Source: Guitar Player Magazine
Freddie rarely included a chord's extensions and alterations, such as the b5, #9, or 13th. He mainly used major triads, 7ths, 6ths, and some 9ths. When an arranger writes a C7b5, it doesn't make sense for the rhythm guitarist to play a b5, because it gets added by the other instruments. [Editorial note: I believe what Bucky meant was that the rhythm guitarist should choose a C7 voicing that eliminates the fifth of the chord. Playing a C7 voicing that includes the fifth (G) when the harmony of the arrangement calls for a b5 (Gb) would create an unwanted dissonance.]
To be an effective rhythm man, you just can't play any old thing; you have to go out of your way to make things work. When you look at a chart, the first chord that comes to mind might be at the wrong end of the fingerboard. For instance, the F major chord way down at the 1st fret is never any good for playing with Count Basie's band, so you need an F chord that's in a different location on the fingerboard. Instead of F at the 1st fret, Freddie would play a C6 at the 7th fret, which is the same as an Fmaj7 chord - a three note C6 that uses just a C (6th string), an A (4th string), and an E (3rd string) is exactly the same as an Fmaj7 without the root F.
Freddie usually kept things in the middle of the fingerboard, and he never hit [sounded ] all strings at once; his three and four note voicings skipped over a string. If you listen carefully to how his chords move from one to the next, you'll hear a nice fat sounding tenth interval [between the 6th string and the 4th string ]. In addition, he always kept things basic by going directly to the next chord, instead of approaching it from a half-step above or below.
Some people say that Freddie's sound was a result of how he held the guitar tilted at a 45 degree angle, but it really had to do with his strong right-hand pick stroke which used a lot of wrist action, and how he lifted his left hand fingers to cut the chords short and produce a percussive quality. When he played, his right hand went like clockwork and his left hand bounced off the strings. He was most effective at slower tempos, which are more difficult to do than others, but he was also an iron man who could hold a fast tempo for a long, long time. Once he got that wrist going, that was it. Keep in mind that he had very high [string ] action.
I recently heard him in Switzerland, and I noticed that he hit the after-beat right on the money, even on a slow tune. In other words, right after the bassist hit the downbeat, Freddie accented the chord on beats 2 and 4 - he knew exactly where to drop that "chink". Playing rhythm effectively is something that a lot of young guitarists have difficulty with, because they are just used to soloing. If you want to be a well-rounded guitarist, you should know how to just play time with a bassist and a drummer. Get together with a couple of friends and read changes out of a fake book until you sound like Freddie.
It's hard to imagine the Count Basie band without an acoustic guitar, because it was always there. Using an electric guitar is the wrong approach to playing rhythm. Frequently it's the guitarist who makes a record sound good, but the reverse is also true. If the guy isn't playing right - if he's crunching away - he can spoil everything. Many times things don't work because the wrong kind of instrument is being used, such as an unamplified electric guitar or a roundhole guitar. Some guys can make a roundhole sound good, but you really need to use an archtop, which has the proper decay.
The whole ball game with Freddie was his commitment to doing one thing so well. It didn't matter what tune he was playing because he always made all of them sound so right. He set the standard. Anybody who has an interest in rhythm guitar has to listen to Freddie Green. Greats such as Barry Galbraith, Allan Reuss, Al Hendrickson, and Tony Rizzi were all influenced by him. Spirit should come first, and that's what he and Count Basie always had - they'd blow you away. Whatever system Freddie Green was using to come up with those parts, it sure worked.
Editorial Note: This article included an original composition, "Blues for Green", written by Bucky Pizzarelli in memory of Freddie Green. Due to copyright restrictions, the music is not posted here. Additionally, the piece was more indicative of Pizzarelli's playing style than Freddie's playing style.