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. Virtually all the bandleaders put their names on other people’s tunes – Hampton, in his subsequent career as a leader being one of the worst in this regard. The novel thing here is the timbre of the guitar, vibes and clarinet and Christian’s resolute solo. He never hesitates for even the slightest moment. Come to think of it, why should he have? It was a tune he must have played many, many times before joining Goodman. Rose Room was the tune Goodman called the first night that Christian sat in with the Quintet. This version contains a guitar solo that is so perfect phrase-to-phrase that it sounds composed. Christian’s clean playing and his strongly defined rhythm make the music coalesce into a kaleidoscopic series of angles as his phrases shoot out over the rhythm section’s accompaniment. Rare was the player who could so effortlessly pull off the triplets that Christian plays towards the end of the first half of his solo. This collection, with all of its multiple versions of the same piece, shows the guitarist’s uncanny ability to invent seamless improvisations. The perfection of his style makes us realize that the seemingly disparate disciplines of improvisation and composition merge in the work of great jazz musicians. Goodman himself never sounded better than when he had a superior melody to paraphrase, as he does here and on the next piece. In fall of 1939, Goodman went out of his way to announce that the Sextet’s rendition of Stardust was built around Christian’s classic chorus, which he always played verbatim – at least on the live versions that survive. It is unusual for him in that much of it is chorded. The voicings and general shape reflect his admiration for his mentor Eddie Durham, who had jammed with Christian in the mid-30’s and who had made classic recordings on the electric guitar with Lester Young and the Kansas City Six in 1938. Christian was also said to have played some of Django Reinhardt’s solos by heart, and there may be a bit of that in here too. Then there were the great “Western Swing” guitarists that Christian undoubtedly heard. But regardless of its inspirations, this solo (with its quote from “Pretty Baby”) remains one of the great “set” improvisations in jazz. It’s a pity it was never issued during Christian’s lifetime.
November 22, 1939
The second session finds the Sextet gradually developing its way towards its own identity. The solo work is of course on the highest level, but the simultaneous interplay that distinguished the earlier Trio and Quartets with Teddy Wilson would only come with the presence of a superior pianist and more time spent together. Nonetheless, the material is first-rate. Goodman had been fooling around with different small group interpretations of Memories of You throughout 1939, but it was this first recording that cemented it as a cornerstone of his repertoire. The piece had special resonance for Hampton, who had made his first recording on the vibes on Louis Armstrong’s 1930 version. Coincidentally, Armstrong sat in with the Sextet just five weeks earlier, on Goodman’s Camel Caravan show. This is our introduction to Christian’s single-note ballad style, and if it sounds powerful now, imagine what it must have sounded like in 1939. There are none of the surface reflections of introspection that come with the territory of ballads, no softening of the edge of the tone. It’s not difficult to imagine how this approach might have affected the young Thelonious Monk. The pianist said many years later that the reason he never used a guitar in his band was that no one could equal Charlie Christian, with whom he spent a short but intense period jamming in Harlem. With Soft Winds we get the group’s first movement towards alternation of forms. The Goodman Trio and Quartet had recorded a handful of pieces that switched the form around, and here the head is 16 bars long, but the solos are played over the standard 12 bar blues format. The issued version has an accompanimental figure that Goodman seems to cue too early on the alternate. Note when the clarinet and piano veer toward boogie-woogie in the background to Hampton’s solo -- this would blossom several months later into Boy Meets Goy. There is something about the melody and the way the guitar is integrated into the arrangement that really sounds like Christian may have written, although Henderson’s name is on it. Christian makes his first appearance as co-composer on one of his own tunes on Seven Come Eleven. Odd that this would be the only title from the session without an alternate take, especially since there is a wrong bass note in the introduction. But Goodman, for all of his reputation as a perfectionist, had already approved the release of big band sides with minor imperfections if the spirit was there, as it is so clearly here. In fact, you can even hear Goodman’s voice at the end of the track singing back the closing riff, which was played with something less than the group’s usual level of precision. The riffs behind the A sections of the guitar solo make for an effective contrast with the bridge, where the rhythm section plays standard time. Drummer Nick Fatool is rarely remembered these days, but he was a superlative percussionist who played with great taste and restraint. His crackling rim shots and pushing hi-hats behind Goodman’s solo are an indelible element of the performance.
December 20, 1939
Fatool’s backbeats are also a feature of Shivers, a variation on I Never Knew, which introduces pianist Johnny Guarnieri to the Sextet. Guarnieri is most often cited as a first rate mimic, and you can certainly hear traces of Teddy Wilson, Fats Waller and Basie. What is less remarked upon is his prescient ability as an accompanist. He listens; and he knows when to lead, when to follow, and when to tread lightly between the two. From this point on, the group begins to develop its own identity as an ensemble. Christian came from the poor section of Oklahoma City, where one of his boyhood chums was Ralph Ellison, who wrote, “Jazz was regarded by most of the respectable Negroes of the town as a backward, low-class form of expression, and there was a marked difference between those who accepted and lived close to their folk experience and those whose status strivings led them to reject and deny it.” There is something in Christian’s twanging chords throughout Shivers that evokes his roots in the Southwest and is proof of his devotion to incorporating that rare combination of the urban and the rural that also marked the work of Charlie Parker. AC-DC Current is a blues that lets the soloists play a four-bar break, and everyone has fun with this. There are some broadcast versions of this piece where things range pretty far afield; here they play it closer to the vest. Another Hampton-Armstrong connection occurs with I’m Confessin’ which was among the tunes done at Hampton’s first recording session as drummer in Armstrong’s band in 1930. While this is certainly a distinguished reading, it lacks the singularity of conception that marks the Sextet’s best efforts, which is probably why it was originally withheld from release.
February 7, 1940
It was just a matter of time until Count Basie appeared on a Goodman recording. His band had been rescued out of obscurity by Goodman and Hammond in 1936, and within a year, Goodman was playing Basie records for his own band, and asking why they couldn’t sound like that. Basie sat in for a tune at Goodman’s 1938 Carnegie Hall concert, and you can hear Benny listening to Basie’s accompaniment to his solo, eventually merging on a characteristically Basie phrase at its end. The next month Goodman recorded his own version of Basie’s theme song, One O’Clock Jump. Basie was a natural fit for this Sextet, since so much of Christian’s style was based on the work of Basie’s featured soloist Lester Young. This session happened at the tail end of a long day in the studio for Christian and Goodman – the Metronome All Star session, three titles done with the Goodman big band (with the guitarist sitting it out in favor of the band’s regular rhythm man Arnold Covey) followed by this. Till Tom Special has more than a touch of the Basie band’s hit Topsy in it. And it also resembles a big band performance in the way that all of the soloists are wedded to the text at hand. No gratuitous spitting back of chord changes here – all of the solos relate directly to the tune. Listen for how the soloists play off the backgrounds behind them. The sense of wide-open space when Christian enters, with no organized backing, just Basie’s intuitive comping, is the centerpiece of the performance. The Sextet then creates another classic, Gone With What Wind, with opposite means. Here there are hardly any backgrounds, just a string of superb blues solos wedded by Basie’s sparse accompaniment. Once again, the issued take finds the sparks flying and the unity of the clarinet, vibes and guitar on the outgoing riff choruses is something to marvel at.
April 3, 1940
As one who has known these recordings for over 30 years and who has heard them in all formats from 78 on down, I can honestly say that I have never heard the pitches of Nick Fatool’s tom-toms on the introduction to The Sheik sound remotely this true to life. The added dimension in Goodman’s tone and the blend of the rhythm section reveal detail that gives the music a vibrancy it hasn’t had in previous incarnations. The subtle but thrilling interplay between the clarinet, vibraphone and piano on the second take of The Sheik’s first chorus gives a much clearer picture of what this band was up to. Listen to Goodman and Guarnieri interact, especially around the beginning of the second eight bars, and then the way Goodman ties all of the ideas up at the end of the chorus. This is chamber jazz at its best. The abstract way in which the soloists ingeniously skirt the more obvious turns of the harmony may surprise those who classify this as nostalgia or swing music or anything less than vitally swinging and exploratory jazz. There are moments where Hampton and Christian veer off into harmony that is far from the original, only to be brought back home by a “reminding” chord from Guarnieri. In concept, it is analogous to the way that the Miles Davis Quintet of the mid-60’s took liberties with the standards they played. We also get a glimpse at Goodman’s sense of humor. On the first take, Hampton launches his solo with a trademark phrase that involves a dissonance followed by a rest and then another note. On the second take, Goodman plays the dissonance with Hampton and then fills in the space after the next note with a perfectly timed note of his own. It’s a moment worthy in its comic timing of Laurel and Hardy or Thelonious Monk and Art Blakey. Also notable is the last chorus where the soloists trade four-bar phrases. Listen for the humor in the second take, and how everything leads naturally into the jam out. That’s what you get when you have artists who collaborate for long periods and who have the imagination to keep things fresh.
Frankly, the newly discovered Untitled Tune is a bit of a letdown. Compared to the Sextet’s other original material, it is determinedly mediocre. The form is challenging, with alternations of 32 bar and 12 bar forms and modulations (in fact you can hear the band crack up when someone drops the ball on the breakdown take) but it just doesn’t hang together, and one can certainly understand why it was never released. What it does bring us are some more solos and for that we should be thankful.
Poor Butterfly has an inspired Christian solo that highlights the archly non-sentimental nature of his ballad work. There is a Bach-like purity to his lines that appealed to both Thelonious Monk and Lennie Tristano. Guarnieri creates a subtle, Teddy Wilson-inspired counterpoint during the first chorus, and works his way into his own Bach-styled phrase at the conclusion of his solo.
April 10, 1940
I Surrender Dear comes with a couple of breakdown/rehearsals that include bickering between future brothers-in-law producer John Hammond and Goodman and a Hampton bridge that concludes with some harmonic sleight-of-hand worthy of Art Tatum. The vibraphonist was an incessant explorer of harmony, and has yet to receive his due as the innovator he was. Hampton benefited greatly from the company he kept during his Goodman years. Although a performance such as this may seem like an informal jam, the arranged last eight bars and the careful ensemble playing during the first chorus give it the arc of a composition. Besides contributing solos with some great whole-tone moments, Christian’s quiet guitar strums at the very end are a pleasant surprise.
Boy Meets Goy (later retitled Grand Slam and Boy Meets Girl) may have celebrated the budding relationship between Goodman and John Hammond’s sister Alice. It is a blues with a lot of tasteful boogie-woogie -Guarnieri really knew how to pile it on without being overbearing – a little boogie goes a long way! - and a stunning climax. The newly discovered alternate, which is fine as far as it goes – a brilliant set of solos - reveals just how much performances can vary within a short amount of time. The issued version is inexorable in its gradual build and the elision of one solo into the next.
June 11, 1940
Six Appeal (My Daddy Rocks Me) boasts three newly discovered alternates, each of which has superlative solos. Played largely over an expansive, two-beat foundation supplied by Bernstein and Fatool, the solos deal with the tune’s basis in a minor sixth chord in a leisurely and varied fashion. Small details led to the selection of the issued take (the last chain of breaks needed to be sorted out) but to hear the way the group’s ideas coalesce is a wonder. Christian has most of his solo worked out, and as we know from other examples in this set, he was adept at spinning out fresh variations take after take if he wanted to. The piece has such a strong character that the solos are more a series of paraphrases than free invention, though it must be noted that we hear many ideas from Goodman that are unique to this session. This is one of the key elements that made the Goodman small groups so interesting to listen to. It was not just a matter of start and blow – pieces have their own character which the musicians went out of their way to investigate, thereby staving off their boredom and ours. We also get a rare glimpse behind the scenes in one of the previously unissued breakdown takes (Disc 4, track 13). You can hear from the strain in Goodman’s voice that this was clearly not the first time he asked (seemingly in vain) for Christian to turn down his amplifier. Far from being detritus or harmful to the reputation of the participants, these illuminating fragments make these men all the more human in light of their great artistry.
These Foolish Things boasts a quintessential Goodman reading of a superior song. Pianist Dudley Brooks doesn’t get any solo space on this date, but does get in some lovely fills on this piece. There is momentary confusion in the rhythm section at the end of Hampton’s solo – they snipped eight bars of the form to make things fit without having to raise the tempo. Nonetheless, Goodman chose to issue this take as opposed to the equally beautiful alternate, with its more intimate introduction and a closing bridge by the leader, which is a gem.
Good Enough To Keep makes for an effective contrast. Here the soloists veer right off into their own territory, unrestricted by any thematic reins. The alternates find Goodman far less formulaic than on the issued one. The sense of discovery in his solos is palpable as he invents intervals and shapes that sound fresh today. The leader was not the only one in inspired form that day - a torrent of swinging ideas flow from Hampton and Christian, both flirting with aspects of the mixolydian mode. On the first alternate listen for the appearance of one of the vibraphonist’s pet licks that was the centerpiece of his Sheik of Araby solo. This was the last record date Hampton made as a member of the Goodman band, and it stands as a testament to his unbeatable, unstoppable brilliance.
October 28, 1940
Rumors were rife in the fall of 1940 about the bandleading difficulties that both Goodman and Basie were having. Goodman, coming off of back surgery, was in the process of putting a new band together and Basie was having an increasingly fractious time with his booking agency. There were even rumors of the two bands merging, though in reality it never could have happened. Their musical identities were already so unique and divergent that neither party would have been satisfied. But one offshoot of this brief period of change was a studio session at which Goodman and Christian sat in with the Basie Kansas City Six. It would be difficult to find adjectives to over-praise the results. The sound quality is superb, each of the participants was in top form and the band sounds as though they had been playing together as a unit for years.
The most intimate music comes during the one tune where Goodman sits out. It is truly an Ad-Lib Blues, growing out of a series of four bar breaks that initiates each chorus. Of particular beauty are Young’s pair, which weave varying patterns of diminished chords out of and right back into the blues. The entire band seems to be thinking the music more than playing it. There is no effort, just the eternal current of time emanating from the Walter Page-led rhythm section, and carrying the horns along with it. An abundance of phrases unique to this session emerge from Young’s horn shedding new light on his early style, which became the basis for entire movements within the jazz world. Except when he is soloing, Christian doubles up on the rhythm with acoustic guitarist Greene, and they never clash. As was his wont, Christian shows absolutely no hesitation in his improvisations. Sometimes it sounds as if he just threw a switch on and brilliance came pouring out. Buck Clayton was that rarity, a trumpeter who based his style on understatement, and who cultivated a sensitive, almost frail quality. He could also do a fine Louis on open horn, but his preferred method of expression was a sotto voce one, abetted by his famous cup mute. After a string of solos, we hear Kansas City jazz at its flowing best. Listen how Lester and Christian set spare yet evocative riffs that let the rhythm section surround them, breathing the beat. They have become a metaphysical one with the quarter notes. This is a deceptively simple sounding art, somewhat like haiku. One false move you’re sunk. These men knew how to do it. About that we’re sure.
Goodman joins the band and the ante is raised even further. He regarded few of his contemporaries as his artistic peers, but Young was clearly an exception. And Young himself went out of his way to find records with Goodman on them in the early 30’s, when it became clear that no one was making that sort of music on the clarinet. They only made a few sessions together -a Teddy Wilson date with Billie Holiday, the jam session at Goodman’s Carnegie Hall concert and an ad hoc WNEW broadcast with Roy Eldridge and Wilson – and each is worth celebrating. This one is far superior in fidelity. Add to this the musical relationships between Basie and Young and Young and Christian and the stage is set for a truly auspicious occasion, which is realized, and then some.
The two Dream’s are the same piece, cut out of the same cloth as Lester’s tune Conversation Piece, which the KC Six had recorded the previous year as Dickie’s Dream. They are in a minor key with a sudden burst of major tonality at the bridge. All of the soloists play with a Zen-like intensity that makes it sound as though the instruments are playing themselves. There are none of the outward manifestations of physical effort that often mars lesser efforts. It is as though they are thinking rather than playing the music. Young is so at once there and not there that it begs the question that Sonny Rollins has posed – which planet did Lester Young come from? Listen for the shouts, cries, moans and bubbling laughter he gets out of his tenor saxophone.
Wholly Cats is a blues that Jo Jones credited to Lester Young. What more to say than here are some of the music’s greatest individuals expressing themselves with great clarity and concision?
I Never Knew was a favorite tune of the Basieites, who, by the aural evidence, delighted in finding new ways around it rather limited harmonic scheme. This version has a particularly perfect Young chorus, with an unusually straight reading (for him) of the bridge’s chords. The rhythm section shifts gears for each soloist without calling attention to itself – this has become a virtually lost art. We also hear Goodman’s penchant for incessantly setting riffs, most of which help rather than hinder, but if you listen closely to Clayton’s bridge, you will hear what may be Young clearing his throat in an attempt to get Goodman to lay out for eight bars. One gets the impression that Goodman was keeping Christian on a relatively short leash on this session, which is too bad. It would have been great to hear him and Lester stretch out a bit. But that is like complaining that a Chopin Mazurka is only 3 minutes long.
As wonderful as this music was and is, it wouldn’t do for Goodman. Too much was left to chance. Goodman liked musical details nailed down. This was Basie’s world – Benny was just living in it.
November 7, 1940
This is the first appearance of the new band, which was known as “Benny Goodman and his Sextet”, with Basie sitting in again. Their first opus was reprised from the previous session with the Kansas City Six. Wholly Cats goes through quite an evolution over the course of five takes. The first has the melody played in a very staccato manner, which by the next attempt has been transformed into a legato, flowing line. Trumpeter Cootie Williams had spent 11 years in the Ellington and knew how to weave his solos out of a piece’s core, so that each creation had a tangible relationship to the song that spawned it. Tenor saxophonist Georgie Auld was a decidedly “macho” player who nonetheless had a tender streak on ballads. They achieved a wonderful balance and really listened to each other. Goodman loved a good challenge, and placed himself after Christian in the solo order here and is clearly inspired. Note how naturally his solo on takes four and five bridge from the first chorus into the second. I don’t think Benny was ever happier than he was at moments like this.
Royal Garden Blues was already a relic when this version was made. The level of unity this septet achieved on its first recording session is truly amazing. Williams and Basie were past masters as ensemble players, and pulled out all the stops here. Listen for how they modulate between their ensemble and solo roles. They create what are by today’s standards miniature solos that are worlds unto themselves. A note here, an inflection there, take on great meaning in this context. All three versions have the same unity and focus, yet build to Goodman’s climactic choruses in slightly different ways. The original issue – the third – is notable for Basie’s playing over the chorus between Williams’s and Goodman’s solos and the exquisite dynamic gradations the band achieves. The arrangement is clever yet simple, and Christian’s solos glide resolutely out of the traditional four-bar breaks.
As Long As I Live is interpreted as a ballad, yet if you tap your foot along with it, the tempo is actually a determined medium. Players of this magnitude can do wonders with jazz rhythm and phrasing, and all of them play with such relaxation that one gets the impression that the tempo is much slower than it actually is. The Columbia engineers were quite active on this session, mixing the band’s levels frequently, but doing it in combination with the player’s artistry so that the effect is almost transparent. Note the relationship between the piano and the clarinet – indeed the way the whole band goes in and out of the foreground – to sample what superior recording techniques can create. Goodman’s bubbling trill underneath the piano sets the mood for this treasure of melodic jazz. The first take has some figures and an arranged ending that are jettisoned for the second, issued one. They also goosed the tempo just a bit, and that magic that we have sampled again and again in the Goodman small groups kicked in. Williams’s solo loses the edge to the tone and takes on an otherworldly feeling. There is an Apollonian reserve to this performance that is reminiscent of some of the 1938 Goodman Quartet recordings with Wilson, Hampton and Tough.
It is a pleasant surprise to hear Goodman lead the rehearsal of Benny’s Bugle (Disc 4, tracks 21-22). So many bandleaders put their names on compositions they had no hand in writing that it is comes as almost a shock to discover that some of them actually did compose. Goodman takes the band through the arranged segments, and although he has trouble verbally articulating some of his more technical requests, all he has to do is pick up the clarinet and play what he is hearing. We hear yet another example of producer John Hammond being treated rather rudely by Goodman, who suddenly drops the insults when he needs help with the timing of the recording. But the irony of ironies is reserved for a rare and possibly unique example of Christian’s voice. It comes when Goodman, foreshadowing decades worth of aggrieved bandleaders, asks the guitarist (and, it must be said, in a gentle and patient manner) to turn down the amplifier. Lester Young once put it aptly as “Down with the Edison!” and Goodman treats it as something that will help Christian express himself more easily. This is when we hear the guitarist’s low voice mumble something about pickin’ and then possibly feign confusion about when Goodman wants it turned down – the sum total of which is that there is little variation in the amplifier’s volume. We know from one of the earlier sessions that this was not the first time they had had this conversation, which may help explain Goodman’s eventual exasperation here. Count Basie is the perfect sideman, following Goodman’s wishes to a tee and providing spare but vital inspiration to both the ensemble and the soloists. The issued take, with its series of perfectly formed and executed solos followed by Goodman wailing over the band, would look good sculpted in marble.
December 19, 1940
As has already been mentioned, solos from this session were spliced into composite takes back in the 50’s, creating havoc for discographers, and robbing the solos of their original context. With this collection, many of these sessions are being issued for the first time both in their entirety and correct sequence. Listen to the way the five versions of Breakfast Feud (plus a couple of breakdown takes) flow into one another. On the first, Williams is playing open horn, and pianist Ken Kersey backs Goodman in the old oom-pah two-handed style. On the second, the trumpeter switches to his famous plunger mute and begins sharpening his conception. Kersey changes to a more sparse and flowing accompaniment that forms a challenging background for the soloists. Goodman always had an ear for what the piano was playing behind him. One of the great joys of his earlier work was the spontaneous counterpoint he would weave with Jess Stacy and Teddy Wilson. Indeed, one of the most significant things about the bounty of new material from this session is the glimpse it affords us of the young Kersey. He played with the trumpeters Frankie Newton and Red Allen, and was a regular in the jam sessions at Minton’s and Monroe’s and can be heard jamming on a rare live recording with Dizzy Gillespie there just months after this session. Kersey belongs right in there with Clyde Hart, Nat Cole, Nat Jaffe and Thelonious Monk as a key player who had new things to say before Bud Powell came along. His solos here are full of spiky runs and intervals that probably goosed Goodman, who always thrived on the challenge provided by an exceptional player. We can also hear the rhythm section coalesce take to take, and by the last few, they are really hitting it. The second take has a particularly inspired Christian solo, long lines are cast with a strong sense of urgency. The third finds Goodman bridging his choruses with a risky, chromatic idea that was not the norm for him, at least as recorded performances tell us. And if that were not enough, Goodman charges into his solo on the fourth take a few beats early, using the anticipatory motif throughout both choruses.
I Can’t Give You Anything But Love is one of the great Goodman small group recordings of all time. Everyone is in superlative shape, especially Auld who, to these ears at least, never sounded better on any recording. The first take finds Christian at his most rhythmically relaxed; on the bridge he throws in a rhapsodic phrase that is remarkably Reinhardt-esque. The second may have the best of the Auld solos, while the slightly faster third finally gets a good level on the piano, which is why it was probably selected for issue.
Gilly is in reality Gone With What Draft. Unissued at the time, this version was renamed for Goodman’s stepdaughter on the occasion of an early 50’s LP issue. It is a complicated piece, with many different riffs, backgrounds and dynamics, and it sounds as though the band is just easing into it. This is the kind composition that has all of Christian’s hallmarks. His guitar changes sound and effects every time it reenters, and underscores Christian’s talents as an ensemble musician. As good as these versions are (and there are outstanding solos) it got a better interpretation on the following session.
January 15, 1941
The next session is a red letter one in the careers of both Basie and his drummer Jo Jones. We get an extraordinarily clear picture of their strengths from hearing them divorced from their usual context and placed in the middle of the Goodman septet. Their attention to the minute details is a revelation. Listen across the four takes of Breakfast Feud where they examine almost every ensemble phrase to see which sort of accent, if any, it should receive. Both were able to play with the lightest touch without losing any of their intensity. Jones created similar miracles that are all his own on Goodman’s 1954 Get Happy. And the perfectly natural recording balance makes it all the easier to hear precisely what they are doing. The clarinet solos are also worthy of singling out. Here we have Goodman with a clear concept -–the low register, or chalumeau solo that his early mentors, the New Orleans clarinetists Jimmy Noone and Johnny Dodds were masters of. He works his way down the horn during his first choruses before really giving its bottom half a workout in the second. Goodman takes advantage of Basie’s plunging bass lines – he was a great listener and reactor, and strikes gold on take three - the variety of phrases and shapes Goodman improvises is astonishing. Basie sets to work on his own two-chorus gems, playing off of the horn’s sotto voce background with phrases that are once eminently pianistic and Armstrong-esque. As we have seen, multiple takes were the norm on these Goodman small group sessions. There must have complete unanimity of feeling about On The Alamo for it to survive with no backup. Goodman had worked with the man who wrote, bandleader Isham Jones, and mines every bit of beauty out of its sequential melody. Has any trumpeter ever had a more dense and majestic lower register tone than Cootie Williams? Before he became the plunger soloist par excellence in the Ellington band, Williams was known as a superlative lead trumpeter, and his open horn work remains is a rare and wonderful treat. Photographs from these sessions reveal a paucity of microphones, but the balance the engineers achieved (which let the musicians determine their relative volume) remains unsurpassed well over half a century later. What a joy to hear each instrument in the rhythm section so clearly, and to get this rare glimpse of Basie the ensemble pianist away from his usual milieu. Auld’s tone is golden, as are his phrases. While he seems to have both Ben Webster and Lester Young on his mind at times, he arrived at his own stylistic mixture (and influenced others, including Flip Phillips, who knew these recordings intimately), and is a wonderful ensemble player to boot. Goodman chose to issue the slower of the two takes of I Found A New Baby, but the faster alternate was the one known to people since it was issued as part of Columbia’s 2 LP Solo Flight compilation in the early 70’s. Christian’s solo from that take became the basis for Phillip’s tune Christian Scientist, which he recorded with the guitarist Howard Alden in the late 80’s. Williams makes an amazing variety of sounds with his plunger mute (hear the way he begins and how he gradually opens it up), modifying his melodic conception as he manipulates the tone. The tight structure of Gone With What Draft, with all of its shifting sections, gives drummer Jones ample opportunity to display his orchestrational abilities. Each take finds him making new and surprising choices, and he was not the only one sparked to new heights. The leader himself finds some new ways around these well-worn Honeysuckle Rose chord changes on the original issue (take three), especially as he gets into his last eight bars.
March 13, 1941
We begin with the band (without Goodman and bassist Bernstein) warming up in the studio prior to the beginning of the recording session. This is found on track 23 of disc 4. The musicians simultaneously create a tableau that is discursive at times and riveting at others. Tunes come and go at the slightest suggestion, with no squabbling about keys, format or tempo. We learn so much about Christian’s musicality from these rehearsal sessions. All of these musicians were masters of sequential improvisation, where one phrase is varied from chord to chord. You can hear all of them do it, and Williams and Christian have no problem maintaining their spontaneity and sense of discovery while fulfilling the form’s rather strict guidelines. Wonders abound. Williams plays a chorus using his ex-Ellington band mate Rex Stewart’s patented half-valve fingerings, and then offers a personal tour through some of his favorite Armstrongisms, many of which sound remarkably like what cornetist Ruby Braff came up with years later. There is a poignant moment during I Can’t Believe when Williams free-associates into After You’ve Gone – reminding us that this was indeed Christian’s last recording session with the Goodman Sextet. This coincidence is further compounded by the jam on Rose Room, which was the first tune Christian ever played with Goodman just a mere 19 months earlier. There is another spot where Christian takes a phrase and varies it through the chord changes, eventually carrying Auld and Guarnieri along with him. In this informal way, players exchange information and equipment for improvising. It’s one thing to know they did it, and another to actually hear what it sounded like. We also hear some of Christian’s non- four to the bar comping techniques peppered throughout. Dave Tough goes through the various components of his drum set, from snare drum to brushes to sticks to various cymbals and through all of it, gets his right foot acclimated to the bass drum, which was at the root of his magic. All of this makes the sparseness of what Tough plays on the date itself all the more astonishing. There are the odd snare accents and sudden cymbal crashes, but he spends the overwhelming majority of his time padding on the snare drum with his brushes (which Benny referred to dismissively as the flyswatters). What we are hearing is a profound distillation of jazz rhythm married to what Artie Shaw has called Tough’s great psychic energy. Indeed, both A Smooth One and Air Mail Special represent a minimalism that remains quite rare in jazz. Yet within each performance we find a tremendous variety of sounds and approaches, albeit within a subtle range: on the former, the new, evocative sound of the trumpet, clarinet and electric guitar in unison behind the tenor solo; Christian’s last bridge, which is played almost verbatim on all three takes and henceforth becomes part of the tune; Guarnieri’s subtle but fully orchestrational playing throughout; the way Tough plays cat and mouse with Williams’s high trumpet flicks in the last chorus. Air Mail Special has its own share of delights: the dying sound of Goodman’s high clarinet notes behind Christian’s solo; the way all of horns and piano go in and out of the foreground, with the many riffs and backgrounds never getting in the way; the expert use of dynamics; Guarnieri’s low ringing notes during the first chorus; the unusual logic in Goodman’s last eight bars.
February 7, 1940
November 22, 1939
June 25, 1940
March 4, 1941
One can only imagine that Christian must have been at least somewhat amazed that only four months after he had been playing in relative obscurity in Oklahoma City for peanuts, he was know a featured soloist on a Metronome All-Star date, trading choruses with Jack Teagarden, Benny Carter, Harry James and Gene Krupa. All Star Strut is a fascinating document in that it lets us hear Christian in a much wider context than that of the Goodman band. There is something different about Christian’s chorus than the others. He has his own vocabulary and time feeling. We also hear him comping behind Haggart’s walking bass solo and on the breakdown take he branches off from Benny Carter’s closing string of eight notes, bringing us right into his own world. Another highlight is the way James and Krupa clinch the transition into the last jam chorus on the alternate take.
The big band items are a treat. We hear three of the greatest Goodman arrangers. Fletcher Henderson’s Honeysuckle Rose is a veritable feast of antiphony, with nary a measure goes by without busy reed and/or brass figures. Christian’s even phrase and occasionally staccato notes swing immensely, and the logic of the solo is staggering. Trumpeter Ziggy Elman and the leader are also inspired. Lil’ Boy Love, with its nod to Prokofiev in the introduction, is a brilliant example of Eddie Sauter’s startlingly original conception for the jazz orchestra. Gone are the gratuitously repeated sections that were endemic in the swing band genre. Equally arresting is the never-ending variety of orchestrational fancies that Sauter unleashes. Christian weighs in for the last bridge for a relatively ordinary 8 bars. He is the featured soloist (save for a brief and very hot salvo from the leader) on Solo Flight, originally titled Chonk, Charlie, Chonk. Jimmy Mundy fashioned an effective showcase of Christian’s tune, though even a few bars of wide-open space would have been nice to offset the density of the writing. Part of the problem is that the band is too loud in the mix. They are playing a background to the guitar, but the Columbia engineers, in an anomalous decision, made the full ensemble the aural equivalent of the solo. The alternate finds Christian in a more voluble mood. Drummer Dave Tough’s constant counterpoint is totally original and in keeping with his ascetic approach of the Sextet session recorded just 9 days later. Sadly, like Stardust, this recording remained unissued during Christian’s lifetime.