Sunday, February 26, 2017

Freddie Green Style Comping

Frederick William "Freddie" Green (March 31, 1911 – March 1, 1987) was an American swing jazz guitarist. He was especially noted for his rhythm guitar playing in big band settings, particularly for the Count Basie orchestra, where he was part of the rhythm Section" with Basie on piano, Jo Jones on drums, and Walter Page on bass. His comping style can be explained simply as: "hold down a chord with the left hand and strike the strings with the right hand on every beat of the tune." The voicings that were used by Freddie and other rhythm style players primarily used basic 3 or 4 note voicings without extensions and alterations. You can see a few here:

A big issue in style of comping is volume and sound. You need a sound that does NOT muddy the sound of the bass player. And the volume should be so low that the guitar is rather "felt" than "heard." The sound should be acoustic rather than electric and it is essential to avoid boominess.

I found a few good tips by Tim berens on on time, volume, sound and voicings. His page is a must for everybody interested in the style. Some quotes:

Rhythm guitar is about time, not about voicings. Voicings are a detail, but they seem to take up a great deal of space in discussions about Freddie Green comping. If you are just learning the basics of swing rhythm guitar, pay little attention to the discussions of voicings. I suggest that to learn this style you should first concentrate on time.
A big issue with Freddie Green comping is the volume: how loud should it be? The answer is just loud enough. Not particularly helpful, but completely accurate. Here are things to consider when deciding how loud to play:
  • The guitar part must be just barely quieter than the drums. 
  • The guitar part should be felt not heard. 
  • If anyone in the audience (except other rhythm guitarists) actually noticse the guitar, it is too loud. 
  • The guitar part is often times more for the benefit of the other musicians (to help drive the rhythm home for them) than for the listeners. 
  • As the band gets louder, so should the guitar, but not too much. 
The realities of most live performance dictate the use of an amplifier. But the typical amplified jazz guitar sound is too "thick" to properly play Freddie Green comping. The big fat jazz box sound will simply muddy up the rhythm section because it will interfere with the bass player's lines.

Do not get obsessed with voicings as a beginner. Remember that you do not have to play voicings exactly like Freddie Green to play good Freddie Green comping.
Here are several guidelines for voicings:
  • Primarily use three note voicings on strings 6, 4, and 3; and four note voicings on strings 6, 4, 3, and 2.
  • Avoid barre chords. They take up too much space in the sound spectrum.
  • Avoid perfect fifths between strings 6 and 5. This sounds muddy and will interfere with the bass player's sound.
  • Don't add extensions past the 7th, unless specifically called for in the chart.
  • Don't add your own extensions, as they will likely conflict with the piano player's part as well as the horn parts.

By no means am I an expert in this field. I am still working on a good swing feel myself in this style - and that IS hard - but I did make a short instructional video on how you can apply some common voicings on "There Will Never Another You." I keep the bass note on the 6th string all the time and I use some substitions for certain chords to keep voice leading going. Have fun!

And here's "Fly me to the Moon" in the same style:


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