CHARLES HENRY CHRISTIAN (July 29, 1916 – March 2, 1942) was an American swing and jazz guitarist .
Christian was an important early performer on the electric guitar and
a key figure in the development of bebop and cool jazz . He gained
national exposure as a member of the
Benny Goodman Sextet and
Orchestra from August 1939 to June 1941. His single-string technique,
combined with amplification, helped bring the guitar out of the rhythm
section and into the forefront as a solo instrument. John Hammond
George T. Simon called Christian the best improvisational talent
of the swing era . In the liner notes to the album Solo Flight: The
Christian's influence reached beyond jazz and swing. In 1990, he was
inducted into the
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
* 1 Early life
* 2 National fame
* 3 Style and influences
* 6 Discography
* 6.1 As leader * 6.2 As sideman
* 7 Filmography * 8 Notes * 9 References * 10 External links
Christian was born in Bonham, Texas . His family moved to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma , when he was a small child. His parents were musicians. He had two brothers, Edward, born in 1906, and Clarence, born in 1911. All three sons were taught music by their father, Clarence Henry Christian. Clarence Henry was struck blind by fever, and in order to support the family he and the boys worked as buskers , on what the Christians called "busts." He would have them lead him into the better neighborhoods, where they would perform for cash or goods. When Charles was old enough to go along, he first entertained by dancing. Later he learned to play the guitar, inheriting his father's instruments upon his death when Charles was 12.
He attended Douglass School in Oklahoma City, where he was further encouraged in music by an instructor, Zelia N. Breaux . Charles wanted to play tenor saxophone in the school band, but she insisted he try trumpet instead. As he believed playing the trumpet would disfigure his lip, he quit to pursue his interest in baseball, at which he excelled.
In a 1978 interview with
"Let Charles play one," they told Edward. "Ah, nobody wants to hear them old blues," Edward replied. After some encouragement, he allowed Charles to play. "What do you want to play?" he asked. All three songs were big in the early 1930s, and Edward was surprised that Charles knew them. After two encores, Charles had played all three, and Deep Deuce was in an uproar. He coolly dismissed himself from the jam session, and his mother had heard about it before he got home.
Charles fathered a daughter, Billie Jean Christian (December 23, 1932 – July 19, 2004) by Margretta Lorraine Downey of Oklahoma City.
Charles soon was performing locally and on the road throughout the
Midwest, as far away as
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Benny Goodman playing the clarinet
In 1939, Christian auditioned for John Hammond, who recommended him
to the bandleader
Benny Goodman . Goodman was the fourth white
bandleader to feature black musicians in his live band: the first was
It has been claimed that Goodman was initially uninterested in hiring Christian because the electric guitar was a relatively new instrument. Goodman had been exposed to the instrument with Floyd Smith and Leonard Ware , among others, none of whom had the ability of Christian. There is a report that Goodman unsuccessfully tried to buy out Floyd Smith 's contract from Andy Kirk . However, Goodman was so impressed by Christian's playing that he hired him instead. Christian, circa 1919
There are several versions of the first meeting of Christian and Goodman on August 16, 1939. The encounter that afternoon at the recording studio had not gone well. Christian recalled in a 1940 article in Metronome magazine, "I guess neither one of us liked what I played," but Hammond decided to try again—without consulting Goodman. (Christian says Goodman invited him to the show that evening.)
He installed Christian on the bandstand for that night's set at the
Victor Hugo restaurant in
Christian was placed in Goodman's new sextet, which included Lionel
Fletcher Henderson ,
Artie Bernstein and
Nick Fatool . By
February 1940 Christian dominated the jazz and swing guitar polls and
was elected to the
Metronome All Stars . In the spring of 1940 Goodman
let most of his entourage go in a reorganization. He retained
Christian, and in the fall of that year Goodman led a sextet with
STYLE AND INFLUENCES
The Gibson ES-150 , the first electric guitar played by Christian
Christian's solos are frequently described as "horn-like", and in that sense he was more influenced by horn players such as Lester Young and Herschel Evans than by early acoustic guitarists like Eddie Lang and the jazz- and bluesman Lonnie Johnson , although they both had contributed to the expansion of the guitar's role from the rhythm section to a solo instrument. Christian stated he wanted his guitar to sound like a tenor saxophone . The French gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt had little influence on him, but Christian was obviously familiar with some of his recordings. The guitarist Mary Osborne recalled hearing him play Django's solo on "St. Louis Blues " note for note, but then following it with his own ideas.
By 1939 there had already been electric guitar soloists—Leonard
Ware ; George Barnes ; the trombonist and composer
Eddie Durham , who
had recorded with
Christian paved the way for the modern electric guitar sound that was
followed by other pioneers, including
T-Bone Walker ,
Christian's exposure was so great in the brief period he played with
Goodman that he influenced not only guitarists but other musicians as
well. The influence he had on
"Dizzy" Gillespie ,
Charlie Parker ,
Thelonious Monk and
Don Byas can be heard on their early bop
recordings "Blue \'N\' Boogie " and "
Salt Peanuts ". Other musicians,
such as the trumpeter
BEBOP AND MINTON\'S PLAYHOUSE
Christian was an important contributor to the music that became known as bop, or bebop . Some of the participants in those early after-hours affairs at Minton's Playhouse, where bebop was born, credit Christian with the name bebop, citing his humming of phrases as the onomatopoetic origin of the term.
Private recordings made in September 1939 in Minneapolis,
An even more striking example is a series of recordings made at
Minton\'s Playhouse , an after-hours club located in the Hotel Cecil,
at 210 West 118th Street in
Christian's use of tension and release , a technique employed by
Lester Young ,
Kenny Clarke claimed that " Epistrophy " and " Rhythm-a-Ning " were compositions by Christian, which Christian played with Clarke and Thelonious Monk at Minton's jam sessions. The "Rhythm-a-Ning" line is heard on "Down on Teddy\'s Hill " and behind the introduction on "Guy's Got to Go" from the Newman recordings. It is also a line from Mary Lou Williams 's "Walkin' and Swingin'".
Clarke said Christian first showed him the chords to "Epistrophy" on a ukulele . These recordings have been packaged under a number of different titles, including After Hours and The Immortal Charlie Christian. While the recording quality of many of these sessions is poor, they show Christian stretching out much longer than he could on the Benny Goodman sides. On the Minton's and Monroe's recordings, Christian can be heard taking multiple choruses on a single tune, playing long stretches of melodic ideas with ease.
Christian was just as adept with understatement as well. His work on the Goodman sextet sides "Soft Winds", "Till Tom Special", and "A Smo-o-o-oth One" show his use of few well-placed melodic notes. His work on the Sextet's recordings of the ballads "Stardust ", "Memories of You ", " Poor Butterfly ", " I Surrender Dear " and "On the Alamo" and his work on "Profoundly Blue" with the Edmond Hall Celeste Quartet (1941) show hints of what was later called cool jazz . Although credited for very few, Christian composed many of the original tunes recorded by the Benny Goodman Sextet.
HEALTH AND DEATH
In the late 1930s Christian contracted tuberculosis , and in early 1940 he was hospitalized for a short period in which the Goodman group was on hiatus because of Goodman's back trouble. Goodman was hospitalized in the summer of 1940 after a brief stay at Santa Catalina Island, California , where the band stayed when they were on the West Coast.
Christian returned home to
After a visit to the hospital that same month by the tap dancer and drummer Marion Joseph "Taps" Miller, Christian declined in health. He died March 2, 1942, at the age of 25. He was buried in an unmarked grave in Bonham, Texas . A Texas State Historical Commission Marker and headstone were placed in Gates Hill Cemetery in 1994. The location of the historical marker and headstone was disputed, and in March 2013, Fannin County, Texas , recognized that the marker was in the wrong spot and that Christian is buried under the concrete slab.
Proposed grave site for Christian at Gates Hill Cemetery, Bonham, Texas
Christian never recorded professionally as a leader. Compilations have been released of his sessions as a sideman in which he is a featured soloist, of practice and warm-up recordings for these sessions, and some lower-quality recordings of Christian's own groups performing in nightclubs, by amateur technicians.
* Electric, with the
Benny Goodman Sextet and the Charlie Christian
Quartet (Uptown , 2011)
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WITH LIONEL HAMPTON
* The Complete RCA Victor Recordings , 1937–1949 (Bluebird , 1995)
* 2005 Solo Flight: The Genius of Charlie Christian * 2007 Charlie Christian- The Life -webkit-column-width: 30em; column-width: 30em; list-style-type: decimal;">
* ^ Hammond, John; Townsend, Irving (1977). John Hammond on Record:
An Autobiography. New York: Ridge Press. ISBN 0-671-40003-7 .
* ^ Simon, George T. (1971). The Big Bands. ISBN 0-02-872430-5 .
* ^ A B C D Liner notes. Solo Flight: The Genius of Charlie
Christian. Columbia G 30779.
* ^ Goins, Wayne; McKinney, Craig. A Biography of Charlie
* Music portal
* Broadbent, Peter (2002). Charlie Christian, Solo Flight: The Story
of the Seminal Electric Guitarist. Hal Leonard. ISBN 978-1-872639-21-5
* Centlivre, Kevin (1994). "Interview with Jerry Jerome"
* Centlivre, Kevin (1999). "Revisiting Charlie Christian".
* Feather, Leonard (reprint, 1977). Inside Jazz. Da Capo. ISBN
* Goins, Wayne E.; McKinney, Craig (2005). A Biography of Charlie