Book Excerpt: Jazz People
Author: Dan Morgenstern
Aside from Count Basie himself, the only other visible link with the past in the band is the guitarist, Freddie Green, who joined in March 1937, and hasn't missed many band calls since. He is unique not just in this respect - only Duke Ellington's Harry Carney had a longer record of unbroken service - but also as the last representative of a vanished species, the unamplified rhythm guitarist. Every big swing band had guitarists in the golden age, but changing rhythm styles did away with them. But not in Basie's band. Freddie Green's sometimes almost inaudible but always feelable strum - the incarnation of swinging 4/4 time - is so much part and parcel of the Basie conception that the band would be unthinkable without him.
Freddie is the quiet man. In the early days of the band, when Billie Holiday was its singer, he and Billie were sweethearts, engaged to be married. [Editor's note: I doubt this as Freddie was already married!] Billie didn't talk about him in her purported autobiography; considering its general tone, she did him a favor.
He doesn't talk about Billie. He sits hunched over his guitar, keeping perfect time, bothered, or so it seems, only by the imperfections of his section mates - especially the drummers. For years, he suffered the presence of a flamboyant but unsteady percussionist, knowing that the man's showmanship was good for the band's popularity and doing his best to keep the time where it belonged. He had no such problems during the days when Basie's rhythm team was known as "The All-American Rhythm Section". Basie, Freddie, bassist Walter Page, and drummer Jo Jones were together from the time the guitarist joined until the Page left in 1942, and constituted a rhythm section the equal of which the jazz world hasn't seen.