Charlie Christian

CHARLIE CHRISTIAN – Born July 29th 1916 in Sherman Texas; died Nashville Tennessee,  September 23rd 1979

Charlie Christian, the man who revolutionised jazz guitar playing, then left an indelible imprint on rhythm’n’blues and rock, has died of lung cancer, aged 63.

Christian rose to fame as a 23-year-old in Benny Goodman’s 1940 Sextet, composing tunes like Seven Come Eleven, Wholly Cats and Breakfast Feud and playing the then rarely-heard amplified guitar with amazing harmonic ingenuity.  

After a near-fatal bout with tuberculosis in 1942, Christian formed an astonishing quartet with alto genius Charlie Parker that recorded all original music for Dial Records between 1944-47.

On these landmark 40 sides, the alto and guitar share the front-line roles, with bass and drum support. Playing compositions by the two Charlies, the quartet took the complexity and rebelliousness of bop and fused it with the earthy blusieness and hard swing of Kansas City jazz to produce a popular new sound called Hard Bop. When Parker left for Pennsylvania and later California in 1956, Christian stayed in New York and led a band that increasingly featured the leader’s own blues-tinged vocals and high energy guitar riffs.

Angered by the commercial success of what he regarded as R’n’B-style white imitators like Bill Haley and Elvis Presley, Christian moved first to London in 1958 and then Liverpool in 1960.  He was a constant presence in the British blues clubs of that era, profoundly affecting the styles of young players like Eric Clapton and Keith Richard.   

He toured Europe with John Lennon & The Quarrymen, and in 1966 shared the spotlight at a memorable Albert Hall concert with protege Jimi Hendrix, each outdoing the other with blazing blues-rock solos.

Disillusioned with the early ‘70s British pop scene, he returned to the USA in 1973, settled in Nashville and resumed a gentler, more melodic style of playing and singing which won him millions of new fans and paved the way for similar singer-guitarists like George Benson.  His lungs weakened by TB and years of heavy smoking, Christian died of lung cancer at Nashville Medical Center.  He left a fortune from record sales and royalties estimated at five million dollars.