Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians
Green, Freddy (Frederick William)
Guitarist Freddy Green's rock-solid, four-to-the-bar chords can be heard through the cracks of the Count Basie Orchestra like the inner voices of a fugue. His groove was the heartbeat of the band, which uniquely bound its members with audiences throughout his five decades with the group.
Frederick William Green was born in 1911 in Charleston, South Carolina. His first musical instruction was not from his parents, but from the father of a friend, trumpeter Sam Walker. Walker While the boy had taught himself to play the banjo, Walker urged the boy to play the guitar and taught him how to read music.
Walker was involved in promoting the band of the Jenkins Orphanage, and Freddie toured with the group, even though he was not an orphan. In the band, he met and befriended trumpeter Cat Anderson who would go on to play with Duke Ellington.
At sixteen, following the death of his parents, Green moved to New York to live with an Aunt while he finished high school. In 1937, while he was playing at a club called The Black Cat in a band led by tenor saxophonist Lonnie Simons, along with drummer Kenny Clarke, Green was noticed by jazz producer John Hammond.
At the time, Hammond had just engineered the Basie band's relocation to New York from Kansas City, and he recognized something special in the way Green accompanied the other instruments. "I thought he was the greatest I had ever heard," Hammond recalled. "He had unusually long fingers, a steady stroke, and unobtrusively held the whole rhythm section together. He was the antithesis of the sort of stiff, chugging guitarist Benny Goodman liked. Freddie was closer to the incomparable Eddie Lang than any guitar player I'd ever heard. He was perhaps not the soloist that Lang was, but he had a beat."
During the Basie band's run at the Roseland Ballroom, Hammond took Basie and the other members of its rhythm section – drummer Jo Jones and bassist Walter Page to the Black Cat to hear Green play. Basie decided to replace his current guitarist, Claud Black, with Green, as in any case Black was more of a violinist who wished to pursue that instrument.
Years later, Basie recalled the incident:
"I'd always been used to hearing a banjo. Like Buster Berry in Bennie Moten's band, and Rueben Roddy in the Blue Devils, and the other little groups that were around all had banjos. So this was something that was a little strange to me at the time. Anyway, when John Hammond brought this man in there, I said, "Why don't we just play,' and we just played maybe one song with a couple of choruses, and when I heard that much, I knew that was all that was necessary."
Some of the most interesting recordings during Green's early tenure with Basie are small group sessions with othe rmembgers of the Basie band, accompanying vocalist Billie Holiday, with whom Green was romantically involved at time.
In the same year (1937) Green joined Basie, he recorded "Me, Myself and I" with Holiday The sound of Green's accompaniment is immediately audible. These small group sessions grew out of the popularity of the simulated jam sessions Basie and Benny Goodman included in their performances at the time.
Also remarkable on these session is the work of tenor saxophonist Lester Young and trumpeter Buck Clayton, whose solos are poignant, lyrical, and shaped around the motion of the chord changes. And the rhythm section of Green, Page, Basie, and Jones, would become the model for the standard bebop rhythm section.
In that same year, Basie recorded "One O'Clock Jump," which became the band's signature song, with Green on guitar. Green's chords behind Basie's opening piano solo reveal a careful selection of leading tones, which, when bound together by Jones' impeccable sense of time, act as something of a solo on their own.
While it is difficult to hear the guitar during tutti sections, on this track it is perhaps in those famous Basie rhythm section breaks, when the horns drop out, that the guitar plays its most significant musical role with its own unique, timbral color.
Basie's band remained active through the 1940s, even during the war years. With the addition of Don Byas, and Buddy Tate and later Illinois Jacquet on tenor saxophones, the band became a breeding ground for young tenor talent.
On "Dance of the Gremlins," a Basie original, Green's playing is well represented toward the end of the cut during one of the familiar rhythm section breakdowns. Now known across the nation as the "All-American Rhythm Section," Basie, Page, Jones and Green breathe as one. It is apparent why these ineffable moments of soft dynamics were purposely composed into Basie's arrangements, to feature the swing of the rhythm section.
"April in Paris," arranged by Wild Bill Davis, may well be the most-performed arrangement from the Basie Band book, perhaps because of the cameo performance of it Basie's band made in Mel Brooks' 1974 hit film "Blazing Saddles."
On this track as well, moments of sparseness were intentionally inserted in the arrangement to feature the rhythm section and Green's accompanying. With recording technology having progressed, Green's strumming can be heard even throughout most of the fortissimo sections.
The 1960s brought Green and the Basie band together with vocalist Frank Sinatra. In 1962, they recorded the album Sinatra-Basie: An Historic Musical First, which included arrangements by Neal Hefti that remain in demand by re-creation big bands to this day.
In 1964, Basie and Sinatra recorded the album It Might As Well Be Swing this time with Quincy Jones arranging and conducting. In 1966 they made the live recording "Sinatra at the Sands," with Jones leading the date.
On the opening track, "Come Fly With Me" Green's acoustically projected Gibson arch top guitar is nicely absorbed: Jones arranged using considerable space for the now famous rhythm section's sound to be featured.
In 1975, Another rhythm guitarist of more than considerable ability, Herb Ellis, recorded an album with Green called "Rhythm Willie," for Concord. The session included Ray Brown on bass, Jake Hannah on drums, and Ross Tompkins on piano.
Hearing Green's skill put to use in a small group setting like this is always a welcomed change of texture. His accompaniment on "When My Dream Boat Comes Home" behind each soloist is harmonically warm, with fat, chord-defining notes in his voicing.
After Basie's death from cancer in 1984, Green continued to perform with the Basie "ghost" band, as those bands which continue after the death of their original leaders have come to be called. As the last remaining member of Basie's original "All-American Rhythm Section," Green was the link that preserved the band's unique sound which revolutionized jazz in the 1930s.
One of Green's last recordings was a 1986 session for Caprise called "Super Bass" with Ray Brown, which featured Brown along with bassist John Clayton as well as Jeff Hamilton on drums, and Jeff Clayton on alto sax.
The album's opening track "One Armed Bandit" presents clearly audible rhythm guitar by Green. The final selection on the album was entitled "Goodbye Freddie Green," as the album was not released until after Green's death from a heart attack on March 1st, 1987. That year would have been Green's 50th anniversary in the Basie Band.
The Basie ghost band remains active, twenty-five years after its leader's death and more than twenty after Green's departure down the rhythm road. Perhaps saxophonist and Basie alumnus Preston Love put it best in his book, A Thousand Honey Creeks Later: My Life In Music From Basie To Motown:
"On the occasion of Green's death I wrote a column for the Omaha World Herald stating that the event eliminated any reason for the continued operation of an orchestra bearing the name Count Basie. I noted that the members of the then current Basie band might continue to be a fine band, but Green had been the quintessential exponent of the Basie style for all of the fifty years that he played with the band."
Contributor: Paul Brady