to Birdland and stay in there for three or four weeks. Then go out of town and then come right back into Birdland. This went on into the 1960's."

The 1960's Basie Big Band

"We did the Las Vegas thing with Sinatra. We did the recording first and then we went into the Sands. We recorded on the stage there. After that, the public wanted to see the two together."

The 1970's Basie Big Band

"All in all, down through the years, the band is basically the same. It was good and it's still good. With all the changes, it's still holding up. Now the ensembles are the headlines. Years ago it used to be the soloists. The present band doesn't really rely on the soloists. It's a different style altogether. The feeling is different."

"I don't really understand what goes on as far as payroll is concerned. We do a lot of concerts, plus high schools, colleges, and festivals. I think that kind of keeps things going. But I think the guys would like to stretch out a little more because some of the guys usually go to jam sessions afterwards if they can find a place. But now it's hard to find a place. Not like years ago."

"Now we play our regular time and if the public wants more, we give them more. We play another number, and if they want more, we give them another number and then we play the theme song (One O'Clock Jump). We usually add two numbers to the regular format."

"As a rule, our audiences are over fifty, but I've noticed there are a lot of kids in the last four or five years. They've been coming up, getting autographs, and I think they know what's going on. As I say, we play a lot of high schools and colleges, and they've got big bands within the schools."

"I don't play the peacemaker anymore. Not like in the old days."

Setting Tempos, Keeping Tempos, and Drummers

"When Basie starts a number off, from whatever tempo he starts off, I take it from Basie. I think the rhythm should go according to that, from start to finish. Without varying the tempo one way or another. And I think drummers should follow this pattern all the way through. Even if they take breaks or whatever. But whatever tempo that they leave, they should come right back at that same...right back at that same beat. There are some good drummers today, and some bad ones. We've had some good drummers in the band. They know what they're supposed to do, dynamics and what-not, and whether or not they should keep it going. I think they should keep the rhythm going right from start to finish. It's not really a hard job in this band to play drums. Some drummers think they have to do an awful lot; they don't have to. The main thing is to keep the tempo going. They can play all the breaks they want to, I mean the fill-ins. But you have to come back to the beat. You can't forget and get too carried away with your breaks. Don't forget where you just left. It's really an easy job. Some drummers think they got to do a whole lot of things and play loud and be a show drummer. The public really ruins a drummer. They are responsible; they want a show; they want it louder. It's really a shame. The drummer should realize this fact and throw the public out of his mind. Get the job done while you're up on the bandstand. How is a drummer going to concentrate on what's going on on the bandstand if he is up there looking out at the audience, thinking 'Everybody's watching me' and forgetting about the work at hand? A lot of drummers don't want to support. They want to shine. When your time comes, go ahead. When it's your turn, then do your thing. But when someone else is doing it, you support him. "

"I don't mind too much (a drummer accenting figures in the arrangement) if they are accented right. But sometimes they jump the gun. Most drummers want to be first. Instead of playing 'BAM' on the beat, they play 'BAM' ahead of the beat. And when they do that, they can't come back in where they left. Because they jumped the gun and they stay out there (ahead of the beat). Playing ahead of the beat is a different tempo. But it's alright if they jump ahead and then jump back! But some of them have a heck of a time getting back. Sometimes they just stay out there and they think they're right. Basie will recognize this, open an eye, look at the drummer, and then he'll probably realize what's going on."

"Basie sets tempos on how he feels. He does a lot of things according to the audience. He'll look out there and see what's happening. See what kind of audience it is. Then he'll set the tempo. Sometimes it varies. But whatever tempo he finds, that'll be it. We'll stomp it off at that tempo. The new breed of players don't want to tolerate the slow tempos. There's a lot of things we play faster now that we did. It's a shame that we do because it loses some of the dynamics, some of the feeling. It doesn't swing as much. You can get so much out of it (at the slower tempo). You get in one groove and you're supposed to stay there. Whatever groove it is, get in it, enjoy it. Don't try to get someplace else with it. The new players are always trying to move ahead. What's the sense in playing if you don't play it and enjoy it where it is? Some play like they're trying to get it over with. Pushing it. It sounds like you don't want to tolerate it (the slower tempo). If you stomp it off in one tempo, play it in that tempo and enjoy it right there."

  • When the rhythm section is not right:

"If it's not right, I feel it while playing. I used to get upset, but I don't anymore. Now I take in stride. Some nights it's good, and some nights it's not good. But as I say, I usually take it in stride. And Basie doesn't get upset. He just doesn't let it."

  • Helen Dance: "Freddie, you were like a thermometer. You could tell by looking at Freddie how good the band is sounding, and how enjoyable it is inside (the band)."

Basie as Musician, Leader, and Friend

"Basie's something else. I think he should say more than he does, but that's him, you know. But he comes across to the audience. They realize what's going on. Basie's been on the stage for a long time. Way before he had a band. He worked years ago on the stage. He knew how to handle himself on stage. I watch the audience. You can see them (react) when there's a little gesture of Basie's hands, and they're nudging each other. They look for it because they know that's him. Just like when he hits his one note. That's his thing."

  • On Basie handling band problems:

"Well, you see I've been there a long time, and whatever way he handles it (a problem), that's him. I don't interfere. I wouldn't question the way he handles it. I stay away from all that. I don't like that part of the game."

"Basie set all the tempos. He was the force. Basie was the greatest tempo setter that I ever ran into. But he wasn't like that outspoken. Whatever had to be done, he had control over it at all times."

"Basie's the main thing that keeps everything together. Basie is the man. When a new player comes in, it's a free and easy thing. But yet Basie can look at them and they know if something's wrong, that he don't dig it. Just by looking at him. He doesn't have to say one word because that's the way he handles things. He wouldn't have any iron hands on anybody. There's freedom but you still don't get too far out. Any new players that come in, they can see how the whole thing is laid out, and they act accordingly. They feel easier after they find out 'Well, this is happening over here. Well, this is fine'. It's a good place to be."

  • Basie's heart attack in the 1970's:

"I was in the same hotel as Basie and I didn't know anything until the next morning. I came out and the guys were standing outside. So I walked over and said 'What's happening? Good morning.' They said 'Don't you know? Basie had a heart attack.' Naturally, I'm upset. We didn't know what to do. We had engagements to fill and we thought right away of Nat Pierce. It really shook everybody up, but we had to carry on. We had to go out of town. The public had heard about it on television. The audience went along with us; they knew what was happening. This went on for almost three months. Now every two months, we will take a couple of weeks off (so Basie could rest)."

Joe Williams

" 'Every Day I Have The Blues' was such a hit to the public. Basie and Joe Williams together, and the band behind them, was such an enormous thing as far as the audience is concerned, and as far as the musicians are concerned. Joe William's voice really left an impression on the public. The public couldn't conceive of the fact that Joe Williams would ever leave the Basie band. First Jimmy Rushing, he did a terrific job when he was there with the band. Then Joe Williams came along after Jimmy Rushing. And the people took to him right away. So anybody else that comes in and don't come up to this (level) know how it is. If it's not Joe Williams singing with the band, the public would rather not have anybody at all."

Playing Golf

"During time off, I'm out on the golf course. I play maybe three or four times a week. I play with anybody. I go to the golf course; I don't really wait for anybody to go. You can always get a game out there at the golf course. Where I live I can jump right on the subway, ride to the last stop, and there's a golf course right there (in Van Cortlandt Park). It's at the end of the Jerome Avenue subway line. In the Bronx. It's easy for me. I could play someplace else, but that's closer. All I have to do is walk across the bridge. From where I live, it's about four or five blocks, catch the subway, and ride to the last stop. Years ago, I used to play with Budd Johnson. When I'm in California, I usually play with Joe Williams. I love the game. Whenever I'm going on location or wherever we go to that the sun is shining, or time of year that we go, or if we go to California, I take my clubs with me."

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