Song of the Day: Charlie Christian “Swing to Bop”
One of the true godfathers of the electric guitar, Charlie Christian brings us this improvisational tour de force from a live session at the famed Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem. Listen to this gem and then let this sink in: This incredibly modern sounding conception of what’s possible on an electric guitar was recorded in 1941. On that now famous night, he was a mere 25 years old, and in less than a year he would die of tuberculosis. He was surrounded by Bebop pioneers Kenny Clarke, Dizzy Gillespie, Don Byas, and Thelonious Monk, among others. Christian is widely regarded as key pioneer, if not one of the precursors to Bebop. His single note lines, aided by amplification, soared and punched above the rhythm section like a saxophonist, and established the guitar as a revolutionary new solo voice in jazz. Every time I listen to these Minton’s recordings, Christian‘s sound, phrasing, spirit, and drive gets into my bones and has me sending out joy and gratitude to the heavens for his genius. Yes, I said it: G-E-N-I-O-U-S. Dig it!
Charlie Christian was born in Bonham, Texas on July 29th 1916, and his parents moved him to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma while he was still very young. His father was a musician and had Charlie and his brothers busking to support the family while they were still children. Charlie started out as a dancer, a saxophonist and a trumpeter, before switching to the guitar. At age 12, his father died and he and his brothers inherited his instruments, which included a guitar. After achieving local fame with his guitar mastery, in 1939 he auditioned for the famous music promoter John Hammond, who in turn, recommended him to Benny Goodman, who hired him that same year. He quickly went on to national and international fame, influencing all future generations of electric guitarists and giving birth to rock n roll in the process. In his short lifetime, Charlie Christian‘s work has provided a foundation for all electric guitarists who have come after him, and his music will continue to be a wellspring for all future generations.