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SOLO  FLIGHT

THE  CHARLIE  CHRISTIAN  LEGACY

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BOOK & VIDEO REVIEWS

 

Some of the more significant Books and Video on Charlie Christian are reviewed on these pages.


Scroll down
or
click on the title of the items listed in the following table
to read the reviews

BOOKS

Book Title

Author / Editor

Publisher

The Best of Charlie Christian Wolf Marshall
(Author/Transcriber)
Hal Leonard
Charlie Christian:  The Definitive Collection Pete Billmann,
Jeff Jacobson,
Wolf Marshall
(Transcribers)
Hal Leonard
Charlie Christian and The Deuce:  A History of Charles Henry Christian Anita Arnold (Editor) Black Liberated Arts Center
The Charlie Christian Photo Collection Anita Arnold (Editor)
Photos by Leo Valdes
Black Liberated Arts Center
Legendary Times and Tales of Second Street Anita Arnold (Editor) Black Liberated Arts Center
Annual Review of Jazz Studies 6, 1993 Edward Berger,
David Cayer,
Dan Morgenstern, Lewis Porter (Editors)
Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers
Annual Review of Jazz Studies 7, 1994-95 Edward Berger,
David Cayer,
Henry Martin,
Dan Morgenstern, Lewis Porter (Editors)
Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers
The Guitar in Jazz:  An Anthology James Sallis (Editor) University of Nebreska Press
Charlie Christian Peter Broadbent Ashley Mark
Solo Flight – The Story of the Seminal Electric Guitarist Peter Broadbent Ashley Mark

VIDEO

Video Title

Director

Publisher

Solo Flight:  The Genius of Charlie Christian Gary Don Rhodes V.I.E.W.
Video

 

Additional information on the books and video is in “A Charlie Christian Bibliography” located in the Bibliographies section

 


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BOOK REVIEWS

 

 


A review of two recent Charlie Christian transcription books

 

The Best of Charlie Christian

 

Charlie Christian:  The Definitive Collection

 

THE BEST OF CHARLIE CHRISTIAN

A Step-by-Step Breakdown of the Styles and Techniques of the Father of Modern Jazz Guitar

by Wolf Marshall
Hal Leonard Corp.;  2002;  62 pages

 

CHARLIE CHRISTIAN

THE DEFINITIVE COLLECTION

Music transcriptions by
Pete Billmann, Jeff Jacobson, Wolf Marshall
Hal Leonard Corp.;  2003;  128 pages

 

1.  Wolf Marshall’s  The Best of Charlie Christian

Wolf Marshall.  The Best of Charlie Christian:  A Step-by-Step Breakdown of the Styles and Techniques of the Father of Modern Jazz Guitar.  Published 2002 by Hal Leonard in the series “Guitar Signature Licks.”  62 pp. book, with audio CD.  $22.95

Wolf Marshall has produced an excellent collection of 15 CC solos.  Each transcription is accompanied by an analysis of its rhythmic, harmonic, and melodic features.  In the book there is also a CD, with recreations of the solos, and some ensemble passages.  Marshall has, on some titles, notated and commented on introductions, head arrangements, riffs and ensemble passages as well as solos.  The book’s graphic design is good, and the music engraving is of a high standard, well spaced on the page, and easy to read.  A brief biography of CC is included, with some interesting comments on the guitarist’s meeting with Barney Kessel (based on the author’s interview with Kessel).

Published transcriptions generally fall into three categories:  the academic thesis or dissertation (e.g. Howard Spring’s work);   musicological books (e.g. Schuller’s The Swing Era);  and sheet music collections.  Marshall’s book belongs to the last category, and joins a series of publications the earliest of which is probably Edmonds & Prince’s The Swingingest Charley Christian (1958).

We judge transcriptions by their accuracy, the quality of analysis, and originality of approach.  As can be seen from the transcriptions bibliography on this website, hundreds of CC transcriptions have been published.  Some of the most interesting analyses tend to be difficult to obtain—e.g. Spring’s work is found in an unpublished thesis and an academic periodical.  For some people’s taste Spring’s analyses are perhaps too lengthy.  Wolf Marshall’s book has achieved a good compromise;  his comments are not overlong, yet they highlight many points of interest.

He devotes about one page of commentary to each piece;  his observations are original and add to our enjoyment of the original solos.  For instance, in discussing “Shivers” he refers to the influence of Western Swing, and identifies part of the solo that quotes from “Turkey in the Straw” and “Arkansas Traveller,” melodies from this style of music.  As promised in the series title, Marshall often identifies CC’s favourite figures, and he gives useful summaries of the format of compositions, e.g.:

“Benny’s Bugle is a standard 12-bar blues in B flat.  The head is based on a two-measure riff melody moved through the I, IV and V chord changes of a blues progression.  The riff melody contains a triadic bugle-type arpeggio outlining of each chord of the progression…”

The choice of solos for this volume is well judged.  It includes a variety of tempi, the ballad “Star Dust,” the slow tempo “A Smo-o-o-oth One” (the correct spelling of which defeats the editor of this book as it does most) through to the upbeat “Seven Come Eleven” and “Good Enough to Keep.”  It would be hard to omit “Solo Flight” from a collection of CC’s best solos—Marshall obliges, and “Grand Slam” joins the record of one of the most transcribed CC solos—16 versions at least.  The version of “Shivers” notated here joins only two previously published transcriptions—Fox (1964) and Kuboki (1995).  A “first” is the appearance of take -1 of “A Smo-o-o-oth One”—a transcription of which has not previously been published.  If there is one addition I would like to have seen it would be examples of CC's use of double time—for instance the perfectly poised passages in solos on “Memories of You.”

Wolf Marshall and a small group strive to produce faithful recreations on the CD.  On “Solo Flight” Mike Tomaro has produced a very accurate simulation of the original big band arrangement;  it sounds as though he used a sequencing program for this.  Some of the pieces are more successful than others:  e.g. on “Star Dust” the guitar solo is very close to the original in tone, phrasing, and articulation.  The accompanying bass, drums and clarinet lines towards the end of the solo are also very accurate.  On “Seven Come Eleven,” the head arrangement and clarinet solo over the middle eight are very accurate, but the guitar solo sounds a little rushed, and some other titles have a similar problem.  It is possible that the accompanying musicians are from a rock or classical background and hence their rhythmic feel is not quite authentic at times.  However these are minor criticisms, as overall these are very authentic recreations.

As far as the accuracy of notation is concerned, Marshall has been conscientious about notating grace notes, articulations, bends, and slurs that are an important element of CC’s style.  His transcriptions also include tablature;  I assume that the tablature reflects how the solo would “normally” be played (or perhaps might most easily be played).  However, as Leo Valdes has suggested in recent postings on this site, it is likely that CC often used unconventional fingerings to achieve different timbre, or other effects, in his solos.  Others who have written about the soloist or notated his solos have not, to my knowledge, appreciated this intriguing aspect of his style.

Some of the transcriptions in the book have been published elsewhere.  Marshall’s Best of Jazz Guitar (2000) is a collection of transcriptions of various artists that has the same notation of “Honeysuckle Rose” that appears in the present album.  On his website, Marshall presents a page—“Introduction to the Charlie Christian Guitar Style”—that includes analysis of the same versions of “Honeysuckle Rose” and “Benny’s Bugle” as in the album reviewed.  This site provides a useful preview of what you can find in the printed version.  (Further reproductions of notations in the album are to be found in the next publication reviewed here.)

In summary, this is an attractively packaged collection of transcriptions, notated very accurately, with interesting analysis.  It can be highly recommended for anyone wishing to study or enjoy the music of Charlie Christian.   —Clive Downs

 

2.  Charlie Christian:  The Definitive Collection

Hal Leonard.  Charlie Christian:  The Definitive Collection.  Transcriptions by Pete Billmann, Jeff Jacobson, & Wolf Marshall.  Published 2003 by Hal Leonard.  128 pp. book.  $19.95

Another collection of CC transcriptions has been produced in this album, which offers a contrast in style to Marshall’s album reviewed above.  There is no annotation or analysis in this publication, but several titles provide what may be termed ‘continuous’ transcriptions:  every bar of the performance is notated (though not for every instrument) and thus gives a version of the performance that is, in a sense, complete.  For instance, on “Gone with ‘What’ Wind” we find the clarinet solo, piano solo, guitar solo, vibes solo, second clarinet solo, first riff section, second riff section, and third clarinet solo, (all notated for guitar).  It is useful to have such ‘complete’ transcriptions, not least because often the sextet arrangements were often quite complex.   As in the Marshall album, the graphic design and presentation of this publication are of very good quality.

It would have been helpful if the editors had made it easier to see where sections (solos, riffs, theme, etc.) in the transcription begin and end (Marshall is much clearer in this respect).  It is sometimes quite difficult to follow the sequence of sections, particularly when the number of staves changes during the notation (this happens quite often).

Fifteen titles are included in this album, and of these, the first ten that appear in Marshall’s book are reproduced (at least the notation of the CC solos) here.  The same version of “Solo Flight” is transcribed in both albums, but with different notations (presumably the transcription in The Definitive Collection is by Pete Billmann or Jeff Jacobson). The remaining four titles from Marshall (“Benny’s Bugle,” “I Found a New Baby,” “A Smo-o-o-oth One,” and “Air Mail Special”) are omitted from The Definitive Collection, but in compensation, four additional titles are included—“Flying Home,” “Rose Room,” “Stompin’ at the Savoy,” and “Topsy (Swing to Bop).”  It is puzzling, given the generally ‘completist’ approach of the album, that only three of the six guitar solo choruses on “Stompin’ at the Savoy” are transcribed.  The notation of this title seems to be in a different font than those transcribed by Marshall, so perhaps the transcriber is one of the co-authors.

In its own right this album is an excellent collection of transcriptions that would be of interest to all who appreciate the music of Charlie Christian.  It is a pity that two-thirds of the notations are direct reproductions of items that have been published elsewhere.  Music publishers, whether audio or printed music, often republish material in different formats.  In this case, perhaps untypically, Hal Leonard has added interesting new material to the republished solos, by way of ensembles, solos on other instruments, and other material (at least one extra item in each of the ten).

Sometimes the references to issued recordings are a little misleading.  “Air Mail Special (Good Enough to Keep)” on p. 2 refers to the album Benny Goodman Sextet 1939/1941, but the version of this title transcribed is clearly from the complete performance (on take -1), as issued on Masters of Jazz MJCD 75 or Columbia Legacy box set C4K 65564.

To sum up, The Definitive Collection is a well-produced collection of transcriptions whose only drawback is the recycled notations—but the added non-guitar solo material offsets this factor.  Again, I would recommend this publication to anyone wishing to study the music of CC.   —Clive Downs

For reference I have added a comparative analysis of the 15 transcriptions in each volume in the Table below.

 

Table:  Comparison of transcribed sections in Marshall (2002) & Hal Leonard (2003).
( Titles are in the order in which they appear in Marshall )

Title Section No. of bars Marshall Hal Leonard
Star Dust
2 Oct 1939
WCO 26134 A
theme 16
vib solo 16
Guitar solo 32
Seven Come Eleven
22 Nov 1939
WCO 26286 A
intro 12
theme 32
Guitar solo 32
vib solo 32 ✓ (gtr riffs)
clt solo 32
theme 16
Honeysuckle Rose
22 Nov 1939
WCO 26290 A
intro 4
theme 32
clt solo 32
Guitar solo 32
tpt solo 16
clt solo 8
riffs 8
riffs 32
Shivers
20 Dec 1939
WCO 26354 A
intro 4
theme 16
clt solo 8
theme 8
vib solo 32
Guitar solo 16
clt solo 8
Guitar solo 8
riffs 16 ✓ (gtr chords) ✓ (gtr chords)
riffs 8 ✓ (gtr chords)
riffs 8 ✓ (gtr chords)
Till Tom Special
7 Feb 1940
WCO 26494 A
intro 4
head 32
riffs 16
vib solo 8
riffs 16
Guitar solo 16
pno solo 8
Guitar solo 8
riffs 16
clt solo 8
riffs 8
tag end 4
Gone with “What” Wind
7 Feb 1940
WCO 26495 B
intro 4
clt solo 20
pno solo 24
Guitar solo 24
vib solo 24
clt solo 24
riffs (1) 12
riffs (2) 12
riffs (3) 12
clt solo 12
Grand Slam
10 Apr 1940
WCO 26744 B
intro 8
clt solo 24
Guitar solo 24
vib solo 24
pno solo 24
clt solo 12
riffs 24
Six Appeal
11 Jun 1940
WCO 26940 A
intro 4
head 16
Guitar solo 16
vib solo 16
clt solo 16
riffs 16, 16, 14
tag end 4
Good Enough to Keep
(Air Mail Special)
13 Mar 1941
CO 29943-1
(Marshall p. 34)
head 32
Guitar solo 32
clt solo 32
tpt solo 32
ts solo 32
riffs 32
Wholly Cats
7 Nov 1940
CO 29027-1
intro 4
head 24
ts solo 24
pno solo 24
Guitar solo 24
clt solo 24
riffs 24
theme 12
Benny’s Bugle
7 Nov 1940
CO 29030-1
intro 4  
head 12  
Guitar solo 24  
pno solo 24  
riffs 12  
ts solo 24  
riffs 24  
clt solo 24  
I Found a New Baby
15 Jan 1941
CO 29514-1
intro 6  
theme 32  
Guitar solo 32  
pno solo 32  
tpt solo 16  
ts solo 16  
drm solo 8  
theme 8  
Solo Flight
4 Mar 1941
CO 29865-1
intro 8
Guitar solo 5 x 16
clt solo 16
Guitar solo 16
A Smo-o-o-oth One
13 Mar 1941
CO 29942-1
Guitar intro 4  
theme 32  
ts solo 16  
clt solo 8  
ts solo 8  
theme 16  
Guitar solo 8  
theme & tag 8 + 2  
Good Enough to Keep
(Air Mail Special)
13 Mar 1941
CO 29943-2
(Marshall p. 57)
head 32  
Guitar solo 32  
clt solo 32  
tpt solo 32  
ts solo 32  
riffs 32  
Flying Home
2 Oct 1939
WCO 26132 A
intro 4  
theme 16  
clt solo 8  
theme 8  
Guitar solo 32  
vib solo 32  
riffs 16  
clt solo 8  
riffs 8  
Rose Room
2 Oct 1939
WCO 26133 A
intro 4  
theme 32  
Guitar solo 32  
vib solo 16  
pno solo 8  
ens 8  
Stompin’ at the Savoy
12 May 1941
Jam session at Minton’s
theme 32   ✓ (gtr phrases)
tpt solo 32  
pno solo 2 x 32  
Guitar solo 3 x 32  
tpt solo 3 x 32  
Guitar solo 3 x 32  
tpt solo & tag 32 + 4  
Topsy
(Swing to Bop)
12 May 1941
Jam session at Minton’s
Guitar solo 6 x 32  
tpt solo 4 x 32  
pno solo 2 x 32  
Guitar solo 3 x 32  
tpt solo 16, fade  
 

Details of the exact versions of each notated solo,
and albums on which the recordings are issued,
can be found in the Bibliography of Notated Solos on this website.

Reviewed by CLIVE DOWNS

© LeoValdes – 20 February 2004

 


CHARLIE AND THE DEUCE

A HISTORY OF CHARLES HENRY CHRISTIAN

 

Edited by Anita G. Arnold
Black Liberated Arts Center, Inc.;  1994;  40 pages

 

Charlie and the Deuce

 

Ever since the Charlie Christian Jazz Festival was inaugurated in 1984, it had been held during the latter part of April or the first week of May.  This year [1995] the 12th annual Charlie Christian Jazz Festival will be held on July 29th, Charles’ 79th birthday anniversary, on the 300th block of N.E. 2nd Street in Oklahoma City.  That block of Deep Deuce” was the center of activity during the time that Charles was developing and working in OKC. Ruby’s Grill, where CC did much of his jamming, was located in a two-story building that still stands right in the middle of the block. Charles’ going-away party was held at Ruby’s Grill on Aug. 13, 1939, before he left OKC the following day for his audition with Benny Goodman in Los Angeles.  It was also the site of a welcome-home jam on Jan. 11, 1940 during a two-week vacation that CC took from the sextet.   The Charlie Christian Jazz Festival is organized by Black Liberated Arts Center (BLAC), Inc., 201 Channing Square, Suite 317, OKC 73102, (405) 232-2522.

For last year’s [1994] festival, BLAC Inc. published an excellent 48-page, 8x11-inch souvenir book entitled Charlie and the Deuce with lots of photos and info on CC and OKC. It contains a couple of pages, gleaned from the CHRONOLOGY” chapter of my unpublished book, of Charles’ early history, events with the Goodman band et al, and after.  Available from Charlie’s Old Books and Records, 5114 N. Classen, Oklahoma City, OK 73118, (405) 843-6902.

This year [1995] BLAC Inc. will be putting together a Charlie Christian photo album (with many from my own collection of 60-some CC photos) for distribution at the festival.

This book review was originally published in the 1995 Solo Flight: The Charlie Christian Newsletter # 1
LeoValdes
Revised and updated on November 23, 2001

 

 


THE

CHARLIE CHRISTIAN

PHOTO COLLECTION

 

Edited by Anita G. Arnold
Black Liberated Arts Center, Inc.;  1995;  40 pages

All photos by Leo Valdes

 

Charlie Christian Photo Collection

 

On the 79th anniversary of Charlie Christian’s birth (July 29, 1995), Oklahoma City held its twelfth annual Charlie Christian Jazz Festival.

The most notable event of this year’s festival was the publication and distribution of the photo album mentioned in the review above.  I had expected some of my photos to be published along with others, but I was shocked to see that the entire album was put together from my collection.  About 70% of my stuff was in there along with my short captions for each picture—verbatim except for a small typo on one with Charles sitting in with Count Basie and his band at the Apollo.

I was pleased with the results though. Everyone must get a copy of this soft-cover book—it’s the most complete collection of Charlie Christian photos (close to 50) ever published.  Many have never been in print before.

The period of time covered by my collection starts with a photo of Charles at age three with his dog, Chubby, and ends with two photos taken at Charles’ funeral services held in Oklahoma City.  (There were also services held for him in New York City, Chicago and Bonham, Texas.  The funeral in OKC was the largest the state had seen up to that time.)  The photo taken in front of the Calvary Baptist Church shows Charlie Christian’s daughter, Billie Jean Christian, age 9, standing at the top of the stairs with a light-colored bow in her hair.

There are also three CC articles in the book: The Advent of Charlie Christian” by noted producer John Hammond; Guitarmen, Wake Up and Pluck!” by Charlie Christian;  and The Charlie Christian Story” by the preeminent writer, Ralph Ellison.   Previously published in Down Beat, August 25, 1966, Down Beat, December 1, 1939, and The Saturday Review, May 17, 1958, respectively, they are required reading.

According to BLAC Inc, the organization that put the book together, the THE CHARLIE CHRISTIAN PHOTO COLLECTION is available from Charlie’s (Nicholson) Old Books and Records, 5114 N. Classen, Oklahoma City, OK 73118, (405) 843-6902.

This book review was originally published in the 1996 Solo Flight: The Charlie Christian Newsletter # 2
LeoValdes
Revised and updated on November 23, 2001

 

 


LEGENDARY TIMES

AND

TALES OF SECOND STREET

 

Edited by Anita G. Arnold
Black Liberated Arts Center, Inc.;  1995;  50 pages

 

Legendary Times and Tales of Second Street

 

Another publication put out by BLAC Inc for last year’s jazz festival was Legendary Times and Tales of Second Street. This book represents reflections of memorable times, experiences, people and places associated with historical Second Street in Oklahoma City.”  Well worth getting;  also available from Charlie Nicholson’s.

This soft-cover contains three more photographs from my collection.   One has Charlie Christian sitting at a table with Count Basie, Ernie Fields, Melvin Moore, and Jimmy Rushing.  Another is the [December 1939] photo used in the JazzTimes [September 1995] article on the front page of this newsletter [CC at the Waldorf-Astoria posing with an ES-150].  The third was taken in 1923 of Charles and his first-grade class at Douglas School, Oklahoma City (originally published with Ralph Ellison’s The Saturday Review story—Ellison’s younger brother, Herbert, was in the same class as Charles).

This book review was originally published in the 1996 Solo Flight: The Charlie Christian Newsletter # 2
LeoValdes
Revised and updated on November 23, 2001

 

 


ANNUAL REVIEW OF

JAZZ STUDIES 6

1993

 

Edited by
Edward Berger, David Cayer, Dan Morgenstern, Lewis Porter
Scarecrow Press
for the
Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers–The State University of New Jersey
1993;  304 pp;  $39.50

 

Annual Review of Jazz Studies 6

 

The sixth volume of the Annual Review of Jazz Studies was published in hardcover format and contains two significant articles on Charlie Christian.  One presents a detailed bibliography of his transcribed solos, the other examines his after-hours recorded sessions in Harlem (Minton’s) and Minneapolis (Harlem Breakfast Club).

There’s also a one-page review by Lewis Porter of Charlie Christian:  The Art of Jazz Guitar, a 32-page softcover book of transcriptions edited by Dan Fox.  This book contains twelve fairly accurate” CC solo transcriptions from his studio recordings with Goodman.  It was originally published in 1964 and reprinted in 1988.

Clive Downs’ excellent treatise, “An Annotated Bibliography of Notated Charlie Christian Solos,” documents all publications containing transcribed solos of CC’s recordings.  Extensive research was done in locating almost fifty different publications that contain CC transcriptions—it includes all (even those that are out-of-print) that I know of and many that I had not been aware of previously.  I was very impressed by the quality and comprehensive detail of his work.

One section lists the publications with a complete description and identifies every solo, with brief discographical information, included in each.

Another section lists each transcribed solo alphabetically by title and provides an analysis of each transcription.  Relevant information, such as completeness, annotations, chord symbols, and key, are noted.

In addition to the two main sections, there is further discussion on solo transcriptions in general and on Charlie Christian in particular.

Very well done and very comprehensive.  I’m proud to say that I contributed to this work with a few minor suggestions.  Unfortunately for me, since Downs’ article covers only published works, my own compleat Charlie Christian transcriptions (close to 200 titles complete with solos, intros, riffs, tags, etc.) are not included.

The major transcription collections listed by Clive Downs are by Stan Ayeroff, Hank Edmonds & Bob Prince, Dan Fox, Howard Spring, and Masayuki Takayanagi.  There’s also a collection of 16 transcriptions for a 1982 thesis at Duquesne University by Mark Antonich but these are derived from previously published sources and can be disregarded.  Even Antonich’s narrative appears to be lifted verbatim from various books and articles.   Freelance Music also has a set of 23 transcriptions but they are poorly photocopied and many are identical to the Dan Fox assemblage.

Stan Ayeroff’s 18 transcriptions are the best-packaged of the lot, part of The Jazz Masters Series that is still readily available from Consolidated Music Publishers.  Dan Fox’s twelve and Edmonds & Prince’s four from Minton’s & Monroe’s are in thin softcovers, also nicely done.  The accuracy in all three books is fairly good and well worth a look, especially at the nominal price.

Howard Spring’s 1980 thesis for York University is the largest collection with fifty transcriptions.  Although a bit sloppy and hard to read, his work is original and accurate.  He didn’t transcribe the more difficult solos, but on those he did, he transcribed the difficult passages exceptionally well—better than the pros mentioned in the last paragraph.  There are some errors here and there and a couple of times he has a problem with the correct key, but they are very good transcriptions with an extensive analysis of Charlie Christian’s improvisational style.  (The analysis looks good—I have yet to read it all, let alone evaluate his analysis.)

The best work by far, however, was done under the supervision of Masayuki Takayanagi.   Their dozen transcriptions are excellent—the most accurate I’ve seen.   Some appear to be duplicates of my own work which, of course, they couldn’t have copied.  The chord names are very exact as well.  There’s even a complete score of Honeysuckle Rose” by the full band.   I only wish I could read Japanese so I could enjoy the narrative in the first part of the book.

This consummate work by Clive Downs is excellent reference material for anyone with cause to look for transcriptions of Charlie Christian’s solo work. It’s very informative and, with its well-configured format, very handy.

[Clive Downs' bibliography can now be found updated in the Bibliography section on this site]

Clive Downs’ 34-page chapter is reason enough to buy the book but there’s also another compelling chapter entitled “Charlie Christian, Bebop, and the Recordings at Minton’s” by Jonathan Finkelman with partial CC solo transcriptions.

In this 17-page chapter, Finkelman discusses Charlie Christian’s pivotal role in the transition of the music from swing to bebop.  In his analysis of CC’s style, he uses examples of the guitarist’s commonly-used phrases (formulas” or licks”) not only from the jam sessions at Minton’s (recorded by Jerry Newman in May 1941) as the title suggests, but also from the after-hours session at the Harlem Breakfast Club (recorded by Jerry Newhouse on September 24, 1939) in Minneapolis, which was briefly described in my previous newsletter.  These phrases are compared to some from Charles’ work with the sextet.

I agree with Finkelman’s cogent analysis and found it to be very interesting.  He ends his essay with source references, a bibliography, and selected discography.  A good piece of work that I enjoyed very much.  Jonathan Finkelman’s writing is highly recommended as one of the better analyses on Charlie Christian’s style—a valid and succinct evaluation.

The entire volume 6 of Annual Review of Jazz Studies is recommended.  There are several book reviews in addition to the one on the Dan Fox book (which is reviewed as part of The Hal Leonard Artist Transcription Series) plus eight other chapters on various subjects.

This book review was originally published in the 1996 Solo Flight: The Charlie Christian Newsletter # 2
LeoValdes
Revised and updated on November 23, 2001

 

 


ANNUAL REVIEW

OF JAZZ STUDIES 7

1994-95

 

Edited by
Edward Berger, David Cayer, Henry Martin,
Dan Morgenstern, Lewis Porter
Scarecrow Press
for the
Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers–The State University of New Jersey
1996;  283 pp;  $39.00

 

Annual Review of Jazz Studies 7

 

The seventh volume of the Annual Review of Jazz Studies contains a most entertaining and informative chapter on Charlie Christian by Jerome S. Shipman. In Search of the Electric Guitar: A Platonic Dialog With Music” is a tongue-in-cheek conversation between a Famous Jazz Critic (FJC) and an Interested Listener (IL) that hypothetically takes place after a lecture by the FJC at a small liberal arts college.  The subject of the discussion concerns the early musical influences on Charlie Christian. Leonard Ware, Eddie Durham, and Django Reinhardt are mentioned, but the better part of the article concentrates on the influence of Western Swing. Specific solos by these early guitarists in Texas and Oklahoma are analyzed.  At the end of the chapter there’s a description of those recordings.

Peter Broadbent’s book [reviewed below], Gary Rhodes’ film [reviewed below], and Shipman’s article (all coincidently released within the past year or so) include a subject which had hardly been touched upon before:   the probable influence of Western Swing on Charlie Christian’s formative years.  OKC was a hot spot for all types of music during the 1920s and 1930s.   In addition to all kinds of jazz,” Shipman also mentions mariachi music, Mexican waltzes, country hoedowns, fiddle tunes, polkas, pop songs, and blues.

There’s little doubt that Charles was involved with all kinds of music.  He loved to jam with whomever was playing.  In the early to mid-1930s, for instance, Charles often jammed with two white brothers, Merle and Doyle Salathiel, and their friends.   Usually they played in south OKC at Salathiel’s Barn,” a dancehall converted from a barn by the the Salathiels’ father.   Sometimes the Salathiels would reciprocate and jam with CC and his friends on Second Street at Bridges’ club.  But always they would jam for hours on end, passing the bottle around without regard to ethnicity.  The two groups simply accepted each other as musicians and as equals.

This book review was originally published in the 1997 Solo Flight: The Charlie Christian Newsletter # 3
LeoValdes
Revised and updated on November 23, 2001

 

 


THE GUITAR IN JAZZ

AN ANTHOLOGY

 

Edited by James Sallis
University of Nebreska Press;  1996;  210 pp;  $30.00

 

The Guitar in Jazz

 

The majority of the chapters in this anthology have been previously published in various other books but James Sallis has done an excellent job in selecting some of the best.  The cover photo is very appropriate:  there are significant references to Charlie Christian in virtually every chapter of the book.

The feature article on CC is Charlie Christian,” a 16-page chapter by Bill Simon from the 1957 anthology The Jazz Makers (less the original selected discography).  Written before much was known about Charles, this was one of the earliest and best-known recountings of the Charlie Christian story.  Other reprints include, also from 1957, The Guitar” by Joachim E. Berendt from The Jazz Book and Leonard Feather’s The Guitar in Jazz” from The Book of Jazz.

Supplementing the works referred to in the reviews above, there is an article on Jazz Guitar and Western Swing” by Michael Price.

This book review was originally published in the 1997 Solo Flight: The Charlie Christian Newsletter # 3
LeoValdes
Revised and updated on November 23, 2001

 

 


CHARLIE CHRISTIAN

 

By Peter Broadbent
Ashley Mark Publishing, UK;  1997;  148 pages;  �15.00
Hal Leonard Publishing, Milwaukee, WI;  1997;  $19.95

 

Charlie Christian

 

Peter Broadbent has put together the most comprehensive book yet published on Charlie Christian.  There’s a chronology of his life;  a discography listing the most important issues;  lots of photographs—I particularly like the photos of many of CC’s LP and CD covers, an idea that I had planned for my own book but would now be redundant;  a bibliography and photos of some of the books and magazines on CC;  and very handy short biographies of the musicians associated with Charles.  This softcover book came out in June 1997 and is a must-have” for every CC fan, at least until the definitive book is published.

The early part of the biography discusses some of Charlie Christian’s influences, including several Western Swing guitarists that may have had some degree of impact on CC’s playing.  Coincidentally, a recent article by Jerome S. Shipment in the Annual Review of Jazz Studies 7, 1994-95 (Scarecrow Press, 1996) entitled In Search of the Electric Guitar:  A Platonic Dialog With Music” also surveys CC’s early musical environment.  Western Swing, which was one of the prominent musics in Oklahoma and Texas during the 1930s, has not been mentioned much in previous overviews.  The biography is well done and accurate.  Broadbent correctly plays down Eddie Durham’s alleged influence on the musical development of Charles.

There’s also an excellent chapter on the guitars of Charlie Christian which were researched by Broadbent.  Peter, incidentally, corrected me a few months ago on the guitar that I had identified in the first newsletter as an L-7.  It is instead an extremely rare Gibson ES-250 (3rd variant) that CC used in March 1941.  It is visually identical to an electrified L-7—there’s a photo of Tony Mottola holding the guitar on page 92 of the book.  Peter also brought to my attention Andr� R. Duchossoir’s definitive book Gibson Electrics:  The Classic Years (Hal Leonard Publishing, 1994) which contains that same photo used in a 1940 Gibson promotion leaflet.  I agree with Broadbent that it was probably the very same instrument that Charlie Christian later used, but there are photos showing CC with the guitar on more than one occasion, so it may not have been only on loan to him from Gibson.

Since we’re on the subject of photographs, I’d like to comment on some of the photo captions.  The photograph on page 24 was not taken at Minton’s but at Charlie Christian’s first Metronome All Stars session on February 7, 1940;  the same comment applies to the one with Gene Krupa on page 89.  Don’t know who’s correct on the one on page 26—I have it as a big-band Columbia recording session on March 27, 1941; Broadbent surmises it was taken at the memorable Solo Flight” session.

CC playing a Vega guitar on page 66 was taken at neither the Metronome All Star nor the sextet recording sessions at the Columbia studios on February 7, 1940, but I have no idea as to the date except that it was evidently before the summer break of that year.  According to Frank Driggs, it was taken at the Golden Gate Ballroom in New York City;  Peter Broadbent tells me that’s Jack Teagarden partially hidden behind CC.  The minor typo on page 75 should read February 5, 1941.

The top photo on page 91 is from the Paramount Theatre, but the gig there started on April 11, 1941.  Also Cootie Williams and Georgie Auld did not join Goodman until November 1940 so it couldn’t be early 1940.  The bottom photo is not from the Paramount: another existing shot from the same gig shows the entire sextet including Bernie Leighton and Harry Jaeger who were with Goodman during November and December of 1940.  Peter Broadbent and I agree on the rest of the photo captions.

The famous shot of Charlie Christian in the white hat (page 18) was taken at his first studio recording date (Lionel Hampton’s session) on September 11, 1939.  The uncropped image of this photo shows a very young-looking Hampton on Charles’ right with, in the background, Ben Webster between them and Dizzy Gillespie over Charles’ left shoulder.

A major portion of Peter Broadbent’s book consists of a discography with one serious flaw:  the omission of Flying Home” from the 9 September 1939 Camel Caravan aircheck.  It was issued for the first time in 1995 on a Swedish double-CD Benny Goodman’s Golden Era:  More Camel Caravans, Vol. III, Phontastic NCD 8845/8846.

I have one more quibble:  the discography lists quite a few catalog numbers that are not listed in Part Twelve (LP Records, CDs, Bibliography).  It’s difficult to identify some of the issues without a label or CD/LP title.  Incidently, catalog number 62681 is listed twice;  I believe the the CBS Realm Jazz should be 52538.

The remainder of my comments on Peter’s book apply to the discography in detail.  Unless you’re a diehard Charlie Christian fanatic, you may want to skip the rest of this article—it does get into a lot of nit-picky trivia.

Personnel

• 24 September 1939:  The Harlem Breakfast Club session.
There was no drummer present on this Minneapolis jam session;  and Oscar Pettiford is definitely the bassist.

• 14 October 1939:  “Ain’t Misbehavin’”
Louis Armstrong is featured on trumpet and vocal with the Goodman Sextet & Orchestra.
(CC was only part of the rhythm section.)

• 31 October 1939:  “Death Letter Blues”
No drums on the mx 25510 takes.

• 25 November 1939:  “St. Louis Blues”
CC is not on this one at all.
(Only Hampton was added to the orchestra.)

• 30 December 1939:  “One O’Clock Jump”
By the Goodman orchestra with Arnold Covay on rhythm guitar—no CC.

• 20 March 1940:  “Memories of You”
This was a 22 March gig—the 20th date was a typo in Russ Conner’s book.
CC missed this gig;  it was a
quintet” aircheck.

• 4 October 1940:  Eddy Howard studio session.
Bill Coleman (tpt) and Bud Freeman (ts) are also on this date;  Coleman and Hall are not on
Star Dust.”

• 10 February 1941:  “Flying Home”
The Goodman orchestra is on the final chorus.

• 4 March 1941:  “Solo Flight”
Johnny Guarnieri is on piano.

• 13 March 1941:  Waitin’ for Benny” jams.
No bassist during this extraordinary jam session.
Artie Bernstein and Goodman came in later for the scheduled recording session.
(One of the tunes should have been called
Waitin’ for Artie & Benny” instead of just Waitin’ for Benny”)
Cootie is not on the last three tunes of the jam.

• 5 May 1941:  “Flying Home”
The Goodman orchestra is on the final chorus.

• 8 May 1941:  “Stompin’ at the Savoy”
This extremely rare, never-issued jam session recorded at Minton’s Playhouse is not listed in Broadbent’s book.
CC plays a two-chorus solo and can also be heard on the collective improvisation which makes up the last five choruses of the 17-chorus jam.
The other participants are said to be Rudy Williams (as), Don Byas (ts), Kermit Scott (ts), Joe Guy (tpt), Hot Lips Page (tpt),
Tex” (pno), Nick Fenton (b), Kenny Clarke (d).

• May 1941:  The Minton’s/Monroe’s jam sessions.
It’s impossible to be certain of all the personnel, but those listed here are about as close as you can get.
(A. Tinney and T. Miller are Allen Tinney and Taps Miller.)

CD/LP Issues

• Eleven (side 1 & the last 3 tracks on side 2) of the 47 tracks on CBS/Sony LP 56AP 674-6 are not identified as being on the 3-LP box set:
—mx WCO 26132 A, 26133 A, 26134 A from 2 Oct 1939
—WCO 26284 A & B, 26285 B, 26286 A, 26290 A from 22 Nov 1939
—three tracks (with the two
I Got Rhythm” takes spliced together) from 24 Sep 1939

• 22 November 1939 WCO 26284 A:
Peter claims his copy has
Memories of You” on CD11.15.
Breakfast Feud” [CO 29259-4 (2)] is on track 15 of my copy of Le Jazz CD 11.
The inserts and booklets in both CDs list
Breakfast Feud.”

• 2 December 1939 AC-DC Current”:
My copy of Jazz Archives LP JA42 has the 27 November 1939 version of
AC-DC Current”
(the one with Goodman shouting
Hi-Ho, Bernstein” during the bass solo).

• 20 December 1939 WCO 26354 (bkdn):
TPZ1017.8 should be listed under WCO 26354 A.

• 7 February 1940 WCO 26495 A:
4032.9 should be listed under WCO 26495 B.

• 19 December 1940 CO 29259- (3):
MJCD67.14 contains this take spliced with CO 29259- (4) not quite the same as Broadbent’s CO 29259-S(a).

• 15 January 1941 CO 29512-4:
56AP676.1/4 should be listed under CO 29512-S(b).

• 15 January 1941 CO 29519-1:
465679.17 & 45144.17 should be listed under CO 29519-3.

• 3 March 1941:
Six Appeal” is not on BEKOG14800.

• 13 March 1941: A Smo-o-o-oth One”
a test pressing was found (circa 1980) that identified the take on MJCD74.11 as CO 29942-1.

There are also some inaccuracies as to which takes are on the various spliced recordings that have been released of
Benny’s Bugle,” Breakfast Feud,” and Good Enough to Keep.”
[A graphic outline of the sliced issues can be found in The Spliced Recordings section on this website]

[A much-revised and better organized edition of this book is scheduled for 2002]

This book review was originally published in the 1997 Solo Flight: The Charlie Christian Newsletter # 3
LeoValdes
Revised and updated on November 23, 2001

 

 


CHARLIE CHRISTIAN

SOLO FLIGHT

THE STORY OF
THE SEMINAL ELECTRIC GUITARIST

 

By Peter Broadbent
Ashley Mark Publishing, UK;  2003;  148 pages;  �25.00
Hal Leonard Publishing, Milwaukee, WI;  2003;  $19.95

 

Seminal Electric Guitarist

 

Peter Broadbent.  “Charlie Christian:  Solo Flight – The Seminal Electric Guitarist.”
Ashley Mark;  Hal Leonard.  (Second Edition).  2003.  USA $19.95.

Despite his importance in jazz, Charlie Christian has never, before Broadbent’s work, been honoured with a book length biography.  Broadbent presents a chronological account over thirteen chapters, followed by eight appendices covering such items as CC’s musical style, technical details of his guitars and amplifiers, a bibliography and a discography.  There are many illustrations, including photographs, ephemera, reproductions of record labels, certificates and other documents.

In evaluating any work, one should if possible take account of the author’s intention.  As far as I can tell, Broadbent does not explicitly state what his aim is;  I assume the aim was to write an authoritative account of the life and influence of CC.  But to judge a biography one might also assess its originality, comprehensiveness, quality of the research, the author’s judgment in evaluating and synthesizing the source material, and the coherence of the finished narrative.

It is clear that Broadbent has carried out many interviews with people who knew CC personally, or through his music, and has reviewed documentary material and previous literature (I believe though, although he is not explicit about this, that he has not included details of all sources reviewed;  for instance I doubt that he would have ignored Ralph Ellison’s work, but it is not listed in the Bibliography).

Clearly there is much new material about CC that Broadbent has been able to discover.  However, I feel there are three main problems with the way the biography is presented and was researched.

The author fails to blend into a flowing narrative the disparate accounts of CC provided by the interviewees and documentary sources.  Much of the text consists of verbatim quotes:  Broadbent states that he prefers to present his research this way, as the interviewee’s words are more ‘powerful and revealing.’  I would suggest this is a rhetorical comment that perhaps attempts to defend a failure to evaluate and synthesize the various accounts.  A more effective way of telling the story would be an account that was more coherent.  The ratio of quotes to author text is too great to give a smooth narrative and makes for a text that is uncomfortable to read.  It would have been better to have summarized more of interviews in the narrative.

Secondly, Broadbent seems to find it difficult to make judgments about what is relevant and what is peripheral and thus on what to omit and what to include.   The choice of material is often indiscriminate.  For instance, on pp. 80-81, most of the text is taken up with extensive quotes from Goodman band members about TWA flights, the Steel Pier venue (including a horse act that dived into the sea), and the Michigan State Fair – there is nothing directly about Charlie Christian:  this is background material that really could, I think, have been better dealt with by a short summary or perhaps by omitting it altogether.

Similarly, on p. 115, there is quote from Allen Tinney that has about three lines on CC and the rest (a whole column) is concerned with background information on Monroe’s Uptown House that is really only of marginal importance.  Yes, we are interested in knowing what this important venue was like, but the balance of such information with CC-specific detail seems wrong.  The comments about CC by Tinney are bland and generalized, to the effect that CC was “a very nice person,” and that he was “serious” and a dapper dresser.  I would question whether these really were worth including.

Problems about what to include apply not only to biographical items but also to other subject matter.  Information on the symptomatology of TB and the technicalities of guitar amplification (even taking into account some specialist readers) contain irrelevant detail and obscure technical language;  such information would have much better been summarized.

Many of the quotes contain statements that are virtually unintelligible.  An example is on p. 82. – a quote from Jimmy Gourley:

I said (to Kenny Clarke) ‘Jeez Kenny its Benny Goodman’ he’d come down because he knew Kenny from the old days. We were sitting around talking and finally I said ‘Benny, about Charlie Christian you know’ and Benny turned to Kenny and said ‘Charlie was sick wasn’t he?’ Can you imagine that? It was unbelievable and I couldn’t go on after that, but Benny was kind of a nutty guy.

It is very difficult to understand what Jimmy Gourley could have meant.   It seems he was surprised by Goodman’s response but both the question and the reply are so vague that one cannot really make much sense of this exchange.  It may be that the original interview with Gourley has further clues, but as it stands the quote really is quite obscure.  When the interview was conducted the interviewer should have pressed the speaker to explain what he meant.  Alternatively I would suggest that the quote is so obscure that it might have been omitted.

There are many further examples of verbatim quotes from interviews with sections that are almost uninterpretable, and thus, unfortunately, meaningless.

To interview people effectively requires very specialist skills; how to pose questions, to probe for further information, to clarify answers that are vague, and so on.  The difficulties of face-face interviewing may be worse when interviewing by telephone.  These skills are called for in social research, oral history, and in researching for biographies.  Many people underestimate the degree of skill needed.

It is an extremely difficult task to try to evaluate the sometimes conflicting and confusing accounts of CC’s life and synthesize them into a single flowing, convincing narrative.  One is inevitably almost overcome by the sheer complexity of it all.  Yet I believe this is precisely the task that the biographer must confront. Biographies such as Daniel Epstein’s “Nat King Cole,” or the history of Western Swing, Charles R. Townsend’s “San Antonio Rose:  The Life and Music of Bob Wills” very successfully synthesize the source material in a completely convincing way.  Each source is documented in scrupulous detail, the narrative flows;  a vivid picture of events emerges.

In general the photographs are of rather poor quality.  Although in some cases the originals are perhaps not very good, in other cases the method of reproduction used for the book must be at fault.  For example the well-known photograph of CC leaving Oklahoma City in 1939 (on p. 71) is usually seen in a much sharper image than in this instance.  The format, font size and general design seems to position the book as an item intended for guitarists rather than a more general musical biography readership.  It seems to fit with books such as Roger Chapman’s “Guitar:  Music . History . Players” that appeal to guitar collectors and the like.

As well as the biography (which in a sense is the centre of the work), Broadbent also presents an appendix on CC’s music, and a discography.   Discographies have a special importance in jazz research.  Typical biographies in what might be called the literary idiom (eg Epstein’s mentioned above) usually contain only selective discographies that seem superficial compared to the exacting standards of specialist jazz discographies.  Usually the latter are published solely as discographies, are comprehensive and include exhaustive details of personnel, issues, venues, etc.  There is a related form typified by works such as Edward Brooks’ “The Bessie Smith Companion” (and perhaps Ian McDonald’s “Revolution in the Head” – a similar work on the Beatles) that present a chronological, in-depth review of every recording by an artist.  I would suggest that this kind of approach would have been very interesting in CC’s case.

Though described as a discography, this section of Broadbent’s book is not a complete discography in the normal sense of the word, as it lists only one instead of every or most issues of each recording.  It is rather a disappointment that there is no full discography as there are many CC collectors who have followed with interest the evolution of CC discographical research, starting with John Callis’s pioneering work, through Jan Evensmo’s innovative solography format, then the additional material published in Russ Connor’s Benny Goodman bio-discography, through the comprehensive work of Leo Valdes in his web site.

The discussion of musical analysis presents only one extended quote from Howard Spring’s work.  Even a superficial review of this topic should, I think, at least acknowledge the wide range of published analysis of CC’s playing (including for instance, Schuller, Finkelman, and Marshall), and attempt some comparative evaluation of each.  It is inadequate to simply quote a source without any comment, and particularly to refer to only one such source.

I think this is a significant fault because, as suggested earlier, an integral part of a biography of CC should be an assessment of his historical significance.   Musical analysis of CC’s innovations, his relationship to Bop, and other technical issues, would I think form an essential element of an assessment.

There is much interesting and valuable information presented in this biography and clearly the author has carried out a great deal of original research.   I am sure that many people interested in CC’s life and music will want to read the book and will find it of interest.  Indeed, any CC fan would find it essential reading.  Unfortunately the useful material is rather marred by the presentation and frequent irrelevant information.

Yet Broadbent has in the course of his research into CC done much for which CC fans will be eternally grateful. Peter’s tenacity enabled him to acquire the famous lost “Stompin’ at the Savoy” recording.  Through his generosity, that recording was published, rather than kept privately and denied to the many fans who had known of its existence.  Although I do not know full details of Peter’s role in the collation of material for the Columbia Legacy issue, I suspect that he played a key part in researching the archive and ultimately in making sure that, again, the priceless unreleased takes were finally published for everyone to enjoy.

It is much easier to criticize a book than to write one oneself.   Although few critics acknowledge this point, it is undoubtedly true – I suspect that many critics have not themselves successfully produced works of similar complexity to those they evaluate.  As one who has considered writing a book on CC (but never risen to the challenge), I am certainly aware of this irony.  At the same time, any reader of a work surely has an opinion and may reasonably express it, provided it is supported by some evidence and reasoned argument.  My opinions expressed here are purely my own, and every reader will have their own.  I hope though that I have given a balanced evaluation of this particular work.

Reviewed by CLIVE DOWNS

LeoValdes 12 July 2004

 

 


 

 

VIDEO REVIEWS

 

 


SOLO FLIGHT

THE GENIUS OF CHARLIE CHRISTIAN

 

written & directed by Gary Don Rhodes
V.I.E.W. Video 1353;  1997;  $19.95

 

Solo Flight

 

Gary Don Rhodes’ film on Charlie Christian was finally released on videocassette late last year.  The filmmaker from Norman, Oklahoma, has done a considerable amount of research on Charles’ life and times in Oklahoma City and on jazz in OKC during its heyday—probably more than anyone else.  This video is a re-edited version of the original film that premiered to a live audience at the Fannin County Museum of History in Bonham, Texas, on April 20, 1992 to raise money for the Texas historical marker now at Charlie Christian’s grave site.  Exactly a month later the original was telecast over Oklahoma PBS station OETA.

This thirty-one minute documentary presents CC’s life, his influences, and the considerable impact that he had on the history of jazz.   The influence that he had on the racial desegragation in jazz, especially before he gained national prominence, is well covered.  Since there is no extant movie footage of CC, the narration is backed by many photos of Charles, his fellow musicians, and OKC’s Second Street area (both from the 1930s and the present day) where he grew up and played in the local clubs.  Rhodes was wise not to film his work in color—it comes together with the featured photographs much better this way.

Gary starts his film with an ingenious opening:  the sextet’s Carnegie Hall broadcast coming from a vintage radio.  Film time is shared just about equally by John Jones’ narrative and more than a dozen interviews with people who knew Charles in OKC and Bonham.  The updated version has added interviews with “legendary jazz vibraphonist” Lionel Hampton and “legendary jazz guitarist” Herb Ellis.  Throughout the video, the recordings of Charlie Christian can be heard in the background.

Although Charles’ daughter was very young at the time and moved away from the OKC area before her father joined Goodman, I would have liked to have seen an interview with Billie Jean Christian Johnson—she could have given a broader insight by discussing later events (especially her close relationship with her uncle, Clarence) and telling about the honors she has accepted on her father’s behalf.  There is a wonderful interview with her mother, Margretta Christian Downey, though.

Incidently, Rhodes had no input on the notes on the back of the video box cover which, to his consternation and embarrassment, incorrectly lists Charlie Christian’s year of birth.  If you haven’t seen Gary’s film yet, you need to sit down and order a copy of this videocassette ASAP.

This video review was originally published in the 1997 Solo Flight: The Charlie Christian Newsletter # 3
LeoValdes
Revised and updated on November 23, 2001

 


 

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