Most jazz cognoscenti, especially guitarists, consider Charlie Christians two
solos on Topsy to be his crowning glory. I would have to say
theyre among the best jazz guitar solos ever, equaled only by a few of CCs
own; and among the very best by any instrumentalist. Interestingly, its
in a minor key. Recorded at a jam session on an acetate recorder by Jerry
Newman, the entire 10-minute recording of this tune consists of fifteen choruses plus a
partial chorus (guitar) at the beginning of the recording and a partial chorus (trumpet)
at the end.
First CC Solo
First Solo 1st Chorus
The incomplete recording begins halfway into the sixth measure with Charlie Christian
already in full flight. The bridge is not typical in that CC does not let loose with
his usual eighth-note runs herehe starts out like its going to be a release
but then pulls back with interesting (especially the F7
measure) non-bridge phrasing. He closes out the chorus with eight bars
of repeated three-note, ascending riffs spaced out by varying rests.
First Solo 2nd Chorus
He now begins increasingly intensifying his solo on the first sixteen barslonger
runs and more rhythmically intense starts (mm 5 and 15). And heres the way
Charles normally plays a release. He starts the bridge with a unique Bb7 phrase (beginning with an open-string D) then slides beautifully up to the Eb7.
The Ab7 that crosses mm 21-22 is a typical
CC phrase, as is the F7 that crosses mm 23-24
except that here the F7 is not syncopated (it
appears two choruses later in its usual rhythm). On the last eight bars, he again
plays varying clusters of repeated, ascending riffs but this time consisting of four notes
preceded by a lead-in at bar 25.
First Solo 3rd Chorus
After letting the solo simmer for a few bars, Charlie Christian again starts turning up
the burnersmost notably at mm 7-9. Then he really rips off an extraordinary
bridge with tremendous drive. Except for the two open-string Ds at bars 21 and 22, the phrases are not that unusual but he
plays them with enormous, resourceful exuberance.
Just when the listener expects him to let off a bit for the following A section, he suddenly throws in another swoop (as on
bar 18 of the previous chorus) to the higher frets to play a run that he played on mm 5-7
on the previous chorus. But here he stretches out that sequence by inserting rests
between each notewhich are all placed on the upbeat. He finally relaxes a bit
on the last three bars of the chorus. Charles very softly plays four notes across
the last two bars of this chorusand two Bbs
less noticeably at bar 16just pawing at the strings as he gets ready to charge into
his next concatenation, somewhat like he does more distinctly on the following chorus,
also at bar 16.
First Solo 4th Chorus
Charles riffs for the first eight bars, throws in some common licks for the next eight
(compare mm 13-15 with the same measures on the first chorus), then paws at three Bbs (bar 16) to set himself up for the bridge. The first
bar of the bridge has one of CCs standard phrasesthe first four notes are
always played straight (not syncopated)as does bar 20 which has a phrase that again
makes an appearance in modified form 3ï¿½ bars later in the F7.
This time Charlie Christian doesnt loosen up for the last eight bars of this
chorus, especially not so with those ingenious triplets where he picks every 1ï¿½ beats
alternating between upbeat and downbeat for the last four measuresexceedingly hip.
First Solo 5th Chorus
On the first bar of the chorus, it seems as though Charles is going to continue with the
trills but instead he brilliantly pulls out of them with some ideal riffs. This
fifth chorus is without a doubt the most-remembered chorus on this revered solo for a
couple of reasons. The twelve Cs (6ths)
repeated sequentially across most of the Ebm (mm 9-12) for one. But especially for
the fantastic four-note chromatic clusters that begin two beats before the bridge, first
ascending for the Bb7, then descending on the Eb7. During the sequence Charlie Christian hits open
strings on every other upbeat eight times! The way he
cleverly closes out the run on mm 20-21 is absolutely perfect.
The rest of the bridge is standard CC indeed, the F7 phrase
(bar 24) is a repeat from the previous chorusbut notice the Db phrase (bar 23) comes in almost a whole measure
early. The last eight bars start out with spaced upbeat notes similar to mm 26-28 of
the third chorus followed by some really swinging lines. The last measure introduces
the next chorus.
First Solo 6th Chorus
This chorus starts with Charles playing phrases with five flatted-fifths. At
measures 9-12, he plays some repeated Ab7
(relative dom7 of the Ebm)
figures which are not that uncommon but never found to this length. Another phrase
that can be found in a few of his solos is at mm 14-15, preceded by six repeated
tonicsthis time it sounds like CC is not using alternating stringsthen,
without missing a beat, he flies into the last bridge in his solo. His licks on the
bridge are perfectly strung together. Especially beautiful is the Eb7 part (mm18-20). Then theres one final four-bar
flourish right after the bridge followed by a brilliantly simple little turn at mm 30-31.
Finally the torrential flow of ideas comes to an end and Charles fades out with
four repeated figures. He would return six choruses later for another solo with
three more choruses.
Between Charles two solos: Joe Guy comes in for four trumpet choruses
followed by two excellent choruses from pianist Kenny Kersey (not
Thelonious Monk who is listed on album covers and liner notesand even on
Newmans original acetate).
Second CC Solo
Second Solo 1st Chorus
For the his second solo, Charles starts by playing his Basie-influenced interpretation of
the theme for the first half of the chorus. This is very unusual for him and it
might lead the listener to believe that he is wrapping it up even though he is swinging
the theme like no one else. But then he really starts cranking it up at the
bridge. His work on mm 25-27 is embellished on mm 13-15 of the following chorus.
Second Solo 2nd Chorus
The first four bars contain a variant of the shifty maneuvers he played at the same point
on the last chorus of his first solo. I really cant define the next twelve
bars, but I will say that all sixteen bars before the bridge are a blastI can just
about imagine how CC must have enjoyed coming up with such effortless ingenuity.
Charles starts out the bridge as he did in the fourth chorus of his first solo, but this
time he repeats the first four notes three timesthe first time he starts on the
down-beat, the second time he delays the start slightly (between the down-beat and the
up-beat), the third time its on the up-beatamazing rhythmic mastery.
After the bridge, theres some triplets (mm 25-27) something like those on the last
four bars of the fourth chorus on his first solo, followed by repeated four-note clusters.
Second Solo 3rd Chorus
The first half of the chorus consists of easy swinging riffs. The bridge includes
six measures of some fascinating four-note figures varied to fit the chord changes.
A few very soft notes at mm 27-28 set up more repeated four-note clusters to take it out.
Charlie Christians second solo doesnt quite reach the level of his first
but it is still exceptional by any other standard. Joe Guys second trumpet
solo follows, during which the recording cuts off after a chorus and 23 bars. Only
the first 17 bars of the trumpet solo have ever been released, no doubt due to the
recording getting extremely noisy after that. I would like to add that Klooks
drum support on CCs solos is exceptional.