Thursday, 1 March 2012

Charlie Christian

Very few artists are the originators of the style of music they play: Muddy Waters with post-war Chicago electric blues, Thomas Dorsey with gospel, Clifton Chenier with zydeco. When it comes to modern jazz, the beginnings of bebop in the 1940's are often traced back to the after hours jam sessions at Minton's Playhouse in Harlem which included Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and Kenny Clarke.

One artist who is often overlooked from the Minton's sessions is the guitarist Charlie Christian, partly because he died at just 25 in 1942 from alcoholism-induced tuberculosis. Born in Oklahoma, Christian's big break came in 1939 when he joined the Benny Goodman Sextet in Los Angeles, before moving to New York and becoming the house guitarist at Minton's. His influence can be heard not only in bebop but also in the West Coast blues of B.B. King and T-Bone Walker and through them the West Side Chicago blues of the late 1950's and British R&B of the 1960's. He deserves to be remembered. Manchester Jazz Society will be doing just that at its meeting tonight. If you can't make it, here's a track recorded by Charlie in his prime.

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