Even if Charlie Christian had lived to celebrate his 96th birthday yesterday, or his 26th birthday decades ago, his music would remain just as momentous and swinging. Despite a short career, Christian never suffered from “young man with an instrument” syndrome: a fast life and early death never overshadowed his pioneering work as a jazz soloist*, electric guitarist or unintentional advocate for racial equality.
There’s a wealth of information on the internet about Christian’s life and impact (here, here and here, for example) and plenty of his music on YouTube, but a less than copious search by this blogger indicates one unfortunate omission.
The [original] Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz included a composite of Christian’s solos from five (5) takes of “Breakfast Feud” across two recording dates with the Benny Goodman Sextet in 1941. Even if it’s already out there in cyberspace, it bears duplication:
A singular aspect of [Christian’s] phrasing is the unusual length of his melodic lines, consisting of even and cleanly executed eighth notes. His meter was delineated by the subtle accent of certain of these eighth notes…These solos are individual and original, the phrasing and accents within each one being unpredictable. In the initial three-bar phrase in the first of these solos, Christian shifts the metric accent from the normally strong first beat to the secondary third beat, thereby creating the illusion that he is starting his phrase on a pick-up when in reality he is starting on the first beat of the chorus…This type of practice, unusual to jazz at the time, reveals another facet of Christian’s rhythmic daring and resourcefulness.
The ensemble playing that jumping fanfare includes Goodman on clarinet, Cootie Williams on trumpet, Georgie Auld on tenor sax, Artie Bernstein on bass, Johnny Guarnieri on piano and Jo Jones on drums. Here’s one entire take of “Breakfast Feud,” with more from the group plus two false starts (which must have had the meticulous Goodman grinding his teeth):
It’s enough to make a person disregard when any of them died, just that they were alive.
*Disclaimer: This writer in no way thinks that Bix Beiderbecke deserves anything less than the interest and devotion that his brief but important career has inspired, and that his early death is NOT the only reason for that attention. Please put that two by four with the nail in it DOWN…