The Genius of the Electric Guitar

COMPOSERS: Charlie Christian
LABELS: Columbia/Legacy
PERFORMER: Charlie Christian (el g), with Benny Goodman Sextet, plus Benny Goodman & His Orchestra


Charlie Christian was not the first jazz musician to play the electric guitar. But the young Texan made a quantum leap in the way the instrument could be used harmonically. Although he was only active on New York’s fermenting bebop scene for two years, Christian’s ‘horn-like’ style influenced virtually every guitarist who came after him.

He exploded on to the scene in 1939 after being secretly installed among Benny Goodman’s band for one number. The clarinettist had been reluctant to hire the young guitarist, but after hearing him tear through a 47-minute version of ‘Rose Room’, Goodman was hooked and Christian was booked.

This handsome boxed set covers everything Christian subsequently recorded with Goodman: with both the classic sextets and the orchestra. Many of the master takes have been issued before, but this beauty of a release also includes the alternate takes, rehearsals and false starts.

What we’re hearing in these swing sessions is the emancipation of the guitar and the seed of bebop taking root. Just as Christian was spinning his glorious legato solo lines and springing off the chords with Goodman’s men at the Pennsylvania Hotel in New York, he was storing up harmonic ideas to take on to Minton’s and share with Monk et al after hours.


Who knows where he would have taken the music, and the electric guitar, had he lived beyond the age of 25. Garry Booth