Charlie Christian

Picture of Charlie Christian

Charlie Christian's career was way too short but so impactful on Swing, Jazz and music overall.  He helped raise the electric guitar from just a background, rhythm section instrument into a featured solo instrument.  Christian is also considered one of the founding fathers of Bebop and Cool Jazz.

In 1931, at the age of 15, Christian began playing guitar.  By 1936, he was playing electric guitar and already making quite a name for himself. Christian had become a regional attraction throughout the Midwest of the United States and would jam with many of the big-name performers traveling through Oklahoma City.

His playing and style was brought to the attention of Benny Goodman. Goodman was uninterested in hiring Christian at first, because the electric guitar was such a new instrument at the time and he wasn't sure if Charlie's "sound" would fit in with the band.  But after hearing him play and jamming with Christian a few times, Goodman hired Christian to play with the newly formed Goodman Sextet in September 1939. 

Picture of Charlie Christian with Benny Goodman

By February 1940, Christian simply dominated the jazz and swing guitar polls and was elected to the Metronome All Stars.  In such a short time, Christian's playing style had won over the public. He paved the way for the modern electric guitar sound that was followed by so many others.

Unfortunately, Christian contracted tuberculosis in the late 1930's.  He was hospitalized at times, but refused to slow down his hectic lifestyle of recording, touring and late night jam sessions. In March of 1942, Christian passed away in the height of his career.  He was only 25 years old!

It's safe to say that Charlie Christian elevated the electric guitar and influenced a countless amount of musicians that followed. Christian once stated that "he wanted his guitar to sound like a tenor saxophone" which was so different at that time in music.  Such a fantastic musician whose candle burnt out way to quickly.

Listen to: "Rose Room" by the Benny Goodman Sextet featuring Charlie Christian on guitar from 1939.

You can hear a lot of Charlie Christian's work with Benny Goodman right here on Swing City Radio. 

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