Transcription: Trav'lin' Light

Composer: Johnny Mercer, Jimmy Mundy, and James Young
Transcription starts at DVD running time 9'34"; ends at 10'13"
From the DVD: Diane Schuur & The Count Basie Orchestra
Recorded: February 25, 1987 at A&M Studios, Los Angeles, California
DVD: Image Entertainment ID5717ERDVD

This DVD was recorded four days before Freddie Green died in Las Vegas on March 1, 1987. It is an incredibly important recording as it provides the unique opportunity to transcribe Freddie's playing aurally and visually.

This transcribed excerpt clearly documents Freddie playing chords consisting of four notes, three notes, two notes, and one note. And it clearly shows the fingering and technique he used to create the unique Freddie Green sound. He would place his fingers to form a common chord form, but then selectively push down on certain strings within the chord form. Measure 7 is a perfect example of using one chord form, but sounding four notes on beat 1, two notes on beat 2, then one note on beat 3 and beat 4. The incredibly high string action on Freddie's guitar greatly aided this selective sounding of certain strings.

This unusual technique explains why other professional guitarists, like Ralph Patt, that saw Freddie play live reported that he employed standard three note voicings commonly used for rhythm guitar. Yet the many audio recordings of Freddie Green belie that statement. The notes that Freddie actually sounded were often subsets of the common chord forms that people 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.

Mark Allen's article on this web site, "Dynamic Chords - Muted Notes", put forth the theory that Freddie played in this manner. Now with this video/audio transcription, it can be confirmed that Mark's theory was indeed correct. This DVD transcription also supports the controversial statement from my October 2000 article for Downbeat magazine: "The essence of Green's 1950s style came from playing 'chords' that contained only one clearly sounded note."

Like other innovators, Freddie Green took a common technique and made it uniquely his own. This approach led to his incomparable rhythm guitar sound. He never shared his playing technique by teaching others or writing an instruction book. Perhaps he did not want to share the secret that kept him in demand as a guitarist for 50 years, or perhaps he thought that what he did was simply not worth talking about. Whatever the reason, we are fortunate that Freddie left the visual clues of this DVD, and the aural clues of his numerous recordings, so that his dedicated admirers could finally piece together how he created that glorious sound.

Important: The chord diagrams illustrate the fingering forms used by Freddie Green. Based on this DVD's visual evidence, Freddie's exact fingerings are known though at times it is difficult to determine exactly which left hand finger is used on a string.

  • 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.

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

Transcribed by Mark Allen and Michael Pettersen
September 2003

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