Monday Notes

Charlie Christian and the electric guitar, Rose Room

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[Monday Notes n.10] One day clarinetist Benny Goodman was confronted with a joke: during one of his concerts, the young guitarist Charlie Christian was brought on stage. Distrustful of this uninvited guest, Benny Goodman started playing an old tune called Rose Room, convinced that he would catch the intruder off guard and force him to leave the stage.

Instead, the guitarist played a very long solo, with such confidence and skill that he immediately won not only Benny Goodman’s esteem, but even a place in the band. A few months later, the group recorded the same track in the studio, let’s listen to this version with Benny Goodman on clarinet, Lionel Hampton on vibraphone, Fletcher Henderson on piano.

If the piece was entirely traditional, the line-up was not: both the vibraphone and the electric guitar were very young instruments, invented only a few years before. Jazz contributed decisively to the invention or spread of instruments that have become commonplace: the drums, the electric guitar, the vibraphone and saxophones. Just imagine modern music, even rock and pop music, without these instruments.

Despite being a pioneer in the use of the electric guitar, Charlie Christian’s style on the guitar is mature and very effective. The instrument is used to compose singable melodic lines, similar to those played by wind instruments.

Let’s analyze the beginning of the solo, at minute 1’10”: at measure 7 we can appreciate a typical Louis Armstrong phrase, formed by a single repeated note (D flat). At measure 12 and 13 we can hear a reckless passage in triplets, a typical Charlie Christian’s sprint that often started a phrase in the low register, going up in the high register and then coming back down again, as it happens in this case.

Solo by Charlie Christian on Rose Room - sheet music
Solo by Charlie Christian on Rose Room

Sadly, Charlie Christian’s career did not last long, as he died of tuberculosis while still young. However, his recordings remain milestones of jazz guitar and a valuable inspiration for later guitarists.

Until next Monday!

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