Recalled by Bennie Goodman as “Unique! A brilliant musician… inventive…way ahead of his time, and a joy to listen to.” Charlie Christian made his mark as the premier guitarist of the swing generation, taking the previously unfashionable instrument out of the rhythm section and into the spotlight during the tragically short time that he was active as a recording artist. He was born today in 1916.
Guitarist Charlie Christian was born in Bonham, Texas, USA and raised in Oklahoma City. Schooled as a guitarist by his father and his musician friends (although the young Charles had been tempted by both tenor saxophone and trumpet), he graduated from busking to earning a living gigging in his local area by the mid 1930s.
Brought to the attention of noted talent scout/producer John Hammond, Christian travelled to Los Angeles in 1939 to audition for Benny Goodman’s band.
And although the clarinetist was initially sceptical (having featured guitarists previously) BG rapidly released the potential of Charlie’s talent to take his already noted ensemble to new heights – amply evident on recordings such as “Flying Home” alongside Lionel Hampton.
Christian’s reputation was established at the “Spirituals to Swing Concert” later that year at New York’s Carnegie Hall, where he appeared with both Goodman’s Sextet and alongside Lester Young and Buck Clayton in the Kansas City Six.
The early 1940s saw Charlie become the darling of the jazz press and blazing a trail for the jazz guitar on classic Goodman releases including “Air Mail Special.”
Christian also played his part in the formation of the what would become the be-bop movement, participating at impromptu jam sessions alongside the likes of Thelonius Monk, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.
By then however, Charlie had been diagnosed with tuberculosis and endured several stays in hospital, returning to Oklahoma for a time to recuperate. The lure of New York proved too strong and he returned, only to be hospitalised once again. Making his final studio recordings in mid 1941, he died in March 1942 aged just 25.
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And here’s some a live recording of Charlie in action: