Nat Shapiro writes about Freddie Green in 1956 for the release of the "Mr. Rhythm" LP:
"That Freddie Green," a musician explained to me, "is a sort of spirit. He doesn't talk loud, he doesn't play loud. But man! - you sure know he is there." There are very few incontrovertible statements that can be made about jazz or jazz musicians these days. Step bravely out on a limb and say something positive like, "That cat blows the most," and before you can mumble "contrapuntal polytonality" some outraged member of the critical pack is ferociously gnawing away at the woodwork. Somehow, though, I think there will not be much discussion about our opinion of Frederick William Green, formerly of Charleston, South Carolina, and for the past twenty years one of the most esteemed citizens of that exclusive community known as Basieville.
Along with just about every musician in the business (with ears, that is) we unequivocally declare that Freddie Green is the greatest rhythm guitarist that jazz has ever known. Or, more succinctly, Freddie is the swingin'-est. A former resident of Basieville told us, "The brass and reeds can be up there shouting away, but there's Freddie, coming right through it all, steady as a rock and clear as a bell."
"You know what I call Freddie Green?" asked Count Basie. "He's a tie-up man, not only because he is very steady, but because he actually holds the band together." This is quite an accomplishment if you've listened to the Basie band at all during the past twenty years. Ever since critic John Hammond found him working for eleven dollars a week in a Greenwich Village joint in 1936, Freddie has been contributing both spark and stability to that best of the all swing bands. In all his time with Basie, though, almost no one can remember the formidable Mr. Green taking a solo.
"I've played rhythm so long," says Freddie, "that it's just the same as playing solos as far as I'm concerned. The rhythm guitar is very important. A performance has what I call a 'rhythm wave', and the rhythm guitar can help to keep that wave smooth and accurate. I have to concentrate on the beat, listening for how smooth it is. If the band is moving smoothly, then I can play whatever comes to mind, but that doesn't happen too often."
There are two surprising things about this album, "Mr Rhythm." One is that it is the first session ever made under Freddie Green's leadership. The other is that nobody has ever before called this great man by his rightful title, Mr. Rhythm. But there is one thing about this collection of performances that isn't surprising at all. It swings like mad!
And why not? Joe Newman has been holding down the first trumpet chair with the Count's band since 1943. Henry Coker is also a current Basie-ite and a veteran of the Benny Carter, Ediie Heywood, and Illinois Jacquet bands. Al Cohn, one of the guttiest musicians on the scene today, has proved that a jazzman can be modern and swing too. Then we have Nat Pierce, a former member of the Woody Herman band, who has also arranged for the Count. As for Milt Hinton, he has the happiest and healthiest approach to jazz we've encountered. He can play and swing with anything from a New Orleans brass band to a symphony orchestra. Sharing the drum honors are Osie Johnson, one of the most competent of the younger drummers, and Jo Jones. It was Jo, along with Freddie, Walter Page, and the Count, who helped to make the Basie rhythm section a unit that has never been equalled for both drive and brillance.
Aside from Learnin' The Blues, Something's Gotta Give, Easy Does It, and When You Wish Upon A Star, all the tunes are Freddie Green originals. Arrangements are by Al Cohn, Ernie Wilkins, and Manny Albam. To quote my musical friend once more, " You just don't compare Freddie to anybody else. He's something special. What he represents is the only one of its kind in existence." Amen.