Performing with Freddie Green
Bassist Lynn Seaton played with the Count Basie Orchestra from 1985 to 1987, taking the place of bassist Cleveland Eaton. During the majority of Lynn's tenure with the band, Freddie Green was performing in the band until his sudden death on March 1, 1987 in Las Vegas. Here are Lynn's observations, provided May 10, 2006, about the rhythm guitar style of Freddie Green.
The thing that made Freddie's guitar work well in the band were his simple voicings. Sometimes we only heard one note. He would finger the whole chord but would favor one or two notes, usually in the middle strings, often the third and/or seventh of the chord. That's my take on his style. He would clearly be fingering the entire chord but I'm not sure how he controlled which notes we heard. The one and two note voicings really cut through the sound of the band. His simple guitar voicings worked well with the complex voicings played by the brass and reeds and the overall texture of the band which could be quite dense at times. His guitar part stayed out of the way but could also be heard. Also, the pitch of his voicings were above my bass lines and typically in the middle or below the piano comping and the soloist. One day I asked "Freddie, can I put a tape recorder in front of you so that I can really listen to your voicings and your leading tones?" He said "It won't do you no good. I change it up all the time."
I want make it clear that Freddie did not accent two and four. It sure seemed to me that he played an even four beats. It was not at all like Django's rhythm guitar style. I have read in notable publications, by notable authors, that to play like Freddie a guitarist needs to place hard accents on two and four. That is not true! Also, Freddie often varied the beat length depending on what the music needed. But as a home base, the length of his beats were even.
Freddie sat in the crook of the piano, near the saxes. I was almost right behind him near the drums. From my location in the band, I could hear Freddie but I could also see his right arm. It was like a metronome. I could watch his right elbow moving back and forth. Man, it was very easy to hook up to his tempo. His time was impeccable. He was "Mr. Rhythm." It felt soooo good! It was unbelievable what that felt like.
Freddie's guitar had incredibly high action and the guitar was amazingly loud. He had this old Gretsch. It was unbelievable how much sound that box would put out. My memory is that Freddie would allow the guitar to be miked only if the trumpets were miked. In the dressing room before a concert, it was common to hear Freddie playing chord melodies. Freddie was a great musician, but humble. Think how much humility it takes to play rhythm guitar in a big band for 50 years.