Book Excerpt: Giants of Jazz - Count Basie
Booklet: Giants of Jazz - Count Basie
Author: Stanley Dance
Time Life Records
The rhythm section Basie assembled in the late 30's - bassist Walter Page, drummer Jo Jones, and guitarist Freddie Green - has never been surpassed. Page, who could swing the whole band by himself, guided and shaped the development of the section, and when Green joined the band he fitted in smoothly as though the section had been designed specifically to accommodate his sustaining flow of chords. Together with Basie they created a marvelously unified sound in which the presence of each was evident while none overshadowed another. The section, as jazz authority John Hammond said, "brought richness of sound and subtlety to jazz rhythm, providing at the same time an unequaled lift and support for the soloists."
Basie is generally conceded to be among the most effective of band pianists. Yet he achieves the effect by playing scarcely enough notes in a whole evening to get the average pianist through a single number. According to Freddie Green, "he contributes the missing things..."
"He loves the band," guitarist Green told writer Nat Hentoff. "He loves to hear it. We still works overtime quite a lot because he gets so much enjoyment out of the job." Basie's love for the band has been amply reflected by the sidemen, several of whom have commented on how eager they always were to get to the stand and play.
Good as the Basie musicians were on records, they still needed help on the stand. There was no showmanship, and the intonation was still imperfect. But Basie and Hammond worked diligently. Hammond brought in Freddie Green to replace guitarist Claude (Fiddler) Williams... Green was to remain a great source of strength to Basie for many years. "Freddie Green, " Basie used to say, "is Mr. Hold-togetherer." Saxophonist Paul Quinichette, who joined the band later, was more specific. "Freddie kept it down there, always controlled. He's got it right there, in his wrist. And Basie listens to Freddie Green - one reason why he's still successful."
On January 16, 1938, Basie enjoyed one of the most triumphant nights of his career. That night, the whole band battled Chick Webb's band in his citadel, the Savoy ballroom. The atmosphere was particularly electric around the bandstand. "Off the stand," recalled Webb's bassist, Beverly Peer, "everybody was real friendly and very diplomatic. But when we got up on the stand - well, everybody was going for blood! It was just sets against sets. Lots of people were dancing. Basie's band had good rhythm with Page, Freddie, Jo - and they had good arrangements. But so did we."
Although the big bands were all but finished, small groups were still operating profitably, and in 1951 Basie appeared at the Brass Rail in Chicago with a sextet that included Clark Terry on trumpet, Buddy DeFranco on clarinet, Bob Graf on tenor, Jimmy Lewis on bass, and Gus Johnson on drums. Before long Freddie Green joined the rhythm section and Wardell Green replaced Graf. Eventually Basie assembled another big band. At first the going was tough. Fortunately Basie had the services of Clark Terry, Wardell Gray, and Freddie Green, and he found the best of Lester Young's disciples in tenor man Paul Quinichette, who came over from Jay McShann's band. The addition of Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis brought in a tenor saxophonist reminiscent of Ben Webster to assure the continuation of that Basie hallmark, contrasting tenor styles. But other band personnel fluctuated and bookings were erratic.
No other band had a guitarist quite like Freddie Green, whose unobtrusive but gyroscopically steady chording provided the final perfect ingredient to the Basie rhythm section.
Basie's succeeding chorus ("One O'Clok Jump") is a gem, as much as a feature for the entire rhythm section as it is a piano solo. The rhythm section, now complete with the addition of Freddie Green, is running precisely, lightly and quietly as a Rolls-Royce engine and with great power in reserve.
On the bridge of "Topsy", a cushion of chords from the muted brass invites Basie to continue the melodic development, but after some rhythmic right-hand punctuations, he returns to his opening phrase, backed prominently by Freddie Green's guitar.
The original All-American rhythm section was now reassembled in 1947, and as they always had, Jo Jones, Freddie Green and Walter Page fall in alongside Basie, quietly but securely.