The finale of the 1939 “From Spirituals to Swing” concert was a wild
affair with soloists from the Count Basie band and Benny Goodman sextet plus
–six– piano soloists on Oh, Lady Be Good which is taken at an
almost frantic clip. At intervals, the full Basie band also joins in to
provide orchestral fanfare.
The initial release of this concert recording came twenty years later on the
Solomon brothers’ Vanguard label in a two-LP box set in 1959. In the
meantime John Hammond, who had originally conceived and presented the
concert, had dubbed in sham announcements to the tracks. This boxed set
contained a spliced version of Oh, Lady Be Good that inexplicably removed
the third chorus of Charlie Christian’s first solo. Forty years after that,
in 1999, Vanguard Records finally issued the tune with the complete guitar
solo intact (but enigmatically omitting Basie’s 8-bar piano intro) along
with both of Hammond’s entire Carnegie Hall concerts on a triple-CD set.
Providentially, Charles is favored with considerable solo space on Oh, Lady
Be Good, far more than are any of the other plentiful contributors, on this
Charles is full of surprises. The guitar solo starts out strongly as usual
but with seemingly straightforward phrases – that soon changes. He quickly
gathers more momentum perceptibly gaining exhilaration from his own
artistry. It isn’t long before he has the audience shouting out ebullient
encouragement. On mm 12-13 he plays a familiar phrase presented with a most
unfamiliar approach. Straddling bars 18 and19 are two unique five-note
sequences repeated with very disparate lines of attack. Measures 22-23 start
off with the same D7 run as on 12-13 but then it veers off almost
immediately on a different path. There’s actually uncommon phrasing in just
about every bar until CC plays the repeated Gs on the last bars waiting for
the ensemble to come in, do their thing and get out of the way so he can
continue his solo.
The first chorus had remained pretty much in the lower guitar range; after
the ensemble is done Charles goes into the upper-most range with a grand
slide. In the next eight bars (second A-section) he marks some time with
repeated sixths (E♮), some favorite riffs and phrases, then comes an
extraordinarily imaginative entry into a brilliant four bars on the bridge.
It is sheer joy playing these four bars on the guitar. The next four bars of
the bridge brings on a change-up in approach that continues to the end of
the chorus. Actually, playing the last four bars of the chorus is very
After a long-held double-stop, Charles lays out, twice, while the Basie-ites
do their band-riff thing, first time improvised, second time orchestrated.
The note groupings at bars 7 and 18 are very similar but come from different
harmonies (D7 in the former,
C in the latter) into the base chord (G).
He plays a familiar sixth sequence (C6) on bar 17 which is somewhat
related to the one on mm 21-22 of the first chorus; then he skips over the diminished harmony at bar 18 which
he acknowledged on the other three choruses.
We get an unexpected, special bonus when Charles gets called on to take the
best part of the final chorus. His guitar solo begins three full beats
before the actual bridge comes in. On mm 19-20 CC plays a variation on the
sequence at bar 17 on the third chorus of his main solo: here it’s auxiliary
notes on fret 11, the chord (G6) on the 12th fret.
With a track length of this unusually long duration and so many soloists
coming and going, Charles role tends to go relatively unremembered among his
other works but, take heed, these are excellent solos and should be given
their due. Top-notch Charlie Christian, with several passages that cannot be