Drummin' Men: The Heartbeat of Jazz
Author: Burt Korall
Page 123: Jo Jones, Lester Young, Buck Clayton, Harry Edison, Walter Page, Freddie Green, Bill Basie, and the rest altered the conception of how jazz could and should be played. By exploring natural, flowing pulsation and marrying it to relaxation, the band offered a fresh approach to soloing and sectional and ensemble performance. The use of space, understatement, surprise, and constant swing made the ensemble very effective. The Basie band could get to you while playing a suggestive, slow blues or a medium tempo swinger, or while shouting and exploding over charging rhythm. The band's hallmark was simplicity. The band could fool a listener that wasn't playing close attention. A lot was going on - among the soloists, in the sectional and ensemble playing, and particularly in the rhythm section.
Pages 146-148: Basie played simple, syncopated comps in his right hand and didn't overwhelm the rhythm section at any time. Guitarist Freddie Green held the four guys together. Walter Page, the veteran, brought a special quality to the time. Jo Jones created colors, laid down the down beats and up beats, and brought the band in. A revolutionary change had taken place. The Basie feeling was so different from the 4/4 thumping of other rhythm sections. Jo's cymbals, the guitar and the bass walking together, the plinking of Basie and the way he edged in his left hand once in a while - it just lightened up everything and made the rhythm section come to the fore. What those guys did was very difficult to imitate.
The All-American Rhythm Section of Basie, Page, Green, and Jones had its own recipe. Relaxing, being natural, responding consonantly and with feeling for the music - all of this gave the section distinction. The section blended flow and interaction, flexibility, and freedom, bringing to the Basie music a lightness and a provoking sense of pulsation that carried one along. Very simply, the section swung as none had before, providing a potent example of what could be done if rhythm players moved in the same direction. The beautiful part was that each person in the section never forgot who and what he was, or what a variegated role his instrument could play.
Jo Jones said, "It took a lot to do what we did. What was happening to us on and off the bandstand - it all came out in our playing. That's what made the Basie rhythm section what it was." Harry Edison adds, "It used to send chills up me every night when I'd hear the rhythm section. The whole band would be shouting, and we'd go to the middle part or the bridge, then all of a sudden everybody would drop out but the rhythm section. I've never heard a band swing like that."
At the center of the rhythm section was bassist Walter Page, a man of wisdom and great musical expertise and experience. Jo Jones, "I learned to play the drums from Mr. Walter Page. He was a musical father to me because without him I wouldn't know how to play drums. For two years, Page taught me how to phrase." Jones took Walter Page's lessons to heart. The result was a highly stylized approach to drumming in a jazz ensemble. Jones helped open up a number of possibilities for the drummer, not the least of which was the option of being a colorist, a contributor to the feel of the band. He made the drummer less of a mechanical presence and more of a musician.
Roy Elridge comments, "The one thing that people overlooked about Jo's playing in the Basie band - his bass drum. He kept a light four going, giving a bottom to the rhythm. Drummers in those days used to tune their bass drum to a G on the bass fiddle. And the way they used the bass drum didn't come out Boom, Boom, Boom, instead it blended with the bass. The guitar was also playing four. So everything was going along the same course, together!"
Page 149: The love and respect that Jo Jones had for Basie, his old friend and former employer, were often quite touching. As Basie wound down his life, encumbered by illness, Jo kept at him to slow down, in his typical gruff manner, "All that man has to do is maybe ten concerts a year. He could get Pep (Freddie Green), a bass player, and me and not work so hard. But he has to have that band and travel all the time. No need for that at this point!"
Page 264: It was during an extended stay at the Hickory House that Buddy Rich got to know Basie. Buddy went to the Famous Door to hear Basie. Basie said to Buddy, "I hear you are pretty bad!" Buddy was humble and answered, "Well, you know..." Basie urged him to play in the band. Buddy was one of the few white guys who sat in that could really do what had to be done. He played the style perfectly. And the Basie guys - Sweets Edison, Pres, Buck Clayton, Jack Washington, Earle Warren, Walter Page and Freddie Green - loved what Buddy did."