Recorded Interview of Bob Ojeda - Alumnus of the Basie Band
Date: February 14, 2003
Arranger and trumpeter Bob Ojeda played with the Count Basie Orchestra from 1985 to 2001. During the first part of Bob's tenure with Basie, Freddie Green was still playing in the band until his sudden death in Las Vegas on March 1, 1987.
Bob's big band career began in the 1958, though still is his teens, when he joined the Stan Kenton Orchestra. He also played with the Woody Herman, Ralph Flanagan, and others. Bob studied arranging with the renown William Russo, Frank Foster, and Bill Matthews.
Bob has written arrangements for big bands, including the Basie organization, as well as music for singers, television, and movies. He can be seen and heard on the 1987 DVD "Diane Schuur and the Count Basie Orchestra". (link to DVD listing on web site) Bob is seated next to the drummer's high hat, and plays several solos. His arrangement of "Everyday I Have The Blues" can be heard on this DVD. Bob can be also heard on many recordings. His most recent has yet to be released as of February 2003 and features drummer Butch Miles, bassist Lynn Seaton, and pianist Kenny Drew Jr.
Many thanks to Bob for sharing his memories and his photos of Freddie. To quote Bob,
Note: The text below is an edited version of the recorded interview and has been approved by Bob Ojeda prior to posting on this web site.
Freddie The Musician
"I was always partial to Freddie's style of guitar because he added so much to the music. He brought so much to the music when he was playing."
"He played lead notes over his chords; the top note would create a melody in quarter notes. Come to think of it, he was the only guy I ever heard do that. I think creating these melodies was pretty natural for him; that he just naturally fell into it since he had been playing rhythm so long. He was going to pick the right notes no matter what."
"The fact that his strings were up so high had to contribute to his unique sound. I think he made his sound by playing chords with ghost notes and clear notes. He was never really strumming chords."
"All the guys that followed Freddie were strumming chords and that is a different sound. Charlton Johnson played in the Basie band after Freddie but he came from a different school of playing; his background was as a blues player. He was not a jazz player at all when he joined the band. I think he now works with Bobby Blue Bland. He's been with him since he left the Basie band. Charlton did a good job of fitting in because he is a good guitar player. But his real love is blues."
"Other than Freddie, guitarists that played with the band have played too loud. When I would mention this to a player, he would say 'Well I have to use an amp to be heard.' The problem is that most of these players don't know how to play at the proper low level. They keep thinking that the guitar needs to be heard, but they don't understand that the guitar doesn't need to be heard; it needs to be felt...by the band."
"We never noticed Freddie until he wasn't playing.
Then something was missing."
"Playing more than a couple of notes would have to cut down the momentum of the strum. And that would affect the time."
"When I listened to guitar players with the old big bands from the 30's and 40's, they weren't playing in a manner like Freddie. They were just slamming their fingers down on the strings and trying to get that volume out. It wasn't subtle. But Freddie took this style off into another direction with the Basie band in the 1950's."
"When Stan Kenton first formed a band in the 40's, he had a rhythm guitar player like the other bands. By the time he re-formed his band in 1951, the guitar no longer played straight rhythm; it became a comping instrument, like a piano. I enjoyed that sound a great deal; it made the band play different."
"Freddie's son, Alfred, has his guitars. I think he may have given one to the Smithsonian Institute."
Freddie The Quiet Man
"I never saw Freddie have a really animated conversation with anyone. Maybe sometimes when people were sitting with him in Europe at a festival. But generally on the bus and in other situations, he didn't say too much. He was pretty quiet."
"He was cordial enough. I know when I first got there, he played a lot of attention to what I was playing. Listening critically, not appreciatively. He never said anything to me, but that was good! The only thing he ever said about my playing was many months later; as I walked upstage he said I played a great solo."
"Here and there I had a chance to sit and talk with Freddie. I ate dinner with him a couple of times. My second week with the band we were in France. I was eating dinner in our small hotel and Freddie comes in and sits down at my table. After he sits down, there was hardly any conversation at all. But he was watching me because I had ordered chitlins by mistake. So he's looking at me, watching me eat, and he sees the look on my face but he still hasn't said a word. Finally, he put his fork down and said 'Boy, haven't you ever ate chitlins?' I'm sure he got a big kick watching me with those chitlins."
"Freddie could laugh at things and not outwardly laugh. You could see no change of expression on his face but if you knew him well enough you know that he was laughing inside when he would see something dumb. He would have a little quiet chuckle but never say anything. He would never criticize or never correct."
"Freddie didn't like interviews; he didn't like them
at all. When we did the Diane Schuur Video, a few days before Freddie
died, he did an interview after the taping. And he did not want to do
it. I think the management forced him to do it. Anyway, the interviewer
ask him something about Diane and Freddie didn't even answer the question.
Freddie had his own opinions and he never said anything bad about anybody.
So he just ignored the question. He sat there and let the tape run until
the interviewer starting scuffling and came up with another question."
"Freddie hung around with the older guys in the band. The older guys sat in the front of the bus. That was the executive section of the bus. The younger guys never wanted to be up there. The lounge was in the back. You'd never see the execs in the back, not unless they had to use the toilet. When they went by, they went by us really quick. I was designated the guard of the lounge. My seat was the official end of the lounge. I had to check everybody that came by. We would adjust to life on the bus. I could sleep on the bus; some of the guys couldn't. But we never did overnight trips. The bus would take us to the next city, we would play the gig, and then stay in the hotel that night. Or we might fly to a city and a new bus would pick us up there and stay with us until we left that area."
"We were paid on a weekly basis and everybody was paid differently based on the deal that was made with management. Nobody ever spoke about money. It was very private information because the salaries were vastly different. Some of the older guys, like Freddie, had high salaries. And they didn't want anybody to know what they were making. When I first joined the band, we each paid for room and board from our salaries. Right after I joined it changed where we would pay for the rooms, then we would be re-imbursed at the end of the week for any room charge that was over $30 per night. So we had to pay $30 per night and management paid the difference. Later on, they were paying the entire hotel bill. When Basie ran the band, the players had to pay everything themselves. Basie was very frugal. Business was business to Basie. He was not the type of guy that would comfortably pay someone a big salary. That's what I heard from the older guys. But in public situations and in a person to person encounter, he would be very generous."
"I think Basie was also a man of few words, but not as quiet as Freddie."
"After Basie died, the bookings and fees declined, so the band had to work much more in order to make the same money."
"There was never a lot of conversation with Freddie. But he was a man of integrity and he was respected by everybody."
The Night Freddie Died
"The band was playing in Las Vegas at the Bally Grand. Freddie died between shows. He had gone to his room to relax between shows."
"I found out because I ran into (drummer) Dennis Mackrel in the hall. I was down near the slot machines in the hall and he ran by and mentioned Freddie's name. And I knew something was wrong. I went upstairs to Freddie's room and I stood outside his room while the paramedics were working on him. They worked on him for a long time."
"A friend that was with Freddie said they were sitting there on the couch watching TV when his body suddenly stiffened up. And he slid off the couch seat. That sounds like he had a stroke."
"The band played the next show. Everybody was really upset in the band. Half of the guys were crying. We were working with Tony Bennett. So we had a chair with Freddie's guitar with a rose on it, sitting on the stage. Then we did Tony's show and he changed a whole bunch of songs to go with the mood. It was really something. In a lot of ways, it was one of the toughest gigs I ever had to play."
"My memory is that Freddie never missed a gig. He played every concert until the night he passed away."
"So the family and the band held this big funeral for Freddie. It was in New York City at a big cathedral. The band canceled jobs that week and we all flew to New York. There was an overflow crowd of musicians and show business people. The place was packed with the "Who's Who" of music; I had never seen anything like this in my life. Anybody that was alive that knew about the funeral was there. So it was much more than mourning for Freddie. The movers and shakers were there, and deals were being made, but all with the greatest respect for the event. The service was something I will never forget. During the service, Freddie's friends spoke about him. Freddie's son came up and spoke. Through the whole service, the band is set up at the front of the church, and Freddie's casket is at the front of the band. At the end of the service, we played "Lil' Darlin'", and there was silence where Freddie would play the arpeggio. It was really something. That was one of my greatest experiences in my life. I remember that day very often and how moving it was. What a wonderful feeling in that church, all for Freddie."
Special thanks to Mr. Ojeda for providing us with some photos of Freddie from his personal collection.