Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Guitar Week: Charlie Christian

This week JazzWrap will take a look at guitarists and guitar driven groups that have or will be making a difference in jazz.

Charlie Christian (guitar, b. 1916 - 1942)

He is considered the most important figure amongst jazz guitarists. I really didn't get into Charlie Christian until I was much much older but I had always heard the name amongst my older jazzhead friends. When I did start listening to him I was put off by the production quality of the time (lots of pops and crackles form 78 vinyl LPs). But then finally--finally the light in my light pigheaded brain turned on and I have been a disciple ever since.

Charlie Christian's style was unbelievably smooth and effortless. He had rhythm and swing like no other of his generation. And his influence on almost every jazz guitarist and even some rock artists is apparent to this day. Artist such as Wes Montgomery, Russell Malone, George Benson and more owe everything to Christian. He was instrumental during his brief time with Benny Goodman's band. Although according to history, Goodman was not impressed with Christian during his original rehearsal for the band. It wasn't until later during a live performance that Goodman got the full experience of what Charlie Christian could do on this new electric guitar and he was hired into the band. Charlie Christian also performed a number of jam session with or in the presence of future legends Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. Christian's ability to play what at the time where considered almost impossible chords with impressive elasticity was something that made him a hot propriety at an early age and a legend for future generations.

For anyone new to jazz the glut of Charlie Christian compilations are beyond overwhelming. He didn't record much on his own. The largest chunk of material is with the Benny Goodman band but their is plenty of short solo jam session/live performances to gain enjoy. For the diehard fan there is an excellent 4 disc box set entitled The Genius Of The Electric Guitar (Columbia/Legacy) that is everything you need. But I would bet most people would also be best served with the also excellent and similarly titled single disc The Genius Of The Electric Guitar (Columbia/Legacy in the U.S., Definitive Records in Europe). There are a couple of different covers for the single disc. The music is mostly the same give or take a couple of tracks. If you love jazz guitar you need to know where it all comes from. Charlie Christian's recordings are the holy grail of jazz guitar and you should seek him out.

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