Book Excerpt: Rhythm Man: Fifty Year in Jazz (The Autobiography of Steve Jordan)

Book: Rhythm Man: Fifty Year in Jazz (The Autobiography of Steve Jordan)
Author: Steve Jordan with Tom Scanlan
Copyright: 1991
Publisher: University of Michigan Press - Ann Arbor
ISBN: 0-472-08202-7

page 1 - Freddie Green is probably the only rhythm guitar player, living or dead, most younger jazz enthusiasts can name. Green was a wonderful player with a distinctive sound who made the Basie band sound like the Basie band more than any other Basie band member, save the Count himself. But if Green had not been with Basie from 1937 until Basie's death in 1984 (indeed, Freddie was still playing with the Count-less Basie band the night he died at age seventy-five in 1987), Green would be, like Steve Jordan, a great player known only to those inside the world of jazz. Incidentally, Basie's major advice to new sidemen coming into his band was, for good reason, "Listen to the guitar player!"

This is not to suggest that Jordan plays like Green. Green played like Green. Jordan plays like Jordan. Though both were schooled in the George Van Eps fingering system as taught by Allan Reuss, Jordan's sound is tighter and can be more walloping, Green's softer and deeper. This is due partly to their instruments of choice, partly to their string action, and partly to the way they think rhythm guitar should sound. On a 1954 Buck Clayton all-star "jam session" recording on Columbia ("Jumpin' At The Woodside") there is a tricky splicing of two recording dates. The cut has Jordan in the rhythm section for one part and Green for another part of the same track; the difference in their sounds is plain. Who's better, Green or Jordan? It's a matter of taste.

And, as few know, Steve Jordan was the first guitarist to be offered Freddie Green's chair in the Count Basie band after Freddie died between sets in Las Vegas in 1987. Steve had three days to consider the offer, which meant joining the band in California. Steve says he was "proud of being called first" for Freddie's job, one Green had with Basie for fifty years, and would have enjoyed playing in the swinging Basie band ( a band, if you are wondering, that has had more than a few white players in recent decades, a kind of reverse integration you might say). But Steve had to turn the job down because, at age sixty-eight, he simply did not want to return to the road and travel to all those one-nighters the Basie band plays.

page 16 - I will always be grateful to Allan Reuss for teaching me what rhythm guitar is all about. Grateful, also, to the great George Van Eps, who taught Reuss. I suspect that Freddie Green was similarly grateful to Reuss and, indirectly, Van Eps. Freddie also studied with Reuss.

page 36 - Barry Galbraith is an accomplished rhythm guitarist who sounds a good deal like Freddie Green, but Turk Van Lake can play almost identically to Freddie Green and that is the sound they (Les and Larry Elgart) wanted on their recordings.

page 75 - Benny Goodman liked the rhythm guitar to be tight and crisp and light. Almost like a snare drum sound, so you can barely hear the notes. I had been praised for having a big walloping sound that cut through the twenty-two piece Boyd Raeburn band, but I knew Benny didn't like it that way. He didn't want it the way Freddie Green played with Count Basie, either. He didn't want to hear the guitar as much as he wanted to hear a rhythm section. He wanted the bass, drums, and guitar to snap together, lightly and tightly. It will swing this way if you do it right.

page 113 - When I was discovering jazz as a teenager, Walter Page was the bass player on all those thirty-five cent Decca records by Count Basie I cherished. He was one-fourth of what was called by some, with good reason, "The All-American Rhythm Section", namely Basie, guitarist Freddie Green, drummer Jo Jones, and Page.

page 136 - Freddie Green told me that Allan Reuss straightened out his rhythm work when he was first working with Count Basie, shortly before I went to Allan for help when I was twenty years old and playing with the Bradley-McKinley band. It may surprise some people to know that Green played only three or four strings most of the time. Like me, Freddie followed Allan's rule to avoid use of the first string, the top E, because it is too twangy. Freddie preferred the deep sounds and no one played those deep sounds as well as Freddie did.

For many years Freddie used a Stromberg, a deep-sounding guitar made by Charles Stromberg and then by his son Elmer in Boston until 1955, when Elmer died. When Freddie's Stromberg was beyond repair, the Gretsch Company built a guitar for him to the same specifications as the Stromberg and it sounded wonderful. I have a Gibson Super 400 that is something like a Stromberg but prefer the Gibson L-5, which has a sharp cutting power and, if desired, you can almost get a snare drum sound out of it. I think it's the greatest rhythm guitar ever made.

page 138 - I played straight four (no accents) for a long time but I started listening to Freddie Green playing with an accent (on beat 2 and 4) and began to play that way, too.

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