Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Happy birthday, Freddie!

Guitar great Freddie Green was born March 31, 1911, in Charleston, S.C. His work with Count Basie is legendary -- he's probably the most famous guitarist to have almost never taken a solo.
His approach to comping behind the big band set a high standard for other players, often using techniques that run against conventional wisdom.
For example, guitarists tend to accumulate chord fingerings the way squirrels gather nuts: one can't have too many of them, even if you don't remember exactly where they all are all the time.
Freddie's style relied on the use of three-note chord forms, chords which carry the important harmony for the music -- without the filler of duplicated notes (which often creates a muddier sound).
His mastery of chords and rhythm playing was phenomenal -- check out this quote about Freddie's knowledge from Wes Montgomery (found on allaboutjazz.com's "Musician of the Day" page): “It would be alright, but I don't know that many chords. I'd be loaded if I knew that many. I'd probably go join a (big) band and play rhythm, man, because he's (Freddie) not just playing chords, he's playing a LOT of chords.”
A lot of what he did used common ii-V substitutions ... it ain't rocket science, but it will definitely propel the music!
He achieved this using big, hollow-bodied guitars -- Strombergs, Epiphones and Gretchs measuring as much as 18 inches across the lower bout (by comparison, a Gibson ES-175 runs less than 17 inches).
The bigger box helped give his playing more projection, as did the setup on his guitar. These days, everyone wants their strings as close to the neck as possible, as close as 5/32".
Freddie kept his strings waayyy off the neck -- it also added to the projection but must have been awfully hard to play.

Freddie died in 1987, after taking over the Count Basie Band when Basie died in 1984.

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