Author Stanley Dance interviews Freddie Green and Count Basie
Book: The World of Swing
Pages 13-17 "Something To Pat Your Foot By"
Count Basie and Freddie Green probably know more about swing and what it requires than anyone else in the world. Because swinging is as natural as breathing to them, they are not in the habit of putting it into words. In the course of the following short discussion at Philharmonic Hall (between rehearsals for the 1972 Timex All-Star Swing Festival), these two authorities manage to analyze, annotate, and even qualify their experience of swing, revealing its elusive nature in basic, verbal shorthand. Making the accomplishment sound as easy and effortless as the effects he achieves on piano, Basie describes music that swings as "music you can pat your foot by." This is a typical understatement, but it should be remembered that music which makes a Count Basie or Freddie Green pat a foot is swing of a very high order.
Stanley Dance: Do you have any working definition of what swing is?
Count Basie: No, I don't. I just think swing is a matter of some good things put together that you can really pat your foot by. I can't define it beyond that.
Dance: Freddie? Any definition?
Freddie Green: I think it is the type of rhythm you play that has a lot to do with swing. And it is the rhythm section that determines most whether a band swings.
Dance: How about tempo?
Green: Well, yes. Swing can be thought about tempo-wise. So far as I'm concerned, the best for swinging would be medium tempo. Like Basie says, something you can pat your foot to comfortably, more or less.
Dance: Swinging has always been your thing, Basie, hasn't it?
Basie: Yes, I would say so. We've tried to keep it that way.
Dance: Could we talk of some bands that particularly impressed you as swinging groups?
Basie: Well, I think Jimmie Lunceford had one of the greatest swing bands that ever was. I really do. They'd start to rock, and they'd just rock all night long. For a smaller band, the Savoy Sultans had a great swing thing going. Then, as far as this guy Ellington is concerned, you can never tell what he's going to do. I mean, he'll concert you all, and then he'll swing you all, too, you understand, when he's ready to. He's not limited to anything. Now what era are we speaking of?
Dance: Any era when the music is swinging, even today.
Basie: Well, there's Buddy...Buddy Rich. He has a lot of swing tunes in the book. And when they turn around and play them, then he has a great swing band.
Dance: Is that mostly due to Buddy himself?
Basie: As long as the band is swinging, that's it!
Dance: Why be analytical, in other words? What about some great individual swingers, as soloists?
Green: To me, Lester Young was one of the greatest swingers. I think swing is a thing you reach at a certain period in the music, when the audience says, "Well, they're sure swingin'!" You reach a certain point when everything is going together, and everything is going well, rhythmically, solowise, and ensemblewise. Missing out on any one of those may account for the fact that people also sometimes say, "Well, they were all right, but they weren't swinging."
Dance: Even when a band has been together for some time, it may swing one night and not another.
Dance: What do you put that down to? Physical condition?
Basie: You can never tell. Sometimes it's a mood, and sometimes you just don't know what it is. Sometimes it just doesn't get off.
Green: Sometimes we get to a point where we're so tired, but we get up there and swing like mad. Another time, you can have had an awful lot of rest, and you don't swing at all.
Dance: You don't have any theories about that?
Green: It depends on how everybody feels. I can't put my finger on any special thing that determines the possibility or the extent of swing. It just happens. Sometimes it gets off the ground and sometimes it doesn't. The audience has a lot to do with it, too.
Dance: But the rhythm section is important in triggering...
Green: The rhythm section is the foundation of it all. If the rhythm section isn't swinging, then you can forget about it. If it isn't clicking, moving together...Well, I mean, the rest of the band has to rely upon it.
Dance: I remember you spoke that way about Lunceford once before, Basie, yet his band always seemed to me almost the opposite of your kind of band.
Basie: It would swing right on...
Dance: I know it would, but yours seemed like a different kind of swing when you came here out of Kansas City. Looser, and closer to Fletcher Henderson's.
Basie: I don't know. That's how you feel about it. That's your opinion.
Dance: But wouldn't you say your kind of band was different to Lunceford's?
Basie: Oh, sure. The style was definitely different.
Dance: Theirs was closer to Duke's with all that show they put on.
Basie: But the band could swing.
Dance: And it had a good drummer, too. What about individuals? Freddie named Lester Young.
Basie: I won't name any.
Dance: Because you know too many.
Dance: But Lester was the one that came into your mind immediately, Freddie?
Green: Oh, there were many, you know, but he was my favorite, because of the way he played along with the rhythm section.
Dance: I always felt that once he got away from you, he could not have been very happy with some of the rhythm sections he had to play with.
[No comment from Basie or Green. An example of both the correct professional attitude and brotherly love de facto.]
Dance: What is the importance of guitar in your band? So many seem to have given it up.
Basie: Given up the guitar?
Dance: In big bands.
Basie: To me, it holds things together, but the job is to find someone who can hold things together! Guitarists think today that they must solo, and they don't see much to just playing along in a section.
Dance: But there are a few people around who still play rhythm guitar...?
Green: So far as big bands are concerned, there aren't very many. Steve Jordan was very good.
Dance: Who was it you had on some record dates when Freddie was sick?
Basie: Sam Herman, but he's not a regular.
Dance: Maybe after the electric guitar came in, everybody wanted to solo on the same footing as the horns.
Dance: What about the relationship of dancers to swinging when you used to play more ballrooms? You mentioned the importance of an audience. Was having dancers in front of you inspiring? Did it lead to you feeling that you wanted to swing more?
Basie: Well, sometimes. I mean, you could have dancers in those days, and you could also have a lot of people in the bandstand audience.
Dance: At the Savoy or the Ritz in Bridgeport...
Basie: Sure, both of those places had a lot of good dancers and a bandstand audience. There would be a big audience for the very slow things, as well as for the fast things. And for other, interesting swing things, with a whole lot going on, your big bandstand audience would be standing all around you. Beside, there were all the things the kids used to Lindy Hop to. When they were really good dancers, why of course it was inspiring, because you knew then you could play something danceable. And the kids who were doing the Lindy Hop could really tell whether you were swinging or not.
Dance: When the bands began to play concerts instead of dances, with all the people sitting down, didn't that make a difference in the attitude towards the music?
Green: In my opinion, if they're dancing it helps, and makes it easier to play. It is a little harder when the people are sitting down.