Liner Notes: Mr. Rhythm
America's professional jazz musicians are hardly renowned for their charity towards colleagues of mediocre talent, but this renders their praise all the more meaningful. Hence, Freddie Green's nickname, "Mr. Rhythm", conferred upon him by fellow musicians, represents praise indeed. Freddie Green is the very personification of rhythm, the unfailing pulse of the most consistent rhythm section jazz has known. Back in 1941 he won the guitar section of the magazine "Metronome" reader's poll, even though he was, and always has remained, an accompanist, a musician whose solo contributions are almost non-existent - - and this within a career stretching back over forty years.
His playing on here on "Little Red" typifies the sparseness, but relentless efficacy, of his style. There is simply no doubt that he has a telling impact on any rhythm section, and it is scarcely surprising that he is such a sought-after cohort within the jazz community. In his time, he has backed Billie Holiday, Benny Carter, Lionel Hampton, Joe Sullivan, Benny Goodman, Mildred Bailey, Glenn Hardman, Pee Wee Russell, Zutty Singleton, Teddy Wilson, Gerry Mulligan, Big Joe Turner, Al Cohn, Zoot Sims, Seldon Powell, Bob Brookmeyer, Sonny Stitt, Lambert-Hendricks-Ross, and "Countless" others. The pun is unintentional, even though Freddie Green's greatest claim to fame is as the almost ever-present guitarist within the rhythm section of the formidable Count Basie Orchestra.
After forty years in the ranks of one of the most eminent bands in the history of jazz, he is now by far its longest serving member. As a consequence, he has contributed to a vast number of recordings, whether those by the full orchestra or those by bands from within the orchestra - - the Kansas City Five, Six, and Seven, generally led by fellow Basie-ites such as Emmett Berry, Lucky Thompson, Karl George, Dickie Wells, and Joe Newman. His services have also been much welcomed by ex-Basie men of the caliber of Lester Young, Illinois Jacquet, Jo Jones, Harry Edison, Buck Clayton, Jimmy Rushing, and Ernie Wilkins.
Life with the Basie orchestra is of constant movement. The orchestra is extremely popular and there are perpetual demands on its time and energy. Hence, Freddie Green has quite consciously forgone the easy comfort of home life and opted for the lot of itinerant musician. Despite this, his personal comportment reveals little of the immense fatigue his chosen profession undoubtedly imposes upon him, although the occasional extended engagement - - such the relaxed atmosphere of the Nice Festival in 1976 - - must provide very welcome relief from the normal hectic routine.
Although virtually ever-present since its earliest days, Freddie Green is not the original guitarist with the Count Basie Orchestra. That particular honor belongs to Claude Williams. However, Williams left Basie while in New York to return to the Midwest, and it was John Hammond, that Good Samaritan of jazz, who recommended a man he had heard in a Greenwich Village club. Freddie Green was immediately signed up, and there began a collaboration that has survived with striking success right up to the present day. The teaming of Green with Basie, bassist Walter Page, and drummer Jo Jones, produced the most illustrious rhythm section of jazz, one that became known as the "All American Rhythm Section." Placing equal emphasis on each of the four beats, it indeed generated a buoyant bounce and a notoriously infectious swing; and over the decades it has remained the model, often imitated but never equaled, for all ambitious swing rhythm sections. The bassist and drummer were destined to change fairly frequently after the departure of Page and Jones, yet the character of the section has always remained intact, with Freddie Green's delicately propulsive guitar in the central role. One of the secrets of his full, audible sound from within the midst of a virile band in full cry, without resorting to amplification, is the use of a guitar on which the strings are set further away from the frets than usual.
Born in Charleston, South Carolina, on March 31, 1911, Frederick William Green began to develop an interest in music by the time he was about ten, although it was a further ten years before he started to teach himself guitar. Like so many others before him, he decided to try his luck in New York, a decision he was not, as it turned out, to regret.
Despite an enormously successful career and impressively numerous recordings with a multiplicity of jazzmen, Freddie Green has had only two sessions under his own name. On May 7, 1945, along with Buck Clayton, Dickie Wells, Lucky Thompson, and others, he cut four titles for one of the then flourishing small independent labels: the name of the label, not without some irony, was Duke! In 1956, the Basie Orchestra was due to celebrate its twentieth anniversary. During the pre-planning stages towards the end of 1955, it was decided to honor the longest-serving member of the band with the recording of an album under his leadership and name. And so Freddie Green found himself in charge of the proceedings at an RCA-Victor session at Webster Hall, in New York City, on December 18, 1955 - - the twelve titles presented here being the happy result.
The band is typical of the small groups from within the Basie organization, which were based on the widespread practice in the big band world of having a band within the band, a system that offered the more enterprising instrumentalists greater freedom and increased solo space. Alongside Green, we find two other Basie-ites of the day, trumpeter Joe Newman and trombonist Henry Cooker, plus that celebrated ex-Basie man, drummer Jo Jones. On the bass is one of the giants of the instrument, an ex-member of the Cab Callow Orchestra and regular partner of Jo Jones during the fifties, Milt Hilton. The group is completed by two highly committed admirers of the unmistakable Basie sound. Al Cohn hides a very real dynamism beneath a misleadingly nonchalant exterior, while Nat Pierce on piano is Basie's "alter ego" - - perhaps not the Count, but surely the Viscount. Moreover, it is Cohn and Pierce who provide the arrangements for this session. Cohn further doubles by taking up the bass clarinet for certain ensemble passages on "Learnin' The Blues" and "When You Wish Upon A Star", while he brings all the fluidity of the Lester Young clarinet to "Easy Does It" and "Something's Gotta Give."
A point of interest is that, of the twelve titles recorded between ten o'clock in the morning and nine o'clock in the evening of this particular December 18th, eight can be credited to Freddie Green himself. This provides a timely reminder that Green is no mean composer, his "Down For Double" (played here) and "Corner Pocket" being key pieces of the long standing Basie repertoire. Freddie shows a more facetious side of his musical character on "A Date With Ray", while on "Swingin' Back" he yields the limelight to pianist Nat Pierce. But throughout the album it is the rhythmic pulse of Freddie Green's remarkable guitar which is constantly in evidence, providing the lift that is capable of carrying a whole orchestra and generating the light, easy swing that remains the envy of the jazz world.
Liner notes for the reissued LP "Mr. Rhythm"