Freddie Green - Guitar Who Welds The Band
Periodical: Down Beat
"You know what I call Freddie Green?" volunteered Count Basie. "He's a tie-up man, because he's not only very steady for the rhythm section, but he actually holds the band together." Basie's tribute to his long term guitarist has been echoed for years by musicians of all jazz styles, musicians who appreciate how important Freddie has been for 17 years to the most rhythmically vital big band in jazz history.
Yet in terms of general publicity, the last of the great unamplifieds has been taken for granted so long that rarely have any of Green's experienced views been published on the nature of jazz rhythm and the function of the rhythm guitar. In all these years, for example, Freddie has never recorded a real solo for the Basie band. "I like to listen to guitar solos, " he explains, "but when I first came into the band, I was told that the band was built around the rhythm section and that rhythm was the important thing for us to concentrate on, so that was it.
"Now I've played rhythm so long it's just the same as playing solos as far as I'm concerned. The rhythm guitar, I've found, is very important, though I didn't think that way in the beginning. For one thing, it kind of smooths the beat out. The rhythm of a performance has what I call a 'rhythm wave', and the rhythm guitar can help keep that wave smooth and accurate.
"As for whether I play altered chords or otherwise experiment harmonically, it depends. If I feel the other half of the rhythm section is getting out of the groove, I have to keep playing the basic rhythm to bring the waves back even again. Or if the drummer takes a break, there's a tendency for the rhythm section to get out of the groove when he comes back in, so I have to keep the beat going.
"In general, being a rhythm guitarist, I have to concentrate on that beat from beginning to end, listening for how smooth it is. If the band is moving exceptionally smoothly, then I can play whatever comes to mind, but that doesn't happen too often. Almost all the time I'm concentrating on the rhythm wave.
"And Basie's piano certainly contributes to making the rhythm smooth. He contributes the missing things. I feel very comfortable working with him because he always seems to know the right thing to play for rhythm. Count is also just about the best piano player I know for pushing a band and comping for soloists. I mean the way he makes different preparations for each soloist, and the way, at the end of one of his solos, he prepares an entrance for the next man. He leaves the way open."
Freddie said he once tried the electric guitar but added. "I've still got the thing sitting up in my room. It was about four or five years ago. I didn't stay with it long. I couldn't get the sound I wanted, and it was hard getting the tone adjusted so it wouldn't sound too loud over the band. I didn't get with it, and I don't think Basie had too much eyes for it. Every once in a while, he'd say 'Soften down', and so finally I just put it away.
Green went on to talk of his favorites in the increasingly rare art of unamplified rhythm guitar. He cites Allan Reuss, the late John Truehart (with Chick Webb), Freddie Guy, and Charlie Christian. Freddie also enjoyed Christian as a soloist, "He revolutionized the guitar."