Recorded Telephone Interview of Lynn Seaton - Alumnus of the Basie Band
Date: May 10, 2006
Bassist Lynn Seaton played with the Count Basie Orchestra from 1985 to 1987, taking the place of bassist Cleveland Eaton. During the majority of Lynn's tenure with the band, Freddie Green was performing in the band until his sudden death on March 1, 1987 in Las Vegas.
Lynn's professional career began in the late 1970's. In 1984, he joined the Woody Herman Orchestra. After his stint with the Basie band, he performed with Tony Bennett, George Shearing, and Monty Alexander. Other jazz greats that have benefited from Lynn's talent are Buck Clayton, "Sweets" Edison, Mel Torme, Jeff Hamilton, Monty Alexander, and Joe Williams...to name only a few.
Lynn can be seen and heard on Freddie Green's final recording date, the 1987 DVD "Diane Schuur and the Count Basie Orchestra". He has four recordings as a leader: "Bassman's Basement", "Solo Flights", “Live!!!”, and "Puttin' on the Ritz." He has been a sideman on over 100 recordings including one Grammy winner and two Grammy nominees.
Lynn is a member of the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame and is on the music faculty at the University of North Texas State.
Many thanks to Lynn, a gracious and thoughtful person, for sharing his memories of Freddie. Lynn's final thoughts about Mr. Rhythm: "Thank you Freddie for what you gave to me, for being who you are, and for making the world and the band swing."
Note: The text below is an edited version of the recorded interview and has been approved by Lynn Seaton prior to posting on www.freddiegreen.org.
Freddie The Musician
The thing that made Freddie's guitar work well in the band were his simple voicings. Sometimes we only heard one note. He would finger the whole chord but would favor one or two notes, usually in the middle strings, often the third and/or seventh of the chord. That's my take on his style. He would clearly be fingering the entire chord but I'm not sure how he controlled which notes we heard. The one and two note voicings really cut through the sound of the band. His simple guitar voicings worked well with the complex voicings played by the brass and reeds and the overall texture of the band which could be quite dense at times. His guitar part stayed out of the way but could also be heard. Also, the pitch of his voicings were above my bass lines and typically in the middle or below the piano comping and the soloist.
I want make it clear that Freddie did not accent two and four. It sure seemed to me that he played an even four beats. It was not at all like Django's rhythm guitar style. I have read in notable publications, by notable authors, that to play like Freddie a guitarist needs to place hard accents on two and four. That is not true!
Freddie often varied the beat length depending on what the music needed. But as a home base, the length of his beats were even.
Freddie's guitar had incredibly high action and the guitar was amazingly loud. He had this old Gretsch. It was unbelievable how much sound that box would put out. My memory is that Freddie would allow the guitar to be miked only if the trumpets were miked.
One day I asked "Freddie, can I put a tape recorder in front of you so that I can really listen to your voicings and your leading tones?" He said "It won't do you no good. I change it up all the time." So I didn't do that.
When I was with the Basie band, Freddie sat in the crook of the piano, near the saxes. I was almost right behind him near the drums. From my location in the band, I could hear Freddie but I could also see his right arm. It was like a metronome. I could watch his right elbow moving back and forth. Man, it was very easy to hook up to his tempo. His time was impeccable. He was "Mr. Rhythm." It felt soooo good! It was unbelievable what that felt like.
In the dressing room before a concert, it was common to hear Freddie playing chord melodies. Freddie was a great musician, but humble. Think how much humility it takes to play rhythm guitar in a big band for 50 years.
Freddie The Quiet Man
It is indeed true that Freddie was a quiet man. He was huge idol of mine and I always had wanted to play time with Freddie Green. When I first joined the band, I went to Freddie and asked "Freddie, is everything cool?" He turned around and said "Man, I'll tell you if the shit ain't happenin'." I said "OK" and that was end of that! He hardly ever said a word thereafter. So I figured that things were cool.
One night, the band stayed in Elkhart, Indiana. The hotel had a pool table. I knew that Freddie liked to play pool...remember he wrote "Corner Pocket." But I didn't realize how good Freddie was. He was really good. So we decided to play a classic eight ball game where if the eight ball is sunk on the break, the game is over. Well, the very first game I played with Freddie, that's what he did. He sunk the eight ball on the break. One shot - game over. I'm thinking "OK. Welcome to the band."
Freddie traveled with his golf clubs. He loved to play golf. I heard that he also was a fine softball player in his earlier years when the band had a baseball team. Even in his seventies, he looked strong.
Freddie's Last Recording
I played on the final recording of Freddie's career. It was a DVD and CD of the band with Diane Schuur. My mother passed away just prior to the recording date. I flew to the date right after her funeral. I'm not smiling very much on that DVD though the music was wonderfully therapeutic. My father told me "You've got to go make that recording. Remember your Mom carrying the bass when you were nine years old? Go out there and make that record for your Mom." So I did, and it won a Grammy.
Joining The Basie Band
In Reno, I played a jam session with Dennis Mackrel, who was then the Basie drummer. After the session, Dennis smiled, pointed at me, and said "Man, we gotta play again sometime". At the time, I was with Woody Herman. Soon after, Thad Jones, who was then leading the Basie band, called me because the band needed a bass player. I was literally walking out the door to leave on a two month tour with Herman when I answered the phone. Thad says "Lynn, we need a bass player for the Basie band. Dennis Mackrel and I would like you to join the band. We need you in two weeks." I said "I can't. I'm leaving with the Herman band today. It might be Woody's last tour and I've made a commitment to play." Thad said "Thanks anyway, but we need someone in two weeks." I hung up the phone and headed for the airport thinking "I can't believe I just turned down a chance to play with the Count Basie Orchestra. What an idiot I am!" But I have always honored my commitments and so I went on to play with Woody. Several days later, Thad Jones left a message "Lynn, I respect your sense of commitment, so we will try to find somebody until you are free to join the band. When can you join us?" I called Thad back and told him I could join the Basie band the day after the Herman tour ended. Thad accepted that scenario and so my first gig with the Basie band was the Montreal jazz festival in 1985 - a concert that was also being broadcast live around the world. There was no rehearsal; I didn't even have time to review the charts! Out of the one hour set, Thad called four tunes that were not in the book...no charts. They were "April In Paris", "One O'Clock Jump", "Jumpin' At The Woodside", and "Moten Swing." Fortunately I knew the tunes but it was still pretty scary. Here I am the new guy and the rest of the band is scoping me out to see if I can cut it. But I made it through and stayed with the band until 1987.