Tag Archives: early electric guitar

Public Service Post in Honor of Charlie Christian

Christian with Gibson ES-150, Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, 1939

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:

Here’s some musical commentary from Aram Avakian and Bob Prince’s liner notes to the Columbia compilation, Charlie Christian with the Benny Goodman SextetEmphasis mine for Tweet-friendly reading:

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…

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Jazz In The Family: Eddie Durham Lives At DurhamJazz.Com!

Working for my father’s home improvement business during high school taught me to appreciate the hard work supporting our household.  It also paid for the music in my earphones, which were usually on full blast as I swept floors and fetched coffee.  I listened to a lot of music working the family business, but one job still stands out because it introduced me to Eddie Durham.

I had just purchased the Count Basie collection playing on my Walkman as I stuffed insulation.  After a string of bright, up-tempo tunes including “One O’Clock Jump,” “John’s Idea,” “Out the Window” and “Swinging the Blues,” a moodier, minor key piece materialized.  It had the same loose Basie beat and spare but powerful ensemble figures.  Buck Clayton‘s tart-toned muted trumpet was also recognizable.  Yet the chromatic drawl I heard gave the band a more structured, darker persona.  All the dusty, scratched cassette case in my pocket told me was that the song was called “Topsy.”  A lot of curiosity and a little research told me that this was Eddie Durham:

I also realized that I already knew of Eddie Durham without knowing who Eddie Durham was.  He had arranged all those other numbers for the Basie band, and his name would keep coming up in the recordings of Jimmie Lunceford, Artie Shaw, Glenn Miller and Jan Savitt.  Later on I would discover his electric guitar on the Kansas City Six sides he made with other Basie sidemen for the Commodore label.  Eventually I would have to stop counting the number of times I uttered, “Wow, that was Eddie Durham on trombone!”  My career responsibilities and knowledge of jazz have changed since first hearing “Topsy,” but more importantly I keep encountering Eddie Durham.  It’s just a matter of knowing where to look.

Durham doesn’t receive the same attention as contemporary arrangers like Don Redman, Sy Oliver or the legendary Duke Ellington.  His trombone playing never spurred any followers the way Jack Teagarden did, and Charlie Christian’s pioneering work has overshadowed Durham’s electric guitar as well as his influence on the young Christian.  Eddie Durham is easy to appreciate but not always easy to find.

Durham’s children, daughter Marsha “Topsy” Durham and son Eric, are helping to change that.  Their website honors their father with fastidious, loving care. From Durham’s beginnings as a musical director for a wild West shows to his post-retirement comeback, visitors can read about Durham’s life, peruse photos, find links to other sources and even enjoy a concise, informative documentary featuring Dan Morgenstern, Loren Schoenberg and Vince Giordano.  It’s an incredible resource and tribute to their father’s legacy.  In the meantime we’ll all look forward to hearing more of Eddie Durham.

Look, learn and best of all listen at DurhamJazz.com!

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