This is the most fascinating (and witty) bill I’ve ever seen, and I would have gladly paid it.
The letter below will not be new to Charlie Christian devotees, but I recently learned about it from Peter Jung. Its owner Chris Albertson (jazz scholar, record producer, and blogger) very graciously encouraged me to repost it here.
In the late Thirties, Jerome F. “Jerry” Newhouse of Minneapolis was a devout swing fan. This profile in itself would not be unusual, but Jerry did more than sourrounding himself with Benny Goodman Victors and Columbias. He bought a professional disc-cutting machine and began recording Goodman and other bands off the radio: And he took his disc cutter with him to the Harlem Breakfast Club for an after-hours session with two players from the Goodman band and two local players. Although the session had not been issued commercially, it was known among Charlie’s admirers — who understandably treasured every note their laconic, short-lived hero had played.
I don’t know how Newhouse and John Hammond came to know each other, but when Hammond was producing a new two-lp Charlie Christian collection, the session that Newhouse had recorded in 1939 emerged as exciting material for reissue. It was a remarkable session — one of Charlie’s earliest live appearances on record, an unusual opportunity for him to be recorded after hours (Jerry Newman’s Harlem sessions were still two years in the future), and it found Christian among excellent players.
Pianist (presumably a local Minneapolis player) Frankie Hines lacks some of the flash of his almost-namesake, but his ump-cha is all that is needed to accompany the soloists, and he plays credible solos.
Tenor saxophonist Jerry Jerome was one of the hot soloists of the 1939 Goodman band, merging Lester and Ben in his own fashion, and I suspect he did not get space to stretch out on solos within that orchestra. Jerome continued to have a rolling fluid approach to his instrument for many decades.
Bassist Oscar Pettiford was still a minor in the eyes of the law, and although his playing is not assertive in the fashion of his great Forties and Fifties playing, this is his earliest appearance on disc.
Charlie Christian lived for the hours he could spend on the bandstand without facing arrangements on manuscript paper: although someone on YouTube has commented that Charlie is “overrated,” that is only because his graceful, pulsing work has been so absorbed into the collective unconscious of all jazz guitarists that it takes a small leap backwards to understand just how striking his work was.
The letter is a hilarious recounting (masquerading as a bill) of what the session must have been like. Close your eyes and imagine — in appropriate black-and-white — Newhouse waiting until the Goodman band had finished to bundle Jerome and Christian into his car, guitar, heavy amplifier, tenor sax included. Imagine the delight of the patrons of the Harlem Breakfast Club when the jazz stars showed up; invent some small dialogue between Hines, Pettiford, Jerome, and Christian. I don’t know (in my imagined screenplay) where the two bottles of liquor and the ccome in, but they were invaluable. Don’t leave out the dialogue — polite for sure — of Newhouse trying to get Charlie to stop stomping his foot so energetically. “General malaise and headaches” will have to be imagined individually by each reader. And gasoline at thirty cents a gallon . . . .
Who cares that Newhouse couldn’t spell RHYTHM? This piece of paper takes us behind the scenes . . .and is thus priceless, especially since none of the participants are living to tell their version of the story.
And because technology makes many surprising things possible, here is TEA FOR TWO recorded at that session:
Here’s a link to Leo Valdes’ analysis and transcription of Charlie’s solo:
And the thing in itself, a disc from Jerry Jerome’s collection: not Newhouse’s original Presto, but what I assume is a contemporaneous copy.
Thank you, musicians, Jerry Newhouse, Columbia Records, and the enterprising (and generous) Chris Albertson.