Did Freddie Green always play the guitar chart "as written?"

Novice big band rhythm guitarists often attempt to play the guitar chart "exactly as written". In reality, a big band guitar chart is (in most cases) merely an outline indicating the chord changes and the form of the arrangement. It is the guitarist's responsibility to create an effective part based on the written chart.

The Count Basie Orchestra is featured on the DVD entitled "Live In Berlin & Stockholm 1968", Impro-Jazz DVD IJ-543. The Berlin portion was filmed November 9, 1968. One of the selections is "Magic Flea", a composition by Sammy Nestico, and is performed at the exceedingly brisk tempo of over 300 beats per minute! At this tempo, Freddie is working quite hard to play 5 down-strokes every second! To do so, he abandons his typical technique of playing beat 1 and beat 3 toward the neck, and beat 2 and beat 4 toward the bridge. Instead, all down-strokes are played in the same location, near the neck, using mostly wrist and very little arm.

Freddie can be seen during most of this 3"27" selection, and, as stated above, he does not play the guitar chart "exactly as written;" he creates his own part for "Magic Flea." Here is my analysis based on the video portion of the DVD.

Measures 1 - 10:
Freddie lays out. The guitar chart indicates whole note arpeggios in measures 3 - 10.

Measures 11 - 17:
Freddie plays the same rhythmic figures as the horns. The chart indicates four-to-the-bar rhythm.

Measure 18:
Freddie lays out for one bar as indicated on the chart.

Letter A (16 measures) / Letter B (16 measures):
Freddie plays four-to-the-bar rhythm, using all down strokes, behind Basie's 32 bar piano solo. The chart indicates four-to-the-bar rhythm.

Letter C (16 measures):
Freddie plays four-to-the-bar rhythm through measure C14, then plays the same rhythmic figures as the horns. The chart indicates four-to-the-bar rhythm.

Letter D (20 measures):
Freddie plays the same rhythmic figures as the horns. The chart indicates four-to-the-bar rhythm.

Letters E, F, G, H (64 measures):
Freddie plays four-to-the-bar rhythm behind the 64 bar sax solo of Lockjaw Davis. The chart indicates four-to-the-bar rhythm.

Letters I, J (36 measures):
Freddie plays the same rhythmic figures as the horns. The chart indicates four-to-the-bar rhythm, except in measures J9 - J11 where a syncopated rhythm is notated.

Letter K (32 measures):
Freddie plays the same rhythmic figures as the horns. The chart indicates four-to-the-bar rhythm, with rests during the 8 bar drum solo.

Letter L (30 measures)
Freddie plays four-to-the-bar rhythm in L1- L8, though the chart indicates whole note arpeggios. Freddie then plays the same rhythmic figure as the horns in L9 - L15, while the chart indicates four-to-the-bar rhythm. He lays out in L16 - L22 (drum solo); plays the horn rhythmic figures in L23 - L25; lays out in measures L26 - 28 (soli for flute and piccolo), plays the notated rhythm in L29, and plays the last chord using right-hand tremolo in L30.

Note: The reader might ask why an image of the "Magic Flea" guitar part does not accompany this article as it would certainly enhance understanding. "Magic Flea" was composed in 1968 and is covered by international copyright, therefore including an electronic image of the chart could be interpreted as a violation of copyright law.

Michael Pettersen
October 2008

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