Ceux qui s'en vont [Those who have moved on]
By Dominique Périchon
Frederick William "Freddie" Green, guitarist born in Charleston, South Carolina, March 31, 1901, died in Las Vegas on March 1, 1987. Self-taught, Freddie began playing the instrument at the age of twelve. As he told Hugues Panassie, he went to New York to finish school, where he listened a great deal to John Trueheart, Chick Webb's guitarist. John Hammond discovered Green in 1937 at the Black Cat Club, where he was playing with a little band. Hammond, who brought Basie and his band to the East Coast while lavishing him with advice and money, had some say in the band's personnel. He wasn't happy with Basie's guitarist Claude Williams (especially his violin playing!). Hammond had Green audition and he soon took William's place in March of 1937, for a very long stint with only brief interruptions due to illlness or vacation. During several months in 1950, Basie had to lay off his big band and was getting by with a very small group; he didn't have the budget to afford a guitarist. Happily, Basie got out of this situation, and Freddie was back in the band.
Freddie Green takes a position in history among the best rhythm guitar players of all time. His tempo was perfect, and he blended himself totally with any rhythm section that could swing. In many ways, his role was just as important as that of the bandleader, and above all, it was impossible to separate one from the other. With Walter Page, Jo Jones, and the Count, and on equal footing with them, Green was an integral part of the most swinging rhythm section in the history of jazz: that was the opinion of so many! After Basie's death, it was thanks to Green's sound and the presence of his beat that the band working under the Basie name kept the easily recognizable "Basie Sound". Now it is all over, sad to say, because the "Green Sound" was unique.
And the records? All of those that he made with Basie, and all those that he made without Basie but whenever the session leader wanted a Basie sound. The RCA discs under the names of Al Cohn, Joe Newman, and Green himself ("Mr. Rhythm" RCA LPM-1210), are fine examples, as are those of Buck Clayton, Dicky Wells, Buddy Tate, Jimmy Rushing, Nat Pierce, and Lester Young, and they often called on Freddie. Great care was taken to clearly record Freddie Green on "Rhythm Willie", (Herb Ellis/Freddie Green, on Concord CJ-10) in 1975.
Aside from several rare introductions on more recent Basie records, I hardly ever hear any solos by Freddie, except for the sixteen measures of chords on "Dinah" (with Pee Wee Russell's Rhythm-makers) featuring James P. Johnson, Wellman Braud, and Zutty Singleton: What a rhythm section! Recorded in August of 1938, all of the titles on this session have been reissued, for example, on the Italian "Joker" label (SM-3096). Here's another unusual event: on "Them There Eyes", by the Kansas City Six (Commodore XFL-149-37), Freddie sings! Also, one has to mention his very lovely introduction on the rare first take of "On the Sentimental Side" by Billie Holiday (January, 1938). On the second take, which is much better known, the introduction is played by Teddy Wilson. "Billie Holiday Volume III" (Japanese CBS, SOPH-6566) has both takes.
On the day Freddie died, Nat Pierce called Buck Clayton,
their friend-in-common in New York. It was a deeply saddened Buck Clayton
who gave me this devastating
and final news.