Join John Wheatcroft as he waxes lyri­cal about the fa­ther of elec­tric jazz gui­tar solo­ing, that leg­endary ge­nius, Char­lie Chris­tian.

Guitar Techniques - - CONTENTS -

John Wheatcroft pays re­spect to the fa­ther of elec­tric jazz gui­tar, Char­lie Chris­tian.

Char­lie Chris­tian found ac­claim with the Benny Good­man Sex­tet And Orches­tra and is widely ac­knowl­edged as the first sig­nif­i­cant mu­si­cian to em­brace the elec­tric gui­tar. One can only imag­ine what Chris­tian would have achieved had he not died of tu­ber­cu­lo­sis in 1942 at the trag­i­cally young age of 25. In an in­cred­i­bly short time the Texas-born vir­tu­oso set the mu­sic world alight, inspiring gen­er­a­tions of gui­tarists to am­plify their ‘boxes’ and ex­plore ex­actly what this new in­stru­ment had to of­fer.

Chris­tian was one of the first to chal­lenge the horn’s po­si­tion of lead line dom­i­nance, and he proved to be a more than equal match with his melodic in­ven­tion, rhyth­mic in­ten­sity and a beau­ti­ful clar­ity to his phras­ing – never a wasted note; it was all there for a rea­son.

Miles Davis fa­mously stated that it was Chris­tian, not Monk, Parker or Gille­spie, who was re­spon­si­ble for in­sti­gat­ing the move­ment that went on to be­come be­bop, one of the rawest, hippest and most de­mand­ing forms of con­tem­po­rary mu­sic that the world had seen.

While un­doubt­edly tak­ing in­flu­ence from sax­o­phon­ists such as Lester Young, Char­lie was no mere copy­cat. His play­ing had it all, with great tone, end­lessly in­ven­tion, supreme note se­lec­tion and ef­fort­less swing. Chris­tian de­fined the blue­print for elec­tric jazz gui­tar and, rather like his acous­tic gui­tar-play­ing con­tem­po­rary Django Rein­hardt in France, his play­ing still sounds fresh and un­be­liev­ably ex­cit­ing. If you’re unfamiliar with his style, check out Char­lie’s so­los on Benny’s Bu­gle or Solo Flight and you’ll be blown away.

There are nine ex­am­ples to learn, based around lines that Char­lie might play in an im­pro­vised sce­nario. An of­ten-over­looked as­pect of his play­ing is that he was also an ex­cel­lent rhythm gui­tarist, so make sure you check out his record­ings first hand. There’s a wealth of ideas to be gleaned from study­ing Chris­tian’s play­ing and due to his clean ex­e­cu­tion and clearly rhyth­mi­cally de­fined note place­ment, his play­ing is just about the best place to get started with de­vel­op­ing your tran­scrib­ing skills.

Con­sider us­ing some form of slow down soft­ware (such as Tran­scribe), get your­self some de­cent head­phones or speak­ers, find a phrase that you like and get stuck in. Try your best to make the con­nec­tion be­tween the note se­lec­tion and the un­der­ly­ing har­mony. Don’t get too at­tached to a par­tic­u­lar fin­ger­ing un­til you’re sure that you’ve se­lected the most ap­pro­pri­ate lo­ca­tion on the fret­board, as it’s dif­fi­cult to un­learn a fin­ger­ing once you’ve ‘pro­grammed it in’ in­cor­rectly. To keep you go­ing in the mean­time, here are the licks I pre­pared ear­lier. As al­ways, en­joy.


NEXT MONTH John in­tro­duces the amaz­ing play­ing of the equally in­cred­i­ble Pat Metheny

Char­lie Chris­tian: this style of Gib­son bar pickup still bears his name

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