Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Charlie Christian Jammers: Waiting for Benny

Today is the last day you can register your vote to see if “Reading Between the Grooves” continues after tomorrow. This is post 999 and post 1,000, which lines up with the third anniversary tomorrow, is planned to be the last – that is, unless enough of you urge me to continue. To do that, register your feelings at the survey found at http://tinyurl.com/8juv863.

Back in the early to mid 1970s, I was a subscriber to Guitar Player magazine and was amazed by the number of artists who credited influence from a 25 year-old guitarist named Charlie Christian. Christian’s one note solos were revolutionary during the short period (1939-1942) where he was in the spotlight as a member of Benny Goodman’s band.

At first Goodman wasn’t sure of the electric guitar, but was urged by John Hammond to add Christian to the band. Hammond, who was Goodman’s father-in-law, always had a good ear for talent – just ask Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen, and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

While many guitarists were doing only rhythm and chord leads, Christian’s style emulated the horn players surrounded him and he sounded more like sax and trumpet players than he did other guitarists. The single note leads were revolutionary for the period and his pre-bebop style was fresh sounding. Thousands of guitarists owe a debt of gratitude to the man who started it all – Charlie Christian. Because of this early influence, Christian was immortalized in the Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame.

One can only imagine the range of influence and the changes in the music scene had Christian not died at 25 from tuberculosis. He contracted the disease in 1940 and finally succumbed to it on May 2, 1940.

Besides reading about Charlie Christian, I was introduced to his music with the purchase of the 1972 double album: “Solo Flight: The Genius of Charlie Christian.” I bought my copy sometime around 1976; however, I don’t remember the circumstances on where specifically I got my used copy. I know I played it during my Wednesday night jazz program over WKCC from 1976 to 1978.

The cut I have chosen is credited to the Charlie Christian Jammers – one of two cuts on the album that prominently features the guitar work of Christian. This recording was not indented for release; however, we can be thankful for the engineers at Columbia Records who recorded everything on acetate – including this jam that occurred while they were testing the recording equipment.

The song is titled “Waiting for Benny,” as Goodman was late showing up for the session. This warm up included Christian, Cootie Williams on trumpet, George Auld on tenor sax, Johnny Guarnieri on piano, Artie Benson on bass, and Dave Tough on drums. This warm-up was recorded in New York on March 31, 1941. A ten second warning to “stand-by” was given by one of the engineers. This is truly great stuff.

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