Among of the first sessions contracted by Alfred Lion’s incipient Blue
Note Records label was with The Edmond Hall Celeste Quartet (emphasis on
celeste) with Charles on acoustic guitar and the gifted Israel Crosby on
Jammin’ in Four was the first tune on the agenda, a fast blues
with 18 choruses, five of which are given to the guitarist – bless Lion for
his exceptionally long-length releases. The guitar highlight
eventually appears following long solos by the celeste and clarinet.
As Charlie Christian’s feature unfolds, one is promptly struck by the long lines in his solo with
few, or no, pauses between phrases – strikingly unusual for a blues.
Once he established himself in the first couple bars, Charles unrelentingly
went on from idea to idea to idea for all five choruses with,
uncharacteristically, the briefest of rests. Beautiful lines – with, if one
can make them out, nicely placed details. Close attention will reward the
listener with the fine touches the guitarist has put into the piece. It is
an unrelenting display of masterful artistry – exceptionally inventive.
Last guitar-solo chorus, mm 4-8: we’ve heard a form of this sequence on
other CC solos but never like this. It’s quite a display of guitaristic and,
especially, musical creativity. Unique application, infused with blues.
Meade Lux Lewis is a fine pianist and, on this outing, his celeste solos are
almost tolerable but the amateurish comping during the other’ solos is worse
than a nuisance – overwhelmingly unpropitious, especially on this tune. This
may be the most difficult studio recording encountered in working on CC
transcriptions. The bassist, on the other hand, is superlative and crisply
Charlie Christian was rarely, if ever, effected by adverse conditions. He
seemed to live in a perfect musical world and went about his brilliant
business as if there are no flaws in the surroundings. Unfortunately, we,
the listeners, must contend with all the superfluous crap on the recordings.
This is one excellent solo that would be much more appreciated under better
NB: One of the top two bassists of the era, Israel Crosby had notably
recorded in his teens with Teddy Wilson. Later, he went on to more
wide-spread fame in the mid-1950s and into the 1960s with the Ahmad Jamal
Trio. He was a couple of years younger than Charles; died at only
forty-three. It has also been reported that Crosby recorded the first jazz
bass solo in history – at the age of sixteen.
After Word: After preparing the Jammin’ in Four transcription for uploading
to the CC website, I happened to listen to John Coltrane’s recently released
“Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album” and I was immediately floored by
how much of Charlie Christian I could hear in Coltrane’s solos. I had not
listened to any Coltrane in ages and I was amazed by my being able to
effortlessly conceptualize how easily Charles would have fit in with Trane’s
“Classic Quartet” with only a slight adjustment in the rhythm decorum – from swing/bop to
avant-garde or whatever it was called in 1963. Actually, it shouldn’t be too
shocking – there’s only a decade between their births and two between the
“celeste quartet” and the now 55-year-old “classic quartet” recordings.
Indeed, what Charles was playing could have easily been called avant-garde
at that time; it certainly caused quite a stir in the jazz community.
Coltrane and Christian are, undeniably, kindred bluesmen; their approaches
to their respective instruments and to their solo excursions were remarkably
similar and, not incidentally, both practitioners were entirely dedicated to
That new “lost” Coltrane release is quite good, by the way – it’s really got
as much blues in it as the notable “Coltrane Plays The Blues” album.