Hash’s Faves: “Seven Come Eleven”

10 Jul

Charlie-Christian-solosThis week’s pick is one of the tunes that was on that reel-to-reel bootleg that introduced me to jazz; “Seven Come Eleven,” by Charlie Christian, with the Benny Goodman Sextet, Benny on clarinet, Christian on guitar, Lionel Hampton on vibes, Fletcher Henderson on piano, Artie Bernstein on bass and Nick Fatool on drums.

Even at this late date I think it’s impossible to overstate Christian’s impact. He was one of those rare players that completely revolutionized his instrument, like Louis Armstrong, Jimmy Blanton, Charlie Parker, Max Roach, Bill Evans, John Coltrane, Jaco Pastorius or Buddy Emmons. Certainly there had been guitarists who played single-note lines, and Christian wasn’t the first to amplify his guitar, but Charlie’s melodic and rhythmic vocabulary was unprecedented. This may be a bit of a stretch, but I hear similarities between him and Ornette Coleman; both came out of the Southwest, and there’s a certain stringent, desert-like aridity to their lines.

I also think that at this late date in jazz history it’s easy to forget what a great player Goodman was. I think he suffers from what I think of as the Miles Davis syndrome, in that people (well, us musicians, anyway) automatically think of his terrible reputation as a person and turn our minds off when we hear his playing. But, you know, the cat could play, and another extremely important thing to remember is that, even though he sometimes treated the black members of his bands badly he was among the first white bandleaders to hire black musicians, and he was certainly the leader with the highest visibility (Jimmy Durante was actually the first).

Producer John Hammond, one of music’s great talent scouts, learned about Christian through the pianist Mary Lou Williams, and recommended him to Goodman. His tenure with Goodman thrust him into the spotlight; his recordings with Goodman have been the Holy Grail for jazz guitarists since their creation. Sometime in the early 1940’s he started making the jam sessions at Minton’s Playhouse in New York city, and he’s credited as being one of the inventors of bebop; indeed, the term itself is thought to be Christian’s description of his playing style.

He died at the age of 25 from tuberculosis. His influence extends beyond the world of jazz; blues, rock, rockabilly, country and bluegrass guitarists all owe Christian a debt.

You can listen to it here:

This post is reprinted from News From The Trenches, a weekly newsletter of commentary from the viewpoint of a working musician published by Chicago bassist Steve Hashimoto. If you’d like to start receiving it, just let him know by emailing him at steven.hashimoto@sbcglobal.net.

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Steve Hashimoto

 

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