From the July/August 2021 subject of Acoustic Guitar | By Nick Rossi
Freddie Inexperienced is synonymous with swing guitar. Born in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1911, Inexperienced loved a 50-year profession holding down the rhythm chair of Rely Basie’s famed huge band. By way of that affiliation—and due largely to his dedication to utilizing an acoustic archtop as the first timekeeper in a big jazz ensemble—his identify not solely is eternally tied to an important ingredient of jazz, however has additionally grow to be a shorthand time period many guitarists know nicely. It has lengthy been widespread for a participant to be requested to “do a Freddie Inexperienced” and be anticipated to know what that means: strictly rhythm, all chords, and nothing however regular, swinging quarter notes. However when one surveys the scene in early 1937, when in New York Metropolis, Inexperienced joined Basie’s orchestra of musicians from Kansas Metropolis and the Southwest, it shortly turns into obvious that Inexperienced was half of a bigger custom close to its peak of follow.
Though Inexperienced had lived in New York for a number of years within the Nineteen Twenties earlier than returning to Charleston, it was in 1930 that he made a extra everlasting transfer to the jazz heart of the world. By that point, he had progressed from the ukulele to tenor banjo and located work in Harlem cafes and at home events accompanying stride piano gamers. The beat of the music had already began transferring in direction of the 4/4 pulse that got here to outline the period. In 1933, Inexperienced swapped his banjo for a guitar, partly on account of seeing firsthand what Lonnie Johnson may do with the instrument. However, like Duke Ellington’s rhythm man Fred Man, whom Inexperienced admired and finally befriended, he was a relative latecomer to the change. Most of the dance and jazz band rhythm sections, each Black and white, featured guitar by the early Nineteen Thirties due in no small half to the widespread affect and recognition of Eddie Lang. However the interval via the primary half of the last decade was a various one, rife with subtly completely different parallel paths to the identical vacation spot: swing.
A Rhythm Innovator
The primary main affect on Inexperienced’s guitar taking part in and somebody he would level to all through his life was John Trueheart (1903–1943). Trueheart was born in Virginia and raised in Baltimore, Maryland, the place he met a teenage drummer named Chick Webb. Round 1924, after paying dues working tour boats on Chesapeake Bay with the Jazzeola Orchestra, Trueheart, with Webb in tow, left for Harlem, the place they scraped by for years. They fell underneath the wing of Ellington, himself nonetheless on his approach up, finally showing on the legendary Savoy Ballroom for the primary time in February 1927. Within the spring of that yr, Trueheart, who was jobbing round city as a tenor banjo participant, appeared on a recording session with the clarinetist Wilton Crawley that additionally featured Lang on guitar.
Webb, at Ellington’s urging, had grow to be a bandleader by this time, and Trueheart lastly had a possibility to document with the diminutive drum powerhouse in June 1929. By the date of his second session with Webb that very same month—“Jungle Mama,” launched because the Jungle Band on Brunswick—Trueheart had begun taking part in guitar. Though it was his debut recording on the instrument, the sound and really feel that captivated Inexperienced years later is already current. The quarter-note pulse is regular however persistent, protecting the band transferring ahead in a lightweight however propulsive method. As with many early Black swing guitar gamers, one can hear how essential banjo approach was to the method: the wrist is free and there’s a snap within the strum.
Trueheart had already jettisoned a lot of the extraneous syncopations that usually characterised Jazz Age banjo taking part in, focusing totally on even downstrokes and chords voiced to chop via a reasonably sized ensemble. With Webb, however taking part in a banjo, Trueheart might be seen within the 1929 brief movie After Seben,which, despite the overt racism of the time, contains a stay band efficiency accompanying the primary Lindy Hop dancing captured on celluloid.
Chick Webb entered right into a administration settlement with Savoy co-owner Moe Gale in 1931, and in between stints backing Louis Armstrong and Ethel Waters rose to prominence main the dance band of alternative at New York’s first actually built-in ballroom. Whereas Webb influenced practically each drummer who adopted in his wake, Trueheart was proper by his facet, tucked in between the lure equipment and piano on the bandstand, laying down the rhythm framework for the sound of swing bands but to come back. Sometimes, the association would name for a rhythmic flourish such because the two-bar break in “It’s Over Because We’re Through” (Decca, 1934) or firstly of “Lonesome Moments” (OKeh, 1934).
On the latter, Trueheart demonstrates a Nineteen Thirties swing guitar gadget: the four-bar intro, as proven in Example 1. Working primarily with tonic and dominant fifth chord types, the guitar has the power to each set the tempo and set up the harmonic framework of the tune. As was commonplace early on, Trueheart ornaments these comparatively easy chord types with some slides and chromatics for impact. Of equal significance on a recording comparable to that is Trueheart’s robust sense of the rhythm pulse of his beat: a gentle 4/4 however with some slight syncopated emphasis on offbeats right here and there.
The earliest photograph of Trueheart holding a guitar reveals him with a 16-inch Gibson L-5, as popularized by Lang. Nevertheless it’s fairly seemingly that by the point he appeared on recordings with such jazz legends as Billie Vacation, Teddy Wilson, and Ella Fitzgerald circa 1935–1936, the guitarist had switched to a equally sized Epiphone, then New York–based mostly and the principle competitor of Gibson.
Sadly, Trueheart was sidelined for 2 years as a result of tuberculosis beginning in early 1937. Reflecting their deep friendship, Webb stored the guitarist on the band’s payroll and funded his convalescence close to Saranac Lake within the Adirondacks. Tragically, inside months of Trueheart’s return to the band, Webb himself died from the exact same illness after having silently suffered via a lot of his temporary life. The guitarist continued with the orchestra underneath vocalist Fitzgerald’s management, however left in the midst of 1940. The rhythm innovator continued to be tormented by his situation and he died in Seaview Hospital, on Staten Island, a yr after the identical ailment claimed the life of electrical jazz pioneer Charlie Christian in the identical sanatorium.
An In-Demand Plectrist
Trueheart’s modern Bernard “Bunky” Addison (1903–1990) was born and raised in Annapolis, Maryland, however got here up taking part in in and across the Washington, D.C., space with future Ellington cornet star Rex Stewart, in addition to Ellington’s early rival Claude Hopkins. Addison was initially a mandolin participant like his father, however as a youngster he took up the then-popular tenor banjo as his work with dance bands elevated. Like Trueheart and Webb, he finally made his solution to Harlem and located work at such evening spots as Smalls Paradise. By 1924, he was additionally showing on document dates.
Addison shifted his focus to guitar within the late Nineteen Twenties, impressed partly by the business success of Nick Lucas and spurred on by casual classes given to him by his buddy Eddie Lang. In March 1929, as a member of the Wabash Trio, he made his recording debut for Gray Gull Data on the instrument, sounding not not like Lang however already with traces of the free however driving method he would take with the guitar all through the Nineteen Thirties. Addison’s attribute mixture of single-string runs and chord accents are additionally current. Moreover, Addison holds the excellence of being one of many first Black Swing-Period guitarists captured on movie: He was seen briefly taking part in a Grasp Mannequin L-5 in Dudley Murphy’s St. Louis Blues (1929), starring Bessie Smith.
By way of his early associations with innovators and legends comparable to James P. Johnson, Jelly Roll Morton, Bubber Miley, and Louis Armstrong, Addison was very a lot in demand through the daybreak of the period. In 1933, he joined probably the most essential huge bands of the interval: Fletcher Henderson’s orchestra. For 18 months, he was a part of a groundbreaking swing rhythm part that included pianist Henderson, bassist John Kirby, and drummer Walter Johnson. Recordings comparable to “Happy Feet” (English Parlophone, 1933) reveal Addison’s very private and barely idiosyncratic rhythm really feel. Utilizing a mixture of each down- and upstrokes, at instances rife with banjo-like syncopation, Addison pushed the beat with a refined emphasis on the offbeats. Does it nonetheless swing? In fact it does! However, as depicted in Example 2, the impact is maybe nearer to what modern guitarists affiliate with la pompe manouche of Gypsy jazz (see a lesson on this fashion within the June 2017 subject).
All through the rest of the period, Addison hopped from job to job, working with extra of the most important names within the historical past of jazz, together with Benny Carter, Billie Vacation, Stuff Smith, and Sidney Bechet. An prolonged engagement backing the Mills Brothers despatched him throughout the Atlantic in mid-1936 and in addition resulted in a movie efficiency with the vocal group within the English manufacturing Sing as You Swing (1937). Work for Addison continued till the beginning of World Conflict II; he enlisted in September 1942, and though from time to time he returned to performing and recording after the conflict, he successfully left the enterprise.
Swinging on a String
Cab Calloway led probably the most widespread Black orchestras of the Nineteen Thirties, second to solely Duke Ellington’s. Calloway remained probably the most enduring figures of the period, with a profession that stretched nicely into the Nineteen Nineties. His rhythm man via 1937, and subsequently probably the most high-profile gamers of the time, was the now all-but-forgotten Morris “Fruit” White (1908–1986). Born in Nashville, Tennessee, White grew up in Peoria, Illinois, and was a part of a thriving music scene across the St. Louis space.
White (nicknamed for his consuming habits) set out on the highway as a tenor banjoist with touring revues, first touchdown in Chicago and finally working his approach east to Harlem. As a member of a band known as the Missourians, White first performed the Savoy Ballroom in 1929, across the time the group made its recording debut. Nevertheless it was a yr later that Charlie Buchanan who, with Moe Gale, ran the dance emporium, pivotally paired the St. Louis transplants with vocalist Calloway. Throughout the yr they had been nationally recognized because of community broadcasts from the identical venue that helped propel Duke Ellington to fame: the Cotton Membership.
For White, the transition from banjo to guitar was much less abrupt than the band’s speedy rise. He performed each devices on Calloway information nicely into 1931. Early pictures even present him taking part in a flattop earlier than buying an L-5 round 1932. Very similar to Bernard Addison, White’s rhythm fashion additionally retained stronger banjo parts than a lot of his contemporaries, notably added syncopation and fewer of a reliance on pure downstrokes. Related additionally to Addison was his mixture of each chordal figures and single-string strains throughout his solo breaks. Breaking with modern traits, White was additionally not afraid to depart from the 4/4 pulse and throw in an accent chord for impact.
All of those attribute parts, together with an important sense of the place White felt the beat of the music, might be heard on Calloway’s 1934 Brunswick recording of the early jazz workhorse “Avalon.” Normally, his quarter-note pulse shouldn’t be very completely different from Addison’s—maybe a bit extra relaxed with a mild drive extra akin to John Trueheart’s method. However his loose-wrist banjo-derived method actually reveals its deserves in his alternating stroke responses to Walter “Foots” Thomas’ flute. Even his single-string runs, all performed on the excessive E string, are performed in a rhythmic method, like in Example 3a.
In fact, heavy strings and better motion each go a protracted methods in direction of swinging on one string, however in White’s case, it’s extraordinarily efficient. The banjo expertise involves the fore with the second break (Instance 3b), through which White deploys the kind of tremolo typically related to the brash metal-bodied instrument. It’s a way that’s greatest practiced slowly with a lighter-gauge choose at first, switching to a heavier plectrum as soon as velocity and even strokes have been developed.
In various movie appearances with Calloway made throughout this era, White might be seen exhibiting how comparable his right-hand approach is to basic jazz banjo taking part in of the Nineteen Twenties. From 1936 onwards, the guitarist was photographed with Gibson’s flagship 18-inch Super 400 guitar, maybe chatting with the diploma of visibility Calloway’s band loved over the course of the last decade. His tenure with the group lasted via the period’s high-water-mark years of 1935 to 1937, earlier than he was changed by one other critical rhythm purveyor: New Orleans’ personal Danny Barker. White found work after Calloway to be surprisingly scarce, and after serving through the Second World Conflict he moved to St. Louis, the place he briefly ran a nightclub and finally began a profitable novelty leisure enterprise.
Fleet-Fingered Chord Work
Though a number of years youthful than Freddie Inexperienced, Al Casey (1915–2005) managed to make his recording debut virtually three full years earlier than him. Initially from Louisville, Kentucky, Casey took violin classes at an early age however by no means fairly took to the instrument. By 1930, his household had moved to New York, the place he started exploring the guitar with a like-minded cousin. He confirmed sufficient promise and enthusiasm that he was despatched to the Martin-Smith Music Faculty in Harlem. By way of a household buddy, he caught the ear of piano legend Fat Waller, with whom Casey would go on to document and carry out upon his commencement from highschool. This lengthy affiliation, with one notable break, would final practically till Waller’s loss of life in 1943.
Over the course of dozens of Victor 78s credited to Fat Waller and his Rhythm, Casey largely outlined the function of the guitar in a small group swing band for half a decade. Waller’s great reputation and widespread affect (he was an early mentor of Rely Basie amongst others) ensured that Casey’s buoyant pulse and fleet-fingered chord work was heard by many through the period. His relaxed however regular beat edged nearer to the place John Trueheart laid down his quarter notes, however he was not shy about utilizing offbeat accents or single-string runs to tie collectively his concepts both as an accompanist or as a soloist.
Casey’s early 16-inch D’Angelico underpins a few of Waller’s best-known and most-loved recordings: “Honeysuckle Rose,” “Rosetta,” “Lulu’s Again in City,” and lots of extra. With D’Angelico in hand, Casey is proven backing Waller in a broadly circulated 1941 “soundie” (an early movie efficiency that was performed again on coin-operated jukebox-like machines) of “Honeysuckle Rose.”
In June of 1937, Waller featured Casey for a full refrain, just about unprecedented on the time, on his Victor recording of “Blue, Turning Grey Over You.” Casey’s remaining eight bars specifically, much like Example 4, present a few of his favourite harmonic and rhythmic units. The sixth and ninth chords that he typically employed are current, as are his syncopated offbeat accents. Additionally of be aware is Casey’s heavier reliance on downstrokes, maybe as a result of his concentrate on the guitar at an early age relatively than tenor banjo. Casey additionally displays extra inner harmonic motion than a lot of his Harlem-based contemporaries, one thing extra prevalent within the taking part in of main white jazz and dance band gamers from the identical time comparable to George Van Eps, Carl Kress, or Dick McDonough.
By his personal later admission, the earth-shattering arrival of electrical guitarist Charlie Christian on the scene in 1939 had a large impression on Casey’s method to the instrument. Whereas he waited till after Waller’s loss of life to plug in and go electrical, when he lastly did, he deserted his early method and broke with the Harlem rhythm guitar custom. He managed to start a second act as a mainstay on 52nd Road via the mid-Nineteen Forties as trendy jazz started to come back to the fore.
Immediately Charming Rhythms
Freddie Inexperienced emerged through the second half of the Nineteen Thirties, in a aggressive area full of gamers comparable to Al Norris, Lawrence Lucie, Arnold Adams, and lots of others. However much like Al Casey, Inexperienced hung out paying his rhythm dues accompanying a grasp of Harlem stride piano. In Freddie’s case, this was Willie Gant. By 1936 Inexperienced was working in a small combo at a Greenwich Village nightclub known as the Black Cat and it was right here that legendary producer and impresario John Hammond first encountered him, immediately captivated by his rhythm really feel.
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Hammond later stated Inexperienced was nearer to Eddie Lang than some other guitar participant he had heard—very excessive reward certainly—and commenced machinations to work Inexperienced into the Basie rhythm part, first by singing the guitarist’s praises, and finally by serving to stage a jam session. With pianist Teddy Wilson and a band consisting largely of Basie-ites (together with Lester Younger), Inexperienced made his recording debut for Brunswick in January 1937 backing Billie Vacation. The primary tune recorded was “He Ain’t Got Rhythm”—though clearly this was one thing Inexperienced had loads of!
Listening intently to the recording session, you may hear parts of most of the early masters of the fashion: Trueheart’s relaxed drive, in addition to a few of the extra syncopations favored by gamers comparable to Addison. Not heard, nevertheless, are the one- and two-note chords that may later be so intently related to Inexperienced; that may come later in his growth. The session additionally introduced him involved with half of what would later be known as the All American Rhythm Part: drummer Jo Jones and bassist Walter Web page.
Walter Web page is essentially credited because the driving drive of the early Basie rhythm sound, each by way of idea and execution. After Inexperienced joined the band, rhythm part rehearsals (typically minus bandleader Basie) turned commonplace. Compounded with a relentless schedule of dance dates over the next 18 months, the outcome was a beat that rivaled the most effective within the band enterprise, and the musicians shortly rose to the highest of the polls. Even by the summer season of 1937, the Basie rhythm sound was coming into focus, with “John’s Idea” (recorded for Decca) being one instance. Throughout most of this time, Inexperienced was a dedicated Epiphone participant, beginning with a 16-inch Triumph earlier than transferring on to an enormous 18-inch Emperor, which he briefly endorsed.
One in all Inexperienced’s early actions away from the Basie fold was a summer season 1938 recording session for the Scorching Document Society with clarinetist Pee Wee Russell alongside stride grasp James P. Johnson, Ellington’s early bass bedrock Wellman Braud, and drum innovator Zutty Singleton. Whereas a slight aberration from the usual swing band of the day, the built-in group’s efficiency of “Dinah” not solely presents perception into how Inexperienced felt the beat, however features a uncommon 16-bar chord-based solo. Utilizing chromatics in a fashion much like Al Casey, Inexperienced performs comparatively easy chord types using fundamental harmonic concepts, as proven in Example 5. However his mastery of time is already obvious, as he mixes in refined syncopations and emphasizing offbeats, most successfully in his second eight bars. Related rhythmic concepts seem in early Basie broadcast recordings as nicely. Moreover, his accompaniment throughout Johnson’s solo presents some early perception to his voice-leading concepts.
In fact, this was all only the start. By the early Nineteen Forties, Rely Basie and His Orchestra was probably the most widespread bands within the nation, with a remarkably numerous fan base and admirers all through the music business. Apart from a short hiatus on the finish of the last decade, Basie’s huge band continued lengthy after the Swing Period concluded. For his half, Inexperienced continued to refine his method to rhythm guitar all through his profession, which later included parts realized from Benny Goodman’s guitarist Allan Reuss, however most significantly was based mostly on years of dedication to his craft in addition to devotion to the custom of swing rhythm guitar.
Particular because of Mark Cantor, Stephanie Crease, Al Inexperienced, George Gruhn, Jean Labaye, Jean-François Pitet, Loren Schoenberg, and Dave Stuckey.
Nothin’ however Rhythm: Instruments of the Commerce
As swing emerged from the Jazz Age, the acoustic archtop supplanted the tenor banjo because the instrument of alternative for rhythm gamers. That alternative for a lot of was the 16-inch Gibson L-5, which had been launched in 1924 and shortly after turned the benchmark. Gibson’s Nineteen Twenties Grasp Mannequin line, which additionally included mandolin-family choices, was probably the most essential collection in American instrument manufacturing and helped set up the Kalamazoo, Michigan–based mostly maker as a key participant.
Whereas New York’s Epiphone Banjo Company launched a line of roundhole archtops within the late Nineteen Twenties, Gibson didn’t have a lot competitors till Epiphone unveiled its f-hole fashions in 1931. Epiphone’s premiere mannequin, the De Luxe, was a 16-inch instrument that includes engaging appointments and wonderful projection, because of its construct and longer 25.5-inch scale. Epiphone gained notoriety for its constant high quality throughout your entire line and located specific favor amongst guitarists in New York.
In 1935, the competitors between these two makers, in addition to the quantity calls for of rising dance and jazz orchestras, kicked off a conflict of width. Gibson struck first with the introduction of the Tremendous 400, which boasted an 18-inch decrease bout. By August of that yr, the L-5 was enlarged to a 17-inch instrument. Epiphone answered the problem by growing the decrease bouts of its professional-level devices to 17-3/8 inches, finally introducing the premiere 18-1/2-inch Emperor in late 1935.
Into this fray got here impartial luthiers comparable to Charles Stromberg and Son out of Boston and John D’Angelico, based mostly in New York’s Little Italy neighborhood. Each initially provided widespread 16.5-inch fashions impressed by the Gibsons of the time, and these small retailers mirrored the majors by additional growing their widths. Whereas D’Angelico’s New Yorker topped off at 18 inches on the peak of the period, Stromberg’s Grasp 300 and 400 took prime honors with 19-inch decrease bouts. —NR
This text initially appeared within the July/August 2021 subject of Acoustic Guitar journal.