10 Most Underrated Guitarists in the History of Jazz
Magazine: JazzTimes, July, 2002
Freddie Green 3/31/11 - 3/1/87
Depending on which accounts you read, Freddie Green never, or rarely soloed. But as a rhythm guitarist, he was the best.
The first time I saw the Count Basie band was a startling experience. It was 1964, or maybe '65. The rhythm section began playing several choruses of blues, and the good feeling of swing lulled the audience. The horn players eased their instruments into position and - pow! - hit a solitary fortissimo note. The joke was on us as they eased their horns back down and the rhythm section unfazed, kept rolling blissfully along. The tune was probably "Splanky".
The rhythm section was Basie, Green, drummer Sonny Payne and a bassist whose name I don't recall. (It may have been Buddy Catlett.) Even back then, there was considerable history on stage, as Green had been in the band for more than 25 years. I saw the band a couple of more times after that, and each time I was amazed at the sound of Green's guitar cutting through the ensemble. Actually, "cutting" may not be the best description, since the guitar was sometimes felt more than heard. But it was a definitive presence, oiling the sonic space between drums and bass.
Born in Charleston, S.C., Green initially played banjo. John Hammond introduced him to Basie in 1937 in New York, setting the stage for the pianist's classic "All-American" rhythm section: Green, bassist Walter Page and drummer Jo Jones. Green stayed with the band until his death in 1987, three years after Basie's death. For a portrait of the early days of the classic rhythm section, check out GRP's Count Basie collection The Complete Decca Recordings, where you'll find Lester Young, Jimmy Rushing, Buck Clayton, and Harry Edison, too. God bless ‘em all.
The Web site www.freddiegreen.org offers lots of stories about Green's comping technique, which basically involved three-note chords, voice leading and what one writer describes as the "choo-chit-choo-chit" sound (not "chunk-chunk-chunk-chunk") of four beats to the measure.
The guitarist's recorded legacy rests almost entirely with the Basie band or with various Basieites, though he cut two albums of his own: the appropriately titled Natural Rhythm (RCA Victor, 1955) and Mr. Rhythm (Koch/RCA Victor, 1956). But I'm partial to a couple of Basie band collaborations: First Time! The Count Meets the Duke (Columbia), recorded in 1961, and Sinatra-Basie (Reprise), recorded in 1962. The former includes Green's "Until I Met You" (aka "Corner Pocket"). As always, Green's guitar slices through.