Charlie Christian (1916 - 1942) is probably the best known of the early electric jazz guitarists and probably the one about whom the least is known. His jazz guitar origins have been traced to Oklahoma and Kansas City and it is known that he played throughout the Midwest in the 1930's. Musicians like Oscar Pettiford and Mary Osborne remembered hearing and meeting Charlie Christian. Pettiford said he met Charlie in Minneapolis and Osborne remembers hearing Charlie playing in a Bismarck, North Dakota night club.
It was John Hammond who, after hearing Charlie play in 1939, decided to introduce him to his brother-in-law Benny Goodman. The legend says Goodman rejected the idea of hearing Charlie play and that he finally heard him only because Lionel Hampton snuck Charlie into a the night club where Goodman was playing and set him up on the band stand. When Goodman saw him there he finally listened to him for the first time. Charlie played Rose Room with Hampton and Artie Bernstein. Shortly after that the Benny Goodman Sextet recorded Flying Home with Charlie Christian on guitar.
For the next three years Charlie Christian played with the Benny Goodman orchestra and small combos. Charlie also made most of his recordings with the Benny Goodman units. These are the recordings most commonly found today on the Columbia label. There are also some recordings of Charlie playing live at Minton's in New York. These recordings were made by Jerry Newman, a fan who hung around Minton's recording the artists who performed there. These recordings of Charlie Christian, along with recordings of Dizzy Gilespie and others ended up on the Vox and Esoteric labels. The Benny Goodman small combo recordings remain the definitive Charlie Christian.
When Charlie Christian died in 1942 he left a legacy of jazz guitar that influenced every jazz guitar player of his period and those that followed. Some of the most renowned guitarists of the last half of this century have acknowledged the influence of Charlie Christian.
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