Monday, 12 February 2007 12:15
David Gallant talks to the bassist who grew up next door to Charlie Watts, about how he got started, the instruments he has played over the years and his all time favourite choice. |
"I started as a skiffle player with some school friends when I was about 13, in the mid-to-late-50s," says Green. "It was a trio. I got a tea chest, painted it and put a broom handle on it – great fun." Green’s love of the bass however, had started well before his skiffle days. "I used to spend Sunday evenings tuning into Radio Luxembourg listening in to the likes of Glenn Miller on the Chesterfield programmes," he says.
"My mum tells me that even then I used to hum along to the bass line when I was listening to the radio. I must have been about 10 or 11, it was an extraordinary period of discovery for me. There was this wonderful record by the Jess Stacey trio that I used to love and I still do love it. It was called ‘Barrelhouse’ and it had a very young Israel Crosby on bass (he was just 16) and Gene Krupa on drums. This was the disc that really started my love affair with the bass."
Green remembers copying the Israel Crosby bass solo from ‘Barrelhouse’, thrilled that he could actually do it. "It was my first major achievement, I wore that 78 out!" Then he discovered Duke Ellington and Jimmy Blanton, who played bass with Ellington from 1939-41. "Jimmy was a wonderful player and a great influence on me and still is to this day."
Green purchased his first "proper" bass in 1958 off a friend in one of the "rival" skiffle groups. "I was very jealous," he says. "This guy had a proper upright bass and all I had was an old tea chest. So when he wanted to sell it, I was right in there. It was an old English bass, about 1895, and cost me the princely sum of £15."
In 1963, Green turned pro and promptly went off to France for about six weeks on a gig. When he returned, he was fortunate to get a call from Humphrey Lyttelton, who asked Green to join him on a tour with Big Jo Turner and Buck Clayton. "That was a terrific experience," he says. "You know I stayed with Humph until 1983." But was Green still playing the old English bass that he had bought for £15? "No, I’d bought a 7/8th size Bohemian bass which got the nickname Big Ben," he says.
"I still have it, although I don’t play it any longer – it’s stuck upstairs in the bedroom. It’s a wonderful old instrument and it brings back so many wonderful memories, I could never sell it. It’s got a certain quality about it and a big bass end on it. When my old mate Phil Flanagan comes over once a year, I give it to him to play."
Green’s tenure with the Lyttelton band may have lasted many years, but in the mid-to-late 60s Green was one of the most sought after bassists in town. One of his earliest stints as a sideman was with Stan Tracey. "I remember meeting Stan when I started doing gigs at Ronnie Scott’s old place," says Green. "We really had a wonderful rapport together – it was wonderful to play with him, he’s such a strong player."
Such was the rapport, that Tracey invited Green to join his quartet in 1967 while Green was still playing with Humphrey Lyttelton. But he’s not quite sure how he managed to juggle all the gigs.
"At one point in the 60s I was playing with four or five different bands including those of Don Rendell and Michael Garrick, as well as backing some American stars at Ronnie’s such as Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Roland Kirk and Sonny Rollins."
‘Big Ben’ was semi-retired in 1976. "I think it’s a good thing to change instruments sometimes," says Green. "Playing different instruments gives you a different perspective on things." Green picked up a Louis Lowendahl bass as the replacement for Big Ben. "It’s a German bass circa 1860," he says. "A 3/4 with a lovely warm sound and I’ve been playing it ever since." Why a three quarter size I wondered? "I don’t like an instrument that’s too cumbersome and too big."
"You’ve got to feel at one with the instrument and I think that this really suits me, it’s a personal thing. It’s the size that suits me, the whole feel of the instrument that suits me. The 7/8 was fine too, but other basses tend to be too large for me, and anyway I haven’t got particularly large hands!"
Green’s string choice comes in the form of Thomastik mediums. "They seem to suit the Lowendahl. The tension of the strings seems about right and the overall feel seems to suit the bass pretty well. I did try Golden Spiral strings some years ago, which was a good string, but the tension didn’t suit the bass, so I decided to stick with the Thomasticks."
Basses are notoriously difficult to travel with, so how does Green cope? "OK, this was before I had a hard case," says Green. "But ever since a pair of Heathrow baggage handlers managed to punch a hole in the side of one of my instruments with their fork lift truck, I try to pick up a bass at the gig." Current plans? "My trio," he says. "I’ve got two wonderful players: Iain Dixon on saxes and Gene Calderazzo on drums – we just love making music together."