Charlie Christian

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Several different dates and locations for Charlie Christians birth have been publicized, most people now agree that he was born on July 29, 1916 in Bonham Texas. But no one disagrees that at a very early age, most likely in 1918, he moved with his family to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma where he grew up and lived for most of his life.

Charlie Christian was born with music in his blood. Both of his parents were professional musicians, his mother played the piano and his father played both the trumpet and the guitar. At the time of his birth both of his parents were scratching out a living by playing the background music for silent movies. He had two brothers, Clarence and Edward, who were both profesional musicians as well. Following in his brothers footsteps Charlie began by first learning the trumpet, the single note playing style of which may have influenced his later revolutionary improvisations on the guitar.

By the time he was twelve he had switched to the guitar, most probably as a result of the influence of Eddie Durham a well known trombone player who also played the guitar and is generaly credidted with playing the first recorded electric guitar solo. According to Ralph Ellison, the well known novelist and a chilhood friend of Christians, Charlie began by making his own guitars out of cigar boxes during manual training class and is quoted as saying Charlie Christian " would amaze and amuse us at school with his first guitar - one that he made from a cigar box - he would be playing his own riffs. But they were based on sophisicated chords and progressions that Blind Lemon Jefferson never knew".

By his early teens Christian was performing throughout Oklahoma City clubs with the family band and it was in one of these clubs that he met the man whose playing style would most profoundly shape his own, Lester Young. Lester Young was one of the most influential Tenor Saxophone players of his day, his fluid single note playing style was influencing a generation of Sax players and clearly it became a shaping force in Charlie Christians style of playing the guitar. According to Ralph Ellison " It should be said that Lester Young didn't bring Charlie Christian out of some dark nowhere. He was already out in the light. He may only have been 12 or 13 when he was making those cigar box guitars in manual training class, but no other cigar boxes ever made such sounds. Then he heard Lester and that, I think, was all he needed".

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