Today In Charleston History: February 29

Nothing happened.

At least nothing that I could find of any note, that is. Probably cause it’s Leap Day. Meanwhile, here’s a nice etching of Meeting Street and St. Michael’s Church from the New York Public Library. 

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Richard Valenti: Super Christian – Serial Killer


Valenti is coming up for parole … click here to sign the petition to keep this monster behind bars.


Folly Beach is a barrier island, six miles long and one-half mile wide. It is the closest beach to historical Charleston, South Carolina, twenty minutes away. During the War Between the States, Folly Island was the staging area from which the Union troops attempted to take back Charleston from the Confederacy, and in 1934 George Gershwin rented the bungalow at 708 West Artic Avenue and composed the music for Porgy and Bess. 

   A small town with a population of just over 2000, Folly Beach is a low-scale community which is primarily a residential and family vacation beach it also happens to have the one of the best surf areas on the east coast at the washout on the east side of the island. It also boasts to have the fastest surfcam in the world. During the busy summer season, Folly Beach is cherished by tourists as a slower paced, less commericalized resort and during the off season, the locals cherish the return of their all-American small town. It is certainly not a place one expects to find a monster living with a view of the surf and dunes.

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Center Street, Folly Beach, SC

  Wednesday, May 23, 1973. Thirteen-year-old Alexis Ann Latimer and her fourteen– year-old friend, Sherri Jan Clark, told Mrs. Latimer they were going out for a walk. They left the Latimer’s Folly Beach cottage in the mid-afternoon, and never returned.

   When the girls had not returned by dark, Mrs. Latimer immediately reported the girls missing and got no help from the Folly Beach police. She recalled that the police ”thought I was just an overwrought mother.” The police assumed the girls had run away. It was more than two weeks before the they took any action and began an investigation. They admitted to being baffled. None of the Charleston papers mentioned the girls’ disappearance.

   During the following months, the family became frustrated by the lack of police urgency and success. They became frantic. They distributed leaflets about the girls and placed ads in local papers asking for any help. Mrs. Latimer went as far as consulting with famed Dutch psychic Gerald Croiset, Jr. Mr. Croiset, examined pictues of the girls and drew a fairly accurate map of Folly Beach, complete with bus stops, even though he had never been to the community.  He told the parents that Alexis was dead and they should search the north area of the island near the Coast Guard station.

   Saturday, Sept. 19, 1973. A nineteen-year-old woman picked up a sailor at the local naval base at a party and brought him back to her North Charleston apartment. Without warning, he suddenly savagely assaulted her.  He pushed her, throwing her to the floor; she vainly fought back. He quickly tied her and bound her to the bed. As she struggled he undressed and greedily watched her. She summoned more courage than most would have in that situation. She challenged him, ”Well, if all you wants is a piece of pussy come on. I got things to do and places to go.” The man suddenly lost his erection. He carried his clothes from the room. She could hear him dress and soon he left. The next day she contacted the naval authorities. She was told to take her complaint to the local sheriff’s office so she let the matter drop.

   February 14, 1974. Police discovered a teenaged girl bound, gagged and tied to a tree behind the James Island Shopping Center, six miles from Folly Beach.  One week later, sixteen-year-old Mary Bunch was last seen walking down Center Street on Folly Beach, heading for her home, two blocks away. She never arrived.

   Mr. E.D. Pickerall was walking his dog along the Folly Beach shore a month later. The dog became excited and begin to dig frantically in one spot. Mr. Pickerall walked over and noticed the area where the dog was digging was bloody and full of maggots. Assuming it was the carcas of some dead sea creature washed into the sand, he dragged the dog away from the spot. 

   April 12, 1974. A Folly Beach policeman was investigating a beach complaint on the northern end of the island. As he was walking the beach he heard a call for help coming from a nearby vacant vacation cottage. As he approached the raised cottage the officer realized the cries were coming from beneath the cottage. He discovered three sixteen-year-old girls bound and gagged. One of the girls had managed to slip her gag  and began to scream for help.

   The girls told the officer they had ditched school to come to the beach from Summerville, a town 30 miles away. While they were sunbathing on the deserted beach, a man had approached and pulled a gun. He told the girls he had killed two policmen and if they didn’t do what he said, he would kill them. He forced them into the outdoor shower room beneath the house where he tied and gagged them. Then their abductor left. 

   The girls provided police with an excellent description of the men, he had a beard and mustache and one very distinctive feature – a birthmark on his ankle. By the next week, the composite drawing was in wide circulation throughout the area, and many people began to make uneasy connections to past events. Mr. Pickerall began to wonder about the odd incident with his dog and on Tuesday, April 16 he contacted John Wilbanks, Folly Beach city manager and voiced his concerns. The two men went the spot on the beach where the dog had been digging; it was only several hundred feet from where the three girls had been abducted.

   Pickerall and Wilbanks began to dig through the sand with shovels and discovered a piece of clothing. Next, they contacted a local who owned a bulldozer who began to scrape away sand in the area. On the third pass, a body was unearthed beneath two feet of sand. The body was clad only in underwear and due to the fact that it was only skeletal remains, the gender could not be determined. The body was bound with the same kind of nylon clothesline that had been used on the three recently rescued girls. The next day the coroner was able to identify through dental records as Mary Bunch.

   After the body was discovered, digging continued through the night and into the next day. Huge floodlights were erected and could be seen throughout the entire island. Locals arrived to stand in silence along the dune to watch the police conductr their dig . . . with the unspoken fear that more bodies would be discovered,  thirteen-year-old Alexis Ann Latimer and fourteen- year-old Sherri Jan Clark, foremost in their minds. People who lived in nearby houses allowed officers to use their bathrooms, telephone and supplied drinks to the workers.

   Police set up a roadblock on the one highway and bridge off the island, and conducted a house-to-house investigation, asking questions, gathering information. Navy jets surveyed the island beach with infared sensors, and the police composite sketch of the assailant on the three girls was distributed throughout a three county area. They had held back on key piece of information, the birthmark on his ankle, which police hoped would make a positive ID easier.

   The young woman in North Charleston who had survived the attack from the sailor saw the composite drawing and she contacted naval authorities. She was shown photos of navy personnel stationed at the base and she made a positive ID. Charleston County police officers were dispatched to the home of Richard Valenti, a six-year radar operations specialist on the rescue submarine Petrel.Valenti, age 31, was renting the beach house across the street from where the beach excavation was taking place. In fact, officers already knew Valenti, he had been one of the specators on the beach, and had offered them drinks. When Mary Bunch’s body was discovered, Valenti told the neighbors, “Don’t worry, everything’s going to be all right.”

   Valenti had just recently shaved his beard and mustache.

    He was arrested  at 6:40 P.M. and within one hour he had admitted to the attempted rape of the woman in North Charleston, the kidnapping of the three Summerville girls and that of Mary Bunch, and also, the kidnapping and murder of Sherri Clark and Alexis Latimer. He took police to the beach and pointed out a section of sand to where he claimed the two girls’ bodies were buried. He then lead police to the place where he killed the girls – the outdoor shower room beneath his beach house and described the abduction of the two Folly Beach girls. The police found their bodies in a common grave later that night.

valenti newspaper

   Valentio said he enountered the two girls on the beach and immediately had the urge to tie them up. He walked to his house and got a toy gun and forced them into the outdoor shower room. Inside he tied their hands and feet and made them stand on chairs while he tied nooses around their necks. He then partially undressed them and fondled them. In their attempts to get away from his groping the fell from their chairs and strangled to death. Valenti sat and watched, masturbating as the two girls gagged and struggled and finally died.

   Before he was taken back to jail, Valenti was allowed to go to his house and pick up two Bibles.

   The small community was in shock. One of their own was a monster! Everyone remembered Valenti and his family as “quiet people who seemed so good.” He was described as a “straight dude” and a “Jesus Freak”.  One person recalled that “He seemed to be a super-Christian . . . the one time I visited their home, they were singing Christian songs and talking about the Bible.”

   May 27, 1974. Richard Valenti was charged with three counts of murder, four counts of assualt and battery with intent to kill, and one count of assault and battery with intent to ravish. He was held without bail.       

valenti mug shots

   During the trial Valenti’s wife testified. She said that it was in 1969 that she discovered a hidden stash of pornographic magazines that featured women bound and gagged. She claimed that his hidden (and shameful) desires caused him to attempt suicide on once occasion. She also claimed that she had allowed her husband to tie her up to satisfy his desires, but it did not seem to work. When they moved to Charleston, they both became Christians and Mrs. Valenti thought the crisis had passed.  

  Valenti had grown up in a dysfuntional house, with a domineering, all-controlling mother, which planted in him the desire to reverse the domination which led to only reaching sexual gratification through domination and control. 

   The trial lasted four days; the jury took less than an hour to find Valenti guilty on both counts of murder. He was given two life sentences to be served consecutively. Two dogwood trees were planted at the Harborview Elementary School as a memorial to Alexis Ann Latimer and Sherri Jan Clark. The trees still bloom each spring. 

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Richard Valenti

First Performance of “Rhapsody in Blue”

Rhapsody in Blue is to jazz what Sgt. Pepper’s Lonley Hearts Club Band is to rock and roll. 

It premiered in an afternoon concert on February 12, 1924, held by Paul Whiteman and his band at Aeolian Hall in New York City before a packed house. . The version performed that afternoon was for a 24-piece jazz band, not for full orchestra.

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George Gershwin at the piano.Library of Congress

Billed as an “Experiment In Modern Music”  the concert’s purpose was to demonstrate that the relatively new form of music called jazz deserved to be regarded as a serious and sophisticated art form.  A young man named George Gershwin, then known only as a composer of Broadway songs, seated himself at the piano to accompany the orchestra in the performance of a brand new piece of his own composition. 

New York Times critic Olin Downes wrote:

It starts with an outrageous cadenza of the clarinet. It has subsidiary phrases, logically growing out of it…often metamorphosed by devices of rhythm and instrumentation. This is no mere dance-tune set for piano and other instruments. This composition shows extraordinary talent, just as it also shows a young composer with aims that go far beyond those of his ilk.

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For all its mastery and subsequent acclaim, Rhapsody in Blue was put together very hastily. Just five weeks prior to the concert, Gershwin had not yet committed to writing a piece for it. His brother Ira read a report in the New York Tribune stating that George was “at work on a jazz concerto” for the program. Thus, in some desperation, Gershwin pieced Rhapsody In Blue together as best he could in the time available. On the day of the concert his own piano part had yet to written; it was improvised by Gershwin during the world premiere.

Rhapsody is important  because it helped change people’s perception of jazz from “low dance (and race) music, and it opened the door for a whole generation of “serious” composers, like Copland and Brech, to draw on jazz elements in their own important works. 

Fortunate Son: A Review

The saga of Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) is heartbreaking – a talented, yet business-naïve songwriter and musician becomes a national icon and gets screwed by a soulless sleazy CEO of a record company. This is a story that we have heard a hundred times, but the sad saga of John Fogerty and CCR IS the most agregious.  

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CCR: John Fogerty, Stu Cook, Doug Clifford, Tom Fogerty.

I’ve hear this story through the years – in bits and pieces. Some of the bits were told by former (and self-serving) band members. While other pieces showed up in news stories about trials and accusations. But now, the man who was not only the creative force of CCR, but also the man who persistently fought against this soul-sucking injustice finally tells his side of the story!

As a teenager, John Fogerty (with his brother Tom, Stu Cook and Doug Clifford) signed away most of their money and copyrights to Saul Zaents and Fantasy Records. John has spent much of his life and energy fighting the injustice. Fogerty hit rock bottom in the late 70s and 80s but with a new wife who gave him new perspective and energy, he returned.

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CCR on stage.

We’re all familiar with CCR. Some of rock and roll’s most iconic songs were written by Fogerty (most within a 2 year period!) like “Proud Mary,” “Run Through The Jungle,” “Fortunate Son,” Green River” and “Who’ll Stop The Rain?”

The book often comes across as bitter and vindictive, but when you hear Fogerty’s side, no one could hold that against him. His relationships with former band members of CCR were almost always strained, due to Fogerty’s ambition and impatience. He was the one with the most talent; he also had the vision and the drive.   But in Fortunate Son Fogerty is pretty much a straight shooter.  He is very critical of himself.

forunate sonThe section of the book which details the madness of 1967-70, when CCR turned out classic LPs and dozens of great singles is worth the price of the book for anyone who loves music. Fogerty is quite egotistical about his musical skills, and bit of a control freak. He often goes out of his way to bad-mouth former band members.

The theft of Fogerty’s royalties was only the “tip of the iceberg” of the evil machinations of Saul Zaentz. At his advice, the band members agreed that their share of revenue be placed in an offshore bank to avoid paying taxes and lost most of the money completely. During this time Fogerty’s fell into alcoholism and despair, but managed to recoup and start a successful solo career with the LP “Centerfield’. 

The next part of the book was the most compelling, – Fogerty suing Fantasy Records all the way to the US Supreme Court. The scene where Fogerty sits in the court room with his guitar and describes how he wrote this song, versus this other song … is priceless.

For music lovers … this is a must read!

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A Reminder of Why We Do What We Do

Yesterday I got an uplifting reminder of why I do what I do.

What do I do?

I write, and I talk, about history – for a living. Yeah, I can hardly believe it either.

The common theme of my professional life is simple – tell good stories, hopefully about subjects most people are unfamiliar with. My passion is illuminating events, people, and the culture of the past into a forum that is accessible to almost everyone. Hopefully, to 1.) entertain, 2.) educate and 3.) enlighten.  

Yesterday, I was at the Tri-County Literary Celebration at the Old Santee Canal State Park. Almost 100 authors (most of them regionally located) and their books, a cornucopia of literary diversity! I had just finished setting up my table when a family of four walked passed.

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My table at the Tri-County Literary Celebration

 

The daughter, who was appx. 11 years old, stopped at table and stared at one of my books (Kingdom By the Sea: Edgar Allan Poe’s Charleston Tales) with her jaw open. She grabbed her mother by the arm and excitedly said, “I’ve got that book in my room!!” She started jumping up and down. Then she looked at me. I asked her  if she was a Poe fan, and she answered “Yes!”

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For the next ten minutes I talked with her and her family, and we discussed Poe, and Charleston, history, writing and and of course, I informed the girl that at some point she should investigate at writer named H.P. Lovecraft. (Not sure her parents are gonna appreciate that later!)

Her parents ended up purchasing another copy of Kingdom By The Sea, which I personalized, and she insisted that we pose together for a photo.

All in all, it was 10 minutes of a long day in which I talked to hundreds of folks and sold dozens of books. But driving home that afternoon my mind kept returning to that first customer, that young girl with a passion for a book (my volume), and a writer (Poe, not me). It was a nice reminder that those of us who labor in often lonely trade of writing, that something we helped create and put out into the world affects others, and even if it was one 11-year old girl, it was worth the hours of work.

Thanks. 

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Black History Month: Freddie Green – “Mr. Rhythm.”

Frederick “Freddie” William Green (guitar, banjo, vocals,) 1911-1987

“Rhythm guitar is like vanilla extract in cake. You can’t taste it when it’s there, but you know when it’s left out.” – Irving Ashby

Freddie Green had the longest job in jazz history – guitar player in the Count Basie band from 1937 until his death fifty years later. In a Downbeat article in 1939 Billie Holiday was asked about marriage and she said:

I’ve loved three men. One was a Marion Scott, when I was a kid. He works for the post office now. The other was Freddie Green, Basie’s guitar man. But Freddie’s first wife is dead and he has two children and somehow it didn’t work out. The third was Sonny White, the pianist, but like me, he lives with his mother and our plans for marriage didn’t jell. That’s all.

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Freddie Green, cover of Jazz Podium

Freddie was born Charleston, South Carolina in 1911. He lived at 7 Dalts Court near Rutledge Avenue. Freddie’s first musical memories were at home. His father played the pump organ and his mother sang in the AME Church choir. He played the ukulele and sang baritone in barbershop quartets as a kid. They performed Irish songs on the street corners of Charleston for nickels and dimes. He was also a good dancer. That’s how he first ran into the Jenkins Orphanage Band. Green recalled: 

They used to come into my neighborhood. The minute I heard that brass I used to stop whatever I was doing and follow them all over the city … There was a group called the Nighthawks in Charleston and the trumpet player’s father was one of the teachers at the Jenkins Orphanage. His son was Samuel Walker. He was a terrific trumpet player so he had this group. I think it was trumpet, drums, saxophone, and piano … Most of the bands back in those days had banjos.

Freddie Green’s father died and at the age of twelve Freddie moved to New York City to live with his maternal aunt. They had an apartment in Harlem, on 141st Street, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, close to The Rhythm Club. That was where Freddie heard Jelly Roll Morton for the first time.  He attended PS-5l, located near 141st Street and Edgecombe Avenue, but left school at age sixteen. He remembered:

My aunt used to give house rent parties in Harlem. And she used to hire a guy to come in and play the piano. His name was Rock. He was a stride piano player. I really enjoyed the way he played. My aunt would keep drinks on the piano for him.

I made a friend with one of the guys in the neighborhood who was supposedly the baddest guy in the neighborhood. I think we had a fight one day. And after a while, I think I kind of knocked him down. And everybody was amazed that I did that to the bad guy. So then he and I were real close friends. And he was the leader of the gang on the block. We used to go around on different corners, that’s when the Charleston was out and I could always dance.  So he had a ukulele and we used to go on corners and dance.

Freddie Green returned home to Charleston for his mother’s funeral. His former neighbor from Dalts Court, Leotha Elmo, met him at the train station. She became Freddie’s girlfriend and later, his wife. He recalled how he became a professional musician:

There was a professor of brass instruments at Jenkins. Professor Blake was his name. We became good friends. I used to go to his house. He was a graduate of Howard University. He was a tuba player. On Sundays we would go through his library where his music books would be, and he’d help me. We would use a blackboard. We would go through the routine of scales, and what not.

My father-in-law was a contractor [in Charleston] and I used to help him quite a bit doing odd jobs and what-not … I tried all kinds of jobs and I was never pleased with whatever I did until music came.

We had our first kid. Then I left Charleston. The Jenkins [Orphanage] group had a show. They were going to tour the state of Maine. I left with them [as a non-resident of the orphanage and a grown man] and went up to Maine with this show they had. Went on the road with them with my banjo. We toured the state of Maine playing in Grange Halls, whatever they had up there in order to accommodate this traveling show. It was something! I don’t think we got paid. We played for contributions and the like.

The band had two alto saxes, one tenor sax, two trumpets, two trombones, one tuba, one banjo [Freddie] and drums. We used to have to get up around noon and play all through the streets … a parade, you  know. We were in the small towns of Maine. And we had dress uniforms that we wore.

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Freddie Green, 1940s

The Jenkins Band stopped in New York and Freddie decided to stay. He sent for Leotha and their son to join him.

During the early 1930s Freddie had two jobs in New York, working at a factory upholstering chairs during the daytime, and playing in a dance trio at night.

I was working in a club called the Yeah Man Club. I knew how to play the ukulele. And the banjo, well, I could tune it, you know what I mean (laughs). Then I got a few books on banjo chords. As soon as I picked up the banjo, the guitar came in (laughs).

At the Yeah Man I was playing banjo. And the manager of the club said “Well, everybody’s playing guitar now. You have to get a guitar, okay?” I got one from a music store on 47th Street. King’s Music Store. I bought it on time.

In 1937 Freddie was hired at the Black Cat Club in Greenwich Village for eleven dollars a week. Record producer and talent scout, John Hammond was a regular customer at the Black Cat. Hammond later achieved mythical status for his keen eye of spotting talent. Through the years he was given credit for “discovering” Billie Holiday, Pete Seeger, Count Basie, Aretha Franklin, George Benson, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Ray Vaughn. In his autobiography John Hammond on Record he discussed his first impressions of Green:

One of my favorite clubs was the Black Cat, a mob-owned joint. The band included two cousins, the drummer Kenny Clarke and the bass player Frank Clarke, but it was the guitarist that interested me the most. His name was Freddie Green, and I thought he was the greatest I had ever heard. He had unusually long fingers, a steady stroke, and unobtrusively held the whole rhythm section together. He was the antithesis of the sort of stiff, chugging guitarist Benny Goodman liked. Freddie was closer to the incomparable Eddie Lang than any guitar player I’d ever heard. He was perhaps not the soloist that Lang was, but he had a beat.

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John Hammond, 1939

Hammond had brought the Basie Band from Kansas City to New York and he thought a good rhythm guitar was the missing piece for the band’s sound. Green auditioned in Basie’s dressing room at Roseland. When the Basie Band left for Pittsburgh the next day, Freddie Green was on the bus and he stayed on it for the next five decades.

In 1938 the Count Basie Orchestra became one of the leading dance bands in America, due in part to what has been called “the All-American Rhythm Section”: Count Basie, piano; Jo Jones, drums; Walter Page, bass and Freddie Green, guitar.

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The All-American Rhythm Section, (L-R): Freddie Green, Jo Jones, Walter Page, Count Basie.

As the years passed, Freddie Green’s importance to the Count Basie Band increased. The numerous nicknames he acquired are good illustration of his musical stature: “Esquire” – because he was such a cool gentleman; “Pepper” or just “Pep” short for “Pepperhead”, because his head was shaped like a pepper; “The Fourth Wheel”, short for “the fourth wheel on the Basie band wagon”, “Quiet Fire” and “Mr. Rhythm.” Count Basie called Freddie Green “my left hand.”

Buck Clayton, trumpet player with Basie explained, “Basie never did play much with his left hand, so Freddie substituted for it.” Basie’s adopted son, Aaron Woodward III said, “… everyone knew Freddie’s position was of equal importance to Dad’s.”

Quincy Jones, who arranged for Basie as a young man before becoming more famous as Michael Jackson’s musical mentor and producer, said about Freddie:

That man is a sort of spirit. He doesn’t talk loud and he doesn’t play loud. But man! You sure know he’s there.

The brass and reeds can be up there shouting away, but there’s Freddie, coming right through it all, steady as a rock and clear as a bell. He’s something special. What he represents is the only one of its kind in existence.

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Freddie Green’s 1955 solo swing classic LP. Author’s collection

Saxophonist Paul Quinichette once observed of Green:

He’s got it right there, in his wrist. What he has is the key to a musical era, an unmatched mastery of big band rhythms.

Green did not live the stereotypical life of jazz musicians. He ate smartly, rarely drank or smoked. Even while on the road with the Basie band, he rose at 7 or 8 a.m. each morning to take a long walk or play golf. Singer Joe Williams, recalling his own philandering youth, says:

At a critical time, Freddie took me aside and advised, “Take some and leave some. Don’t try to get it all. You’ll enjoy it more and you’ll last much longer, no matter what it is.” Since it came from Freddie Green, who doesn’t say that much, he only had to say it once, and I’ve never forgotten it.

When Charlie Christian introduced the electric guitar with the Benny Goodman in 1939, the jazz world changed dramatically. Freddie, however, continued to use his acoustic guitar on stage. Harry Edison recalls:

Charlie Christian and he [Freddie] were very close friends, and Christian gave him an amplifier. But whenever Freddie would lay out of the band to take his solo, the whole rhythm section used to fall apart. It got to the point where we had to do something about it. So one night I would remove the plug from Freddie’s amplifier wire and it wouldn’t work. Next night Herschel Evans would break a wire in it so it wouldn’t play, and Freddie would have it fixed … So finally we took all the guts out of the amplifier. Freddie got ready to play one night and there was nothing but a box. Naturally he got furious but nobody paid him any attention. So he reached a point where he said, “Well, to hell with it. I won’t play anymore solos.” So that’s the reason he’s not a soloist today. He probably could have been one of the best at that time, but we had to sacrifice him for the good of the band.

One of the greatest Freddie Green stories was how Freddie re-hired himself to play with Basie in 1950. After World War II most of the big bands were struggling to make money. So, Basie, like other top bands, was forced to downsize. He put together a small group that included Clark Terry, Buddy DeFranco, Bob Graf, Jimmy Lewis, and Gus Johnson. They worked a month at the Brass Rail in Chicago. Everyone in the audience was surprised that Freddie Green was not with the group.

When the sextet met in New York for their next gig, Green was sitting on the bandstand with his guitar. Clark Terry recalled the dialogue between Basie and Green:

Basie: “Say, Pep, you’re not on this gig, are you?”

Green: “You’re workin’, aren’t you? After I gave you the best years of my life, you think you’re going to leave me now?”

basie, chairman board

So the sextet became a septet and Freddie Green remained the anchor of the rhythm section until his death. During his career Freddie Green performed worldwide, made over 1,000 recordings with the Basie band, and appeared as a sideman on over 700 recordings by other jazz artists.  The list of artists he recorded with are a Who’s Who of the 20th century: Mildred Bailey, Emmett Berry, Ruby Braff, Kenny Burrell, Benny Carter, Buck Clayton, Al Cohn, Harry Edison, Duke Ellington, Herb Ellis, Karl George, Benny Goodman, Lionel Hampton, Woody Herman, Billie Holiday, Illinois Jacquet, Jo Jones, Joe Newman,  Paul Quinichette, Jimmy Rushing, Pee Wee Russell, John Sellers, Sonny Stitt, Joe Sullivan, Jack Teagarden, Joe Turner, Earl Warren, Dicky Wells, Teddy Wilson, and Lester Young.

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Duke Ellington, Freddie Green, Count Basie

Through the years Freddie Green also became the gauge of quality. Byron Stripling, trumpet player with Basie said, “If an arranger comes in and his work is jive, Freddie just shakes his head and it’s all over.”

According to Dennis Wilson (trombone), all new Basie Band members had to deal with:

… the intimidation of Freddie Green. You never know if Freddie likes you. It worries you until that mystical, magical day when he finally says a couple of words to you. Then you know you’re okay, and you realize he hasn’t been testing you; he’s been allowing you to test yourself.

When Count Basie died in 1984 almost every publication in the world offered a eulogy. Freddie Green simply said: “I’ve been with the band since 1937, what am I to do now?”

Thad Jones, the popular trumpeter and Basie sideman, was chosen to take up the reins of the Basie Band after the Count’s death. He commented:

I don’t think it’s possible to speak of the Basie band without Freddie Green. He’s the link that keeps the tradition alive. He’s the dean, the guy we look to for that spiritual thing.

In the May 1983 issue of Guitar Player, Jim Hall wrote:

If you pruned the tree of jazz, Freddie Green would be the only person left. If you have to listen to only one guitarist, study the way he plays rhythm with Count Basie.

One of the longest and quietest careers in musical history came to a conclusion on March 1, 1987.  Freddie Green died of a heart attack after playing a Basie show in Las Vegas. Tributes and obituaries poured in from all over the world. Several days later, what was intended to be a surprise tribute to Green in Los Angeles organized by jazz critic Leonard Feather was turned into a memorial featuring the Basie band, vocalist Sarah Vaughan, and guitarist Kenny Burrell. Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley declared March 19 Freddie Green Day.

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Freddie Green, “Mr.Rhythm”

Sonny Cohn said, “The most important part of your body is your heart. It keeps everything else going. That’s what Freddie does.”

Dennis Wilson, a trombonist and composer-arranger with Count Basie said, “It’s as if in the Bible they said, ‘Let there be time’, and Freddie started playing.”

Freddie’s son, Al Green, eulogized his father:

Dad had a quiet dignity about him, with a demeanor of an elder statesman, unassuming, diplomatic, and fair. I spent three days with Dad to celebrate his Grammy nomination as a member of The Swing Reunion album. As we got dressed for the affair that evening, he asked if I would help him with his bow tie, a kind of reversal of roles that we both acknowledged warmly. After the Grammys when we were departing, we kissed and embraced, (not knowing that it would be for the last time), he said, “I really enjoyed this time we got to spend together. It was special.”

You’ve lost Mr. Rhythm. We’ve lost our Dad. I’ve lost my hero.

Freddie once discussed about his role in the Basie band:

The main thing is the Basie band. I get a joy out of keeping the band together and supplying the soloists with a foundation. That’s more soloing to me than soloing. I’ve played rhythm so long that it’s just the same as playing solos as far as I’m concerned. The rhythm guitar is very important. A performance has what I call a “rhythm wave”, and the rhythm guitar can help to keep that wave smooth and accurate. I have to concentrate on the beat, listening for how smooth it is. If the band is moving smoothly, then I can play whatever comes to mind, but that doesn’t happen too often.

      I feel responsible for keeping my part in the structure going, as from the original band. I do what I do. That’s enough.  It’s given me a whole lot of joy, pleasure, good feeling. And some bad feeling which goes with everything – you’ve got to take the bitter with the sweet. I’m part of it, and I’m doing a job, and that’s it. I realize that the public likes the band. And I appreciate it. And I think that’s what keeps us going. I go along. After all, you have to live.

greenfreddie-rhythm section

The rhythm section at work. 


FREDDY GREEN DISCOGRAPHY

Selected Count Basie Recordings:

  • The Complete Decca Recordings, 1937-39. Verve, 1992
  • Count Basie Live – 1938 At The Famous Door, NYC. Jazz Hour Records, 1997
  • April In Paris. Polygram Records, 1956
  • The Complete Atomic Basie. Blue Note Records, 1958
  • Chairman of the Board. Blue Note Records, 1958

Other Recommended Recordings:

  • Rhythm – Freddie Green. Fresh Sound Records.

These are the only recording sessions available with Green as band leader. As one would expect, its filled with sharp, tight arrangements of swinging songs, all propelled by Freddie’s steady rhythm guitar playing.

  • Billie Holiday – The Legacy. AMG, 1991.

This three-boxed set offers more than 50 songs that cover Lady Day’s career. Twenty-three of the songs feature Freddie’s very audible guitar strumming.

From the book Doin’ the Charleston (2013)

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Black History Month – 2106. First Black State Supreme Court Justice

In 1840, Jonathan Jasper Wright was born in Pennsylvania.  He attended the district school during the winter months and worked for neighboring farmers the rest of the year. He saved up enough money to attend Lancasterian University in Ithaca, New York. 

Wright graduated in 1860 and for the next five years taught school and read law in Pennsylvania. In October 1864 Wright was a delegate to the National Convention of Colored Men in Syracuse, NY. Chaired by Frederick Douglass, the convention called for a nationwide ban on slavery, racial equality under the law and suffrage for all males.

Wright then applied for admission to the Pennsylvania Bar but was refused due to his race. After the War he joined the American Missionary Association and was sent to Beaufort, South Carolina to organize schools for freedmen.

When the Civil Rights Act was passed, Wright returned to Pennsylvania and demanded a Bar examination. He was admitted on August 13, 1865, and became the state’s first black lawyer. By January 1867 he was back in South Carolina as head of the Freedmen’s Bureau in Beaufort where he became active in Republican politics. He was chosen as a delegate to the historic 1868 South Carolina Constitutional Convention that met in Charleston. As one of the few trained black lawyers in South Carolina, Wright had a great deal of influence in writing the Constitution and setting up the judiciary.

In a somewhat back-handed compliment, the Charleston Daily News called Wright a “very intelligent, well-spoken colored lawyer.”

There were 124 delegates to the convention, seventy-three of them black. The new Constitution bestowed voting rights and educational opportunities “without regard to race or color.” It also included universal male suffrage, forbade all property qualifications for office, outlawed dueling and legalized divorce.

Later that year, in the first election under this new Constitution, Wright was one of ten black men elected to the South Carolina Senate. In the South Carolina House seventy-eight of the 124 representatives were black. However, many whites had no intention of “obeying a Negro constitution of a Negro government establishing Negro equality.” The white-dominated press called it the “Africanization of South Carolina,” and most whites never accepted the 1868 Constitution as legitimate. They were determined to undermine all the gains made by blacks with the support of Yankee carpetbaggers.

Shortly after the election, Solomon Hogue resigned from the South Carolina Supreme Court to take a seat in the U.S. Congress. That left a vacant seat on the high court for the ten-month remainder of his judicial term,. The black Republican-dominated legislature was determined to elect a black man to join the two white men – Chief Justice Franklin J. Moses, a scalawag (Southerner who supported the Federal government), and Associate Justice A.J. Willard, a carpetbagger (Yankee involved in Southern  politics) – already on the court.  

In fact, Moses, a former governor, who was notoriously corrupt, picked up the nickname “king of the scalawags” and “the Robber Governor.”

The three candidates for the open seat were Wright, J.W. Whipper, a black representative, and one white candidate, former governor James Orr. The final legislative vote on February 1, 1870 was:

  • Wright, 72
  • Whipper, 57
  • Orr, 3

Jonathan Jasper Wright became the first black associate justice elected to a state Supreme Court. Ten months later, Wright was elected to a full term (six years). He was thirty-years-old.

Jonathan_Jasper_Wright - harpers weekly

Jonathon Jasper Wright, from Harper’s Magazine. Author’s collection.

Edward McCrady of Charleston was incensed by Wright’s election to the high court. He published a virulent pamphlet which claimed that had Wright been a white man, he never would have attained such a position with so little experience.

During his seven-year tenure on the bench, Justice Wright heard 425 cases and wrote eighty-seven opinions. However, during the heated election of 1876 (see entry #36), Wright voted to support the Republican victory against Democrat Wade Hampton. Four months later when President Rutherford B. Hayes pulled Federal troops out of South Carolina, the Republicans vacated their seats and the Democrats took charge of the state.

The new Democrat-controlled legislature quickly attempted to impeach Justice Wright for corruption and malfeasance based on trumped-up charges. He initially vowed to defend himself, but in August 1877 realized he could not win. He submitted his resignation.

Governor Hampton, in accepting the resignation, wrote to Wright, acknowledging the illegitimacy of the accusations:

Dear Sir:

Your favor of this date, covering your resignation of the office of Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of this State, is at hand and contents noted.

I accept the same as a tribute on your part to the quietude of the State, and as in no sense an acknowledgement of the truth of the charges which have been made against you.

Wright moved to Charleston and established a law practice. He taught classes from his office and established the law department at Claflin College in Orangeburg. When he died of tuberculosis in 1885, his reputation in South Carolina was still viewed through the lens of racism and suspicion.

A century later, in 1997, the South Carolina Supreme Court unveiled a portrait of Wright, originally published in Harper’s Weekly magazine and a granite grave marker. Chief Justice Ernest Finney, Jr., the first black on the court since Wright stated:

[Wright’s] election to the supreme court marked a high point in a celebrated career of public service, as a teacher, a lawyer and as a statesman.

On Thursday, September 26, 2013, at the South Carolina Black Lawyers Association hosted a ceremonial unveiling of a South Carolina Historic Marker at the site of Justice Jonathan Jasper Wright’s law office on Queen Street in Charleston.

From the book, Charleston F1rsts. Available on Amazon. 

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