V.21 No.9 | 3/1/2012
The Jazz Gospel According to Charlie Christian
Michael Anthony, Bobby Shew and friends celebrate guitarist’s innovations
Using a newfangled contraption, the electric guitar, and a mesmerizing facility for improvisation, Charlie Christian, born in 1916, helped transform the role of the guitar in jazz. The Oklahoma City native first made his mark in the swing era, joining Benny Goodman’s sextet and orchestra in 1939. (As the third black man hired by Goodman, he helped bury bandstand segregation.) He then helped transform jazz itself, collaborating with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk as they worked out the rules of a brand-new musical language: bebop. He managed to accomplish all of this in just 25 years, passing away in 1942, a victim of tuberculosis.