Charlie's Biography-Part 1

Charlie groovin'

Charlie Christian was born on July 29, 1916 in Bonham, Texas (though some mistakenly think he was born in Dallas in 1919) but was raised in Oklahoma City from the time he was two years old. Charlie's immediate family were all musically talented - his mother played the piano; his father sang and played the trumpet and guitar; his brother, Clarence, played the violin and the mandolin; and his oldest brother, Edward, played the string bass. His parents actually made a living writing accompaniments for silent movies. At the age of twelve, Charlie was playing on a guitar that he had made from a cigar box in a manual training class. Charlie was actually first trained on the trumpet which was a huge contribution to his fluid single-note guitar style. Then, his father and brothers formed a quartet and Charlie got a real guitar. They performed in Oklahoma City clubs and Charlie even met Lester Young (tenor saxophonist) during one of his performances. Charlie was fascinated by Lester's style which helped in shaping his own stylistic development.

At the age of twenty-one he was playing electric guitar and leading a jump band. At the age of 23 (1939), Charlie was discovered by a talent scout, John Hammond, who had stopped in Oklahoma city to attend Benny Goodman's first Columbia recording sessions. Pianist Mary Lou Williams had actually recommended Charlie to John Hammond. Goodman was not very excited about letting Charlie audition but Goodman talked him into it. This was due to the fact that Charlie was an unknown musician playing an electric instrument. The amplified electric guitar was fairly new at the time (trombonist and arranger Eddie Durham began playing it as a solo instrument in Jimmie Lunceford's band in 1935). It was essentially an amplified "f-hole," and it helped in making the jazz guitar solo a practical reality for the first time.

Previously relegated to a chordal rhythm style by the limitations of the acoustic instrument, jazz guitarists could now revel in the volume, sustain, and tonal flexibility provided by amplification. Charlie quickly realized the potential of the electric guitar, and developed a style which made the most of the unique properties of the instrument. When Charlie arrived in Los Angeles, he was only allowed a brief audition and he was not even allowed the time to plug in his amp. Goodman was not impressed so Hammond decided to sneak Charlie onstage later that night during a concert at the Victor Hugo. This made Goodman angry and he responded by launching into "Rose Room," which he assumed Charlie would be unfamiliar with. Charlie performed an impressive extended solo on the piece. This impressed Goodman and Charlie was let into the band. Goto Bio Part 2