I really had no idea about the impact that Fred Guy had on early Jazz music. During my research I found that he was a major contributor in helping Duke Ellington and his band become successful. Fred Guy was one of the pioneers involving the guitar and banjo’s contributions to early Jazz music. He was the force behind the Duke Ellington Bands rhythm section, and I found it very interesting that his main role was to “keep time.” After the bass evolved as the main timekeeping instrument, his role diminished dramatically. Nonetheless, Fred Guy was a very important part of Jazz history.
Fred Guy was born on May 23rd, 1897. He was self-taught on the banjo, leading his own bands by the early 1920s.
He then went to work for Joseph Smith – a popular bandleader at the time. And then in 1925, he joined the Duke Ellington Orchestra. It was interesting to find out that Fred Guy did not perform any solos, and is not credited for writing or organizing any of the bands music. In fact, his biggest contribution and main role in the band was “keeping time.” It was said that he was the only one in the band that could keep the right time, and he did it playing the banjo. He eventually switched to guitar sometime in 1935 (on the advice of Eddie Lang – jazz guitarist).
While visiting Goteborg during a tour of Sweden in April 1939, Fred Guy purchased a Levin De Luxe at Waidele. This was a very big deal at the time, and there were many Levin Ads created to promote the purchase of this guitar – See some of these ads below…
But then Fred Guy’s guitar playing became “unessential” after bassist Jimmy Blanton was added to Ellington’s orchestra to keep time. Fred Guy was a very loyal member of the orchestra and spent the majority of his career helping Duke Ellington realize his dreams. Fred Guy stayed with the Duke Ellington Orchestra until 1949. He then retired from music and worked as a local ballroom manager in Chicago for 20 years. Fred Guy committed suicide on November 22, 1971, after many years of obscurity – he was 72 years old at the time of his death.