Transcription: I Don't Know

Tune: I Don't Know ["I Got Rhythm" chord progression]
Composer: Count Basie
Transcription: Starts at 0'05" after Basie begins the tune, and ends at 1'29" with the bass solo. This tune opens the program.
From the VHS video tape : Count Basie - Ralph Gleason's Jazz Casual
Recorded: August 21, 1967, KQED-TV studios, San Francisco, California.
Air date: October 12, 1968 as "Count Basie Reminisces"
Catalog: Rhino Home Video R3 2583

"On his sixty-third birthday, Basie entertained the noted critic, Ralph J. Gleason, to a half-hour of music and reminiscence in the studios of National Educational Television. With just a rhythm section in tow (Freddie Green, Norman Keenan on bass, Sonny Payne on drums), the program provided a rare, undiluted glimpse of Basie's piano style and his wry conversational wit..." from Count Basie: A Bio-Discography by Chris Sheridan.

Editor's note: I find this tape uncomfortable to view as Basie appears to dislike the host, Ralph Gleason. Basie looks away whenever he answers Gleason's questions, and in some moments, Basie turns his back to Gleason. The interview starts on a "wrong note" when Gleason calls the first tune "the blues", when, in fact, the first tune is based on the chord progression for "I Got Rhythm". No competent jazz musician would ever mistake a 32 bar "Rhythm" tune for a 12 bar blues! Here is the opening conversation:

Basie (to the rhythm section): "Thank you."

Ralph Gleason: "Now what was the name of that?"

Count Basie: "I don't know! (Laughs). Tryin' to get straighten around."

Gleason: "Was that the way they played the blues in Kansas City when you took over the band thirty years ago?"

Basie: "Well, no. That wasn't the way they played the blues, Ralph, because if that was the way they played the blues, it was a pretty bad start of the blues, I think."

This television program was recorded when Freddie Green was 56 years old and he was playing superbly. It provides the rare opportunity to transcribe Freddie's playing aurally as well as visually observe his nonpareil rhythm guitar technique.

Disciples of Freddie Green, note this observation well: Freddie rarely presses down on the sixth string and rarely strums it. Based on the timings above, observe the section from 0'23" to 0'36"; the sixth string can be clearly viewed because of the camera angle. The sixth string never vibrates. It is rarely pressed downward by his left hand; instead, it is muted on almost every beat by the left thumb or a left finger.

This transcribed excerpt documents Freddie using voicings that have only one or two notes clearly sounded notes. As was indisputably documented in the transcription "Trav'lin' Light", he would place his fingers to form a common chord form, but then selectively push down on certain strings within the chord form. The incredibly high string action on Freddie's guitar greatly aided this selective sounding of certain strings. Mark Allen's article on this web site, "Dynamic Chords - Muted Notes", put forth the theory that Freddie played in this manner. This video recording supports Mark's theory.

Freddie's unusual technique explains why other professional guitarists that saw him play live reported that he employed standard three note voicings commonly used for rhythm guitar. Yet the many recordings of Freddie Green, including this one, belie that statement. The notes that Freddie actually sounded were primarily subsets of the common chord forms that others reported him using. It is this single fact that has led so many musicians to write books and articles that incorrectly describe Freddie's playing technique.

Important: The chord diagrams illustrate fingering forms commonly used by Freddie Green. As there are only a few close-up shots of his fingers on the fretboard, the chord forms illustrated are suggestions based on his left hand position on the guitar neck (when shown), and typical chord voicings employed in other transcriptions previously posted.

An "x" indicates that a finger is placed on the string, but the string is not fully pushed down to make contact with the fret.

A "black dot" indicates that a finger is placed on the string, and the string is pushed down to make contact with the fret.

A "white dot" indicates that a finger is placed on the string, and the string is pushed down to make contact with the fret. A white dot also indicates that the note is added to the chord form on the previous beat. Adding an upper note on beat 2 or 4 is a typical Freddie Green technique.

If there is no "x" or "dot", the string is fully damped by a finger of the left hand.

Transcribed by Michael Pettersen
April 2004

The Style | Recordings | Biographical Info | Photos | Additional Info | Contact Us | Post Comments | Home Page