Monday, July 17, 2017

David Among Goliaths: Freddie Green

     Slip in a Count Basie disc some time and reacquaint yourself with the drive, the power and precision of this historic band. Basie of course was a champion of the less-is-more theory. His economy of notes was deceptive. It sounded as though anyone could do it, but like Bach's two part inventions, Count's "simple" lines were anything but easy. Into this atmosphere, throw in premier soloists like Frank Foster and Frank Wess on tenor; Marshall Royal on alto; Thad Jones and Joe Newman on trumpet; and oh so many others, even if for shorter stays.

     But next to Basie himself, the quiet star of the band was guitarist Freddie Green. In this propulsive, soaring Basie machine there was the pulse: Freddie. Always there on acoustic rhythm guitar. Surrounded by all this power and, call it what it is, volume, Freddie is in the center of the fray: plink, plank, plunk. He rarely was awarded solos but he was the beating heart of the band.

     My favorite Freddie Green story goes back to about 1951. Musical styles were changing. Big bands were disappearing rapidly. Basie was forced to wave goodbye to his beautiful band and started playing clubs in a trio setting. The story is told that one night in Chicago, Basie and his trio mates were setting up on the band stand. In walked Freddie Green, guitar case in hand. Basie cared deeply about Freddie but simply could not afford him. Freddie approached the bandstand and Basie asked him, "What are you doing here?" "Well, we're playing tonight, aren't we?" answered Freddie. "Uh, yeah," said Basie. Freddie unpacked his guitar from the case and went on to play the rest of his career with his soft-hearted boss, William Basie.

     So, put on that Basie disc. But listen in particular for the acoustic rhythm guitarist. The David among Goliaths. Freddie Green. Thank you, Freddie!

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