Charlie's Biography-Part 2

Charlie playing with orchestra

Charlie was a hit on the electric guitar and remained in the Benny Goodman Sextet for two years (1939-1941). He wrote many of the group's head arrangements (some of which Goodman took credit for) and was an inspiration to all. The sextet made him famous and provided him with a steady income while Charlie worked on legitimizing, popularizing, revolutionizing, and standardizing the electric guitar as a jazz instrument. After working at nights with Goodman, Charlie would seek out jam sessions. He discovered a club in Harlem, Minton's, located on New York's West 118th Street. The club was located in a former dining room in the Hotel Cecil and was established by retired saxophone player Henry Minton. Minton hired fellow saxophonist and former bandleader Teddy Hill to manage the place. Hill hired a rhythm section which included Thelonious Monk and Kenny Clarke. At Minton's Charlie played with such greats as Dizzie Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Thelonius Monk, Joe Guy (trumpet), Nick Fenton (bass), Kenny Kersey (piano), and Kenny Clarke (drums). Charlie impressed them all by improvising long lines that emphasized off beats, and by using altered chords. He even bought a second amp to leave at Minton’s. Jamming sessions would usually last until about 4 A.M. and Minton’s became the cradle of the bebop movement. Charlie's inventive single-note playing helped popularize the electric guitar as a solo instrument and helped usher in the era of bop.

In the summer of 1941, Christian was touring the Midwest when he began showing the first signs of tuberculosis. He left the tour and was admitted to the Seaview Sanatorium on Staten Island. While he was there, he died on March 2, 1942 at the age of twenty-five. He was buried in a cemetery in Bonham. The exact location of his gravesite is uncertain but an historical marker and headstone were erected in his honour in 1994. Charlie’s most familiar recordings are those with Benny Goodman which were available on vinyl for years ("Solo Flight") and which are now available on CD as "Charlie Christian: Genius of the Electric Guitar." There are recorded sessions from when he played with members of the Goodman and Count Basie bands, Lester Young, and numerous artists at Minton's. Charlie Christian had an immense influence on the development of BeBop and the transition from Swing to BeBop. Go Back