Charlie Christian's Riffs This Week on Riverwalk Jazz


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This week Riverwalk Jazz salutes Benny Goodman's pioneering Sextet featuring the early electric guitarist Charlie Christian. Our guests are both life-long devotees of the Benny Goodman Sextet. Clarinetist Allan Vaché and tenor saxophonist Harry Allen join Cullum band reedman Ron Hockett on “Swinging on a Riff: The Legacy of the Benny Goodman Sextet."

The program is distributed in the US by Public Radio International, on Sirius/XM sattelite radio and can be streamed on- demand from the Riverwalk Jazz website.

On August 10th, 1939, the “King of Swing" Benny Goodman was in a Los Angeles recording studio making his debut sides for Columbia Records. A young black guitarist walked in the door. Producer John Hammond described him as “a scared kid," wearing “a broad-brimmed Texas hat, very pointed yellow shoes, a green suit and a purple shirt." His name was Charlie Christian, 23 years old and fresh off the plane from his hometown, Oklahoma City. He had a guitar case in one hand and an amplifier in the other.

On first sight Goodman was not impressed with Christian, but later that night he couldn't resist giving him a gig. John Hammond engineered a surprise audition for Christian on stage at Goodman's club date. Irked to see the new guitarist on stage with him, Goodman signaled Christian to take a solo on “Rose Room"—thinking he would embarrass this kid from Oklahoma. Charlie Christian's spectacular solo stopped the show, and the Benny Goodman Sextet was born.

Charlie Christian's innovative use of a guitar pickup device and amplifier allowed single- note guitar soloing to be heard in jazz as never before—and the guitar in its electrified form became an equal partner to horn soloists in jazz. Many original tunes recorded by the Benny Goodman Sextet were inspired by repeated melodic patterns, or “riffs," invented by Christian. This riff-based approach and Charlie Christian's fresh and original guitar solos set the Benny Goodman Sextet apart from other small jazz bands of the era.

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