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Loren Schoenberg -- Writings

Charlie Christian

Sony

Liner Notes by Loren Schoenberg

This collection gives as full a picture of Charlie Christian’s musical persona as we will ever have. Context is everything in the arts, and to hear him express himself coherently in the company of stylists as diverse as Benny Goodman, Benny Carter, Jack Teagarden, Lester Young, Cootie Williams, Dave Tough, Lionel Hampton and Jo Jones is a revelation. His playing is startlingly different than theirs, even different than Young’s, from whom Christian took the basic fabric of his conception. You can hear the guitarist warming up with paraphrases of classic Young solos during the rehearsal segments, and we know from Goodman trumpeter Jimmy Maxwell that Christian listened incessantly to Young’s recordings with the Basie band on the band bus. But Young was redefining an instrument that already had a distinguished heritage, while Christian was inventing a new one. Yes, he learned from Eddie Durham and Django Reinhardt and others who brought something new to the guitar, but in Christian’s hands it became an altogether new instrument.   With just a few exceptions, he eschewed the chorded solos that were such a large part of the guitar’s legacy. It was all about the line and about how rhythm could extend the line and give it all sorts of new and unexpected shapes.

October 2, 1939

Hearing these recordings in such superb fidelity is like seeing a newly minted print of a classic film. All sorts of details appear that were lost in the poorly copied transfers that comprised the great majority of LP and CD issues available until now. The depth of Artie Bernstein’s bass, with his superb notes held for just the right duration; Nick Fatool’s wide array of percussion sounds and dynamics; Hampton’s clean attack and variety of articulations; Christian’s guitar, strong in solo and the soul of discretion in accompaniment; Goodman’s rich, throaty tone and use of all of the clarinet’s three distinct registers; the piano melded into the middle of the rhythm section, yet audible when involved in the trademark Goodman small group counterpoint – all of these delights now emerge almost as though they were recorded just yesterday.

Charlie Christian sat in with Benny Goodman for the first time on August 16, 1939, and three days later was introduced to the nation on Goodman’s radio show, the Camel Caravan, as a bright new star in the swing universe. Goodman clearly wanted to let things jell before committing anything to wax. He waited almost six weeks before taking the new Sextet into the recording studio. Interestingly, the introduction to Christian’s first recording with the Goodman Sextet is played by Fletcher Henderson. While no great shakes as a pianist (Ethel Waters chided him as far back as the early 20’s for his “B.C.” style), Henderson was a talent scout of the first rank. He hired both Louis Armstrong and Lester Young as featured soloists in his big band before anyone in New York knew who they were, and in the mid-30’s codified the essential swing-style of big band arranging. Flying Home, like many of the other instrumentals that the Sextet played, does not list Christian as the composer but is said to have been part of his band’s repertoire before he joined Goodman.

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