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The Best of Jazz Guitar

As long as there are guitar players and fans of jazz guitar in the world there will always be an interest in CHARLIE CHRISTIAN. Columbia has recently issued a 4 CD box set of studio recordings called The Genius of the Electric Guitar (Colubmia 65564). JSP Records also has issued a great (and cheap!) 4 CD set (JSP909, 26.99) of live broadcasts and other goodies. In an effort to make Christian fashionable Columbia has marketed him as the "Original Guitar Hero". It is hard to argue with this but I can live without quotes by the likes Joe Satriani, Vernon Reid and Brian Setzer! The sound quality is great overall. There are enough alternate takes and unreleased tracks here to make the biggest guitar freaks and completists happy. Overall a very definitive release. The JSP box has much more no-nonsense packaging and liner notes. The sound varies from great to not so good but it is always listenable. The songs may be a little repetitive for some -there are eight versions of "Flying Home" - but the playing is always fresh and imaginative. The live sessions at Minton's are essential and these amateur recordings are the only glimpse of Charlie Christian really stretching out. "Swing to Bop" is an incredible workout to the changes of the Basie tune "Topsy" and ranks as my all-time favorite jazz guitar solo.
Here is a small list in no particular order of some other guitar players to check out in the Charlie Christian tradition:

TINY GRIMES - Tiny played the four-string tenor guitar version of the Gibson ES-150 equipped with what would soon be dubbed "The Charlie Christian Pickup". He played in a hard driving R+B style but still had the finesse to play in a burnin' incarnation of the Art Tatum Trio with Slam Stewart. A very energetic and fun player. The Electric Guitar Master (Jazz Archives 159372, 12.99) is a good overview. (He also appear in the 1938 black cast feature The Duke is Tops, available on VHS Timeless 5044, 12.99).

BARNEY KESSEL - Barney's early recordings in the forties sound a great deal like Charlie Christian. He soon fused the hard swinging Kansas City style with bebop into an original and identifiable sound. His solo and session recordings are prolific to say the least. One of my favorites is To Swing or Not To Swing, (OJC 317, 12.99) which features good arrangements and a nice ensemble made up of swing era veterans (Georgie Auld and Harry Edison) and west coasters (Shelly Manne, Bill Perkins, Red Mitchell). Kessel was also a sensitive accompanist who played beautifully behind Billie Holiday in the Verve era.

HANK GARLAND - This Nashville session man was a force to be reckoned with. From Rock'n Roll (He played the famous lick on Elvis' "Little Sister" on a Fender Jazzmaster), country, to hard bop Garland was always a monster. A near fatal car crash cut his career short and unfortunately the only real Jazz album he made was Jazz Winds from a New Direction, available on the 2 CD set Move! The Guitar Artistry of Hank Garland (Sundazed 178, 22.99).

JIMMY RIVERS - Brisbane Bop (Joaquin 2501) is a cult classic among guitar players. A low-fi stage recording from the rowdy "23 Club" in Brisbane, California, this record never gets old. Jimmy Rivers was heavily into Charlie Christian and quotes him regularly in his solos. This is western swing, blues and bebop at it's finest. Vance Terry plays hot jazz on the pedal steel and even does an uncanny high register clarinet imitation.

Western swing became a new medium for Charlie Christian-influenced hot pickin' in the 1940's. Great examples of this style include the likes of Eldon Shamblin, Tiny Moore, and Junior Barnard of Bob wills fame. The Essential (Columbia 48958, 12.99) is a good place to start but the live Tiffany Transcriptions (Rhino 71473, !2.99) is more rockin'. The Spade Cooley Orchestra featured Earl "Joaquin" Murphy. Oklahoma Stomp is a burnin' big band arrangement that includes many Benny Goodman sextet riffs. Billy Jack Wills was Bob Wills' brother and former bass player and drummer. He led a great western swing outfit in the ealy 50's that featured the amazing Tiny Moore on electric mandolin. Check out Joaquin CD 2503 (14.99) which includes an arrangement of the Goodman Sextet classic "Air Mail Special".

BILL JENNINGS - Fans of organ combos and soul jazz will like Bill Jennings. He plays a lot of worked out licks but they always sound tasteful and exciting. Jennings mixed the usual Charlie Parker cliches with Charlie Christian quotes to develop a gritty blues based style. Glide On (Prestige 24234, 17.99) is two LPs on one CD that pairs Jennings with Jack McDuff.

All reviewed items are available at the Jazz Record Mart, 1-800-684-3480