Posts Tagged charlie christian
I was contacted via Twitter by Brad and had a listen to his Youtube channel and loved what I heard; tasteful, in the tradition but not in anyway painting by numbers if that makes sense- check it out. I was glad he agreed to an interview. Thanks Brad!
What/who were your initial influences?
My very earliest influences were stacks of 45 RPM records my parents owned. Scotty Moore with Elvis Presley was a big one, Steve Cropper with Otis Redding was another. At 12 I was exposed to Hendrix, and at 15 to Wes Montgomery and Grant Green. Then I started going out as a teenager in my hometown of Memphis to hear Calvin Newborn at least one night per week— this was in the late 1990s. But my single biggest guitarist-influence, to this day, is Charlie Christian— such an incredible sound and conception, and true, deep feeling in every note. His influence exploded out in every direction— through Wes and Benson obviously, but also through T-Bone Walker into the blues, then Junior Barnard on the country side of things, and Chuck Berry and beyond into rock. Charlie Christian is truly the electric guitar’s ‘big bang.’ More than guitarists, though, I’m most influenced by any musician who delivers real depth of feeling and real, honest individuality. There are too many to list, and fortunately there’s no reason to narrow it down.
Are you gigging much at the moment and any projects in the pipeline?
I’m doing a lot of writing and producing these days, in all sorts of idioms, and a fair amount of performing. Not all of it is improvisation-centered. Last year I worked and toured quite extensively with vocalist José James, and currently I’m playing and writing a bit with artists like Kris Bowers, Cory Henry, Samora Pinderhughes, and Sly5thAve, as well as some more song-oriented projects with lots of great artists like Adesuwa, Kimberly Nichole, and more. Really just staying busy and keeping my vision very broad. My organ trio record, which features Pat Bianchi on B3 and Tyshawn Sorey on drums, comes out 4 September. I’m very excited to see the public’s reaction to Tyshawn’s organ trio drumming, which is fantastic. So many music lovers know his work in contexts very different from this, so I think a lot of people are going to really get a thrill from hearing him like this.
It was an interesting project in that we decided to do an entirely analogue capture the whole way through— we tracked and mixed to tape, and Scott Hull cut a great-sounding lacquer master from razor-blade sequenced quarter-inch reels. The LP edition will have never touched a computer at all, and I chose this way of working with a very clear musical result in mind. Rather than having the temptation to fix and edit, I wanted to enforce being true to the feeling of the moment. What was most interesting to me were all of the little things that bothered me initially. Most of those came to be some of my favorite parts of the record once it aged a bit— there’s real humanity there, and with modern recording workflows, a lot of this humanity gets eroded through little fixes, edits, and punches. I think this is because humanity and vulnerability, while engaging to audiences, can be uncomfortable when it’s your humanity and vulnerability!
What’s your ‘desert island’ guitar or have you got it!?
I have always liked guitars— I have 20 currently. I’ve always, from the very beginning, liked to have a lot of guitars around. Amps, too! So it would be hard to pick one. At any rate, things like makes, models, and vintages are purely academic to me— I have to play a particular guitar before I know if it speaks to me or not. Another of the exact same make, model, year might not strike me the same way. There are some I own that were particularly obvious to me the first time I picked them up. I have this 1953 Epiphone Triumph Regent that someone added a pickup to in 1954. It’s a carved-top guitar—it was an acoustic originally—and the pickup was bought out of a catalog, made by Carvin in the mid-1950s. I also have a blue 1962 Fender Jazzmaster that I’d never sell, and a 1944 Gibson Southern Jumbo flat top.
Most of my guitars are old; I tend to like the ones that have been played a lot. Sometimes I feel that as with any other tool that’s worked with in the hand a lot, like they can somehow accumulate personality. That probably sounds weird. But in the end, there’s music in any guitar— it’s up to the player to find out what the guitar does and how it can be worked-with, creatively. I’m a big fan of old inexpensive guitars, for instance— there’s almost always something they do that is unique and characterful. I’d be happy with almost any guitar on a desert island, I think!
Best guitar gig you’ve ever seen?
There’s one that comes to mind for me that I’ve talked about a few times since. I was about 18 years old and went to see B.B. King in Hattiesburg, Mississippi; the hall held about 8,000 people. I was young, deep into jazz guitar studies, trying to get my hands around all the technique and my ears around all the harmony. Mr. King had a second guitarist with him— a young kid playing a big archtop— and he gave this kid the first solo of the show. The kid played great; lots of notes, some bebop-inspired language, and I remember thinking “wow, I’ve heard the B.B. King records; I know he’s not going to play more stuff than this guy!” After the younger player’s solo, which finished to polite applause, B.B. King played a single note— one of those stinging upper register notes he’s so famous for. The energy in the hall immediately elevated to this transcendent place— you could feel the electricity of the whole crowd’s emotions being stirred simultaneously. It was a transformative moment for me, because it caused me in one instant to completely re-evaluate what was important to me in music. From that point on, the question was always “is this idea in service of some kind of feeling?” Because it’s not enough, to me, to just be a clever idea or an impressive thing to demonstrate. If it’s not working toward making me feel what B.B. King made that whole hall feel that day, then it’s not what I’m after.
Which guitarist(s) would you recommend for other people to check out?
Well, there are all the usual ones— the legends. Charlie Christian gets a shout-out, again. Freddie Green was always another big hero of mine, due to his deep concept as a rhythm section player. For me, there’s a whole school of Memphis session guitarists that are just my favorite lately. The late Mabon “Teenie” Hodges, Skip Pitts, Michael Toles, Bobby Manuel, Steve Cropper, and— above them all, to me— the great Reggie Young. Most of your readers have heard these players somewhere or other; as session players they were all incredibly prolific, and on some important records. There are some others that are so worth checking out that don’t get as much talk these days— Oscar Moore, George Van Eps, Gene Bertoncini… As for current players, my friend Charlie Hunter has a fabulous new record out with Curtis Fowlkes and Bobby Previte. Isaiah Sharkey is another player I’m really impressed by, as is Tony Scherr… his slide work is so full of real feeling. There are really too many great ones to name.
We’ve all got our own story of how we came to love jazz music and specifically jazz guitar, maybe some of you came to it recently or some of you were lucky enough to have been exposed to it at a younger age. For me I was lucky enough when I was 15 to be leant an album on cassette called “The Jazz Guitar Album” and it all started there for me. As a teenager in my bedroom playing guitar, listening to The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix the jazz guitar tape give me lots of questions but sadly not very many answers -’what on earth were they playing!?’ Although I didn’t *dislike* it, I didn’t really know what to make of it either. The names on the tape sounded very exotic like the music within – Oscar Moore, Django Reinhardt, Bola Sete, Herb Ellis etc.
“The Jazz Guitar Album” Verve 2683065
1. Howard Roberts – Relaxin’ At Camarillo
Talk about a shot in the arm to start with! A great Parker bop track taken with incredible energy and an all round great group performance. I love the solo he takes on this; a less natural intuitive guitarist may have gone for another take to try and get it ‘perfect’ but you’d never get close to this again. For such a great natural guitarist it’s interesting to note that he’s remembered more for his involvement with education.
2. Kenny Burrell – Terrace Theme
Cool. Very cool. This track sounds like it might be a straight forward blues but then shows it’s hand with some slinky harmony over the B section. What a sound Kenny gets, I’m not sure anyone got a sound like him in jazz/blues.
3. Billy Bauer – It’s A Blue World
If you talk to any guitarist about close harmony jazz guitar they will no doubt (and quite rightly) talk about Johnny Smith BUT one of the greatest exponents was Billy Bauer. One of the (almost) forgotten greats of jazz guitar, please do search out this track as it’s such a great performance and if anyone has time to transcribe it then drop me a line!
4. Les Spann – Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams
Ah Dizzy Gillespie, one of my obsessions from a few years ago (and the name of my cat). This tune is not one that many modern jazzers have played (Bill Evans did as well as Diz) and I’m not sure why as it’s a great tune with some great movement in the chords in the B section to play off. Not content with being a great guitarist Les Spann was a flute player of great skill too.
5. Charlie Christian – AC-DC Current
One of the founding forefathers of the modern jazz guitar movement. Still can’t fathom how he imagined and played all that great music before passing away too young at only 25 years old- just think about that!
6. Barney Kessel – All The Things You Are
7. Herb Ellis – Gravy Waltz
Two more masters of jazz guitar. Such great taste and tone; performances like these makes you realise why they were such legends.
8. Jim Hall – All Across The City
This really stuck out in amongst the other tracks on this album and it’s such a sparse arrangement compared to a lot of the others just featuring Bill Evans and Jim. A lovely melody and one that sticks with you and makes you realise that sometimes less is more.
9. Bola Sete – Soul Samba
Bola was discovered by Dizzy Gillespie and went on to carve out a great career which blended together Samba and Jazz in a creative and energetic way, miles apart from the Bossa Nova movement. In recent years having seen his performances on Youtube I can say that he was the happiest guitarist in the world, so infectious! To my ears at the time this tune sounded a little odder compared to the others, less chord movement but more rhythm and percussion in the guitar playing. What a master!
10. Grant Green – That Lucky Old Sun
I could write an essay on Grant Green (maybe I will one day) and how he influenced my playing. I go through Grant Green obsessional phases every so often but I have to say that this isn’t in my favourites list. It’s not a bad performance (except maybe the slightly out of tune flute) but there’s lots more to celebrate in the Grant Green back catalogue.
11. Tal Farlow – I Remember You
Another stunning performance and one which I transcribed a few years ago. Tal really played unlike anyone else mainly because of his physical attributes; he had big hands and dwarfed any guitar he played and made big interval leaps easy and therefore they just became part of his jazz language. Everyone else was blown away including a young George Benson who has cited Tal amongst others as a big influence.
12. Laurindo Almeida – Samba Da Sahra
Very stylish track with the ever smooth tones of Stan Getz. Great chord movement in this self penned tune, deserves to be played more.
13. Django Reinhardt – Nuages
His signature tune this time performed with a big band, some lovely artificial harmonics in the solo.
14. George Benson – What’s New
I’ve listened to so much GB in my life and this track was a great introduction to start searching out his work. Worth noting the great young Herbie Hancock on this track.
15. Wes Montgomery – Four On Six
Not a lot can be said of Wes that hasn’t been said already. Every note of this is carved into our heads, what a great solo!
16. Johnny Smith – Sweet Lorraine
It turns out that this was a fairly rare track. All the amazing trademark chord work is present and correct, I literally couldn’t work out (and still can’t) how this was at all possible!
17. Oscar Moore – Oscar’s Blues
18. Jimmy Raney – Buddy’s Blues
Oscar Moore was one of the important early exponents of modern jazz guitar and Jimmy Raney was one of the bebop masters. I’m glad these tracks were on the album as I looked further into their playing in later years and found much to listen to.
19. Charlie Byrd – Samba Triste
Early on I got the Byrd/Getz albums and they are essential listening to students of jazz, such great playing and compositions.
20. John McLaughlin – Binky’s Beam
Now this one really foxed me as there seemed to be some clever odd time signature stuff happening in this track and it had a great raw sound to it. It spurred me onto discover probably one of the most influential musicians I’ve ever heard. Not traditional jazz guitar, something very new and exciting was happening here..
A year or so after that there was an offer in the Sunday paper where you had to collect some tokens to receive a free CD. There were 4 in the collection (Saxes, Groups, Piano and Guitar) and I managed to get all of them mainly because I was still intrigued and I recognised a couple of names of the players.
“The Great Jazz Guitarists” OJCGS1 (1994)
1. Charlie Byrd Trio “Let’s Do It”
2. Joe Pass “She’s Funny That Way”
3. Barney Kessell “Easy Like”
4. Barney Kessell “Tenderly”
5. Wes Montgomery “Repetition”
6. Wes Montgomery “D Natural Blues”
7. Wes Montgomery “Four on Six”
8. Barney Kessell “My Old Flame”
9. Barney Kessell “Jeepers Creepers”
10. Kenny Burrell “I Didn’t Know About You”
There was no looking back now and the other CD’s in the collection started to broaden my appreciation especially for Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane. Joe Pass’ tune on this album was the first time I’d heard anyone deal with jazz on a guitar as a solo instrument. I loved that tune so much I tried to learn it from the album and although I thought I had it down pretty much perfect, time and wisdom showed me otherwise. Oh well I was never going to be a solo jazz guitarist!
Do search out these artist and tunes if they are unfamiliar to you and hopefully they will inspire you like they did (and do) to me.