In this section
we'll extract a number of Charlie
Christians favorite melodic figures for study. You'll see and hear how he
applied them to different contexts. This is the ideal starting point to get a basic grasp
of his style and of jazz vocabulary on the guitar. Included in the following
"licks" lessons are his most common figures. These melodic figures run the gamut
from simple three or four note patterns and brief motives, suitable for a wide variety of
harmonic settings, to longer phrases with well-defined harmonic implications.
During the course of these
lessons his licks, the core motives, patterns and melodic formulas of
improvisation, will be cited and alluded to, marking the identifiers and building
blocks of Christian's unique style in the music.
In this lesson you'll learn:
Figure 1 is a typical sample
line from Charlie Christians style. It has a common pitch shape or melodic contour.
This is an extended passage making use of three specific patterns and motions which
occur frequently in his improvising.
The three patterns and motions are:
- Ascending arpeggio (major or minor)
- Chromatic descent (usually at least
four notes in a row)
- Descending arpeggio (dominant ninth
or minor sixth)
This is Charlie Christian at his bopping best.
The standard "Honeysuckle Rose" was recorded during a momentous session of
November 22, 1939, with a larger Benny Goodman ensemble including trumpets, trombones,
alto and tenor saxes. Christians up-tempo single-note lines point unerringly to the
future of jazz guitar and the bebop movement. Three decades later Pat Martino quoted a
variant of Christians opening phrase in the first bars of his own "Dem
New York Dues" solo with Don Pattersons band on Opus De Don.
Charlie solos over one full chorus
of the tunes 32-bar aaba structure in D flat. He sounds remarkably controlled and
confident during the improvisations despite the breakneck cut-time tempo of d=110.
Charlies solo contains many
notable aspects of his single-note style. These include longer strings of swing eighth
notes alternating with rhythmic punctuations and funky blues-based phrases.
Play Audio and Listen
||The overall tonality
in the sections is diatonic. The chord movement is a simplified V to I (Ab7 to Db)
progression which changes every four measures. Christian draws on the key of Db major
(Db-Eb-F-Gb-Ab-Bb-C) and the related Ab Mixolydian mode (Ab-Bb-C-Db-Eb-F-Gb) for his
lines. From that tonal scheme, he selects tones and melodic shapes that emphasize the
background chord changes of Ab7 and Db major.
largely as passing tones or lower neighbor notes. The E-F (raised 2nd to the major 3rd)
lower neighbor figure used over Db is used frequently in the solo.
||Interval skips of a
fourth and greater are pursued throughout.
Christian sets the tone for his solo with the strong opening phrase. He introduces a
rhythmic motive in measure 2. It is made of two well-accented, staccato eighth notes (on
beat 3). The rising Ab13 arpeggio (C-Eb-Gb-Bb-F) is one of his favorite melodic formulas
and appears in many contexts in his playing. The arpeggio is followed by intervallic jumps
(a descending tritone and an ascending fifth) in measure 2. For contrast, Christian
descends with a strictly diatonic stepwise line in bars 3-4.
||Measures 5-8: The strong
rhythmic punctuation in the phrase is one of its most striking features. Christian bases
much of the melody on the tonic chord Db and exploits triad (Db-F-Ab) outlines. The
added sixth, Bb, and the flatted seventh, Cb, are notable departures.
Play Interactive Notation
"Bennys Bugle" was a Benny Goodman-Count
Basie blues composition recorded on November 7, 1939. A twenty-seven and a-half minute
rehearsal acetate from the session survives and offers invaluable insights into the
workings of the Goodman group. This is also the only known recording of Charlie Christian's
voice. He can be heard explaining and demonstrating the riff in the head of the tune to
"Bennys Bugle" is
built on a standard 12-bar blues in Bb.
Charlies solo contains an
effective mix of short blues phrases and longer strings of eighth notes.
||The solo is based
primarily on the Bb Mixolydian mode (Bb-C-D-Eb-F-G-Ab). The flatted third Db occurs in
measure 4 as an anticipation, anticipating the seventh of the Eb7 chord. The Bb Dorian mode
(Bb-C-Db-Eb-F-G-Ab) is used as a secondary resource over the Eb7 IV7 chord in measures 5-6 and
favorite chromatic encircling motive is played consistently, six times in the solo in
measures 2, 3, 10, 14, 19, and 23. Twice in the same phrase of measures 2-3.
||Raked articulations of
arpeggios are played in measures 1 and 4.
||The half-step string
bend from the sixth G to the seventh Ab in measure 7 is held and very gradually released in
measure 8 for the maximum expressive blues effect.
||Play Interactive Notation