The bare facts: Charles Henry Christian, electric guitar (July 29, 1916 – March 2, 1942).
I’m not sure that much could be sadder than that. But Charlie had one piece of good fortune in his brief life. However you write the story of his “discovery,” he was well-known, heard by many, and captured by various microphones for our listening and that of future generations. From August 1939 to June 1941, he appeared in the recording studio, the concert hall, radio studios, and after-hours jazz clubs. Tom Lord’s standard online jazz discography lists 94 sessions on which he appears, and his recorded oeuvre can (loosely) be contained on ten compact discs.
Between 1992 and 1994, the French CD label “Masters of Jazz” attempted to present his recorded work complete on eight discs. Nearly a decade later, they issued a ninth volume which presented music that had eluded them, plus three performances that had never appeared on record . . . which it’s my pleasure to present here. The preponderance of Charlie’s recorded work was with Benny Goodman, who was generous in featuring his brilliant young sideman. (Not only that, but had Christian been working with a less-famous organization, how much of his work would have been lost to us?) Two of the three performances, alas, incomplete, are with Benny’s Sextet. But Charlie had another life, one blessedly captured by Columbia University student-archivist Jerry Newman . . . so we can follow him to Minton’s Uptown House.
The blissful music.
POOR BUTTERFLY, April 27, 1940 (Christian, Goodman, Lionel Hampton, Johnny Guarnieri, Artie Bernstein, Nick Fatool):
STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY, May 8,1941 (Christian, Lips Page, Joe Guy, Don Byas, Kermit Scott, “Tex,” Nick Fenton, Kenny Clarke):
STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY, June 1941: the last recording we have of Charlie, “Monte Prosser Dance Carnival,” Madison Square Garden, New York City (Christian, Goodman, Cootie Williams, George Auld, Guarnieri, Walter Iooss, Fatool):
Charlie, we miss you. Thank you for the jewels you left us: they still shine so brightly.
And if you are, like me, fascinated by Benny Goodman, you’ll want to read this. Enthralling.
May your happiness increase!