Six Appeal: Grace Ward Transcribes Charlie Christian
Grace Ward transcribes the solos of legendary jazz guitarist Charlie Christian.
Photo by Sasha Pedro, Makeup by Veronica Nunes
In the summer of 2012, I came across a Charlie Christian album while thumbing through Austin’s treasured Waterloo Records. The album was titled, Charlie Christian – The Original Guitar Hero, with a bright orange sticker on its cover that read, “Clearance!”At the time, I had no clue who Charlie Christian was. However, I recognized the name as someone my guitar teacher considered hip, and the CD was only $3.99, so I bought it and popped it into the stereo of my friend’s car on the way home.
This car ride remains one of the most vivid memories I can recall from this time in my life. Sitting in the passenger seat, the simplistic virtuosity of Charlie Christian stole every ounce of my attention. My thirteen-year-old self simply couldn’t understand how it was possible to feel so perplexed by a sound that simultaneously made so much sense. I was captivated. I could almost see Christian’s fingers dancing playfully, yet precisely, up and down the fretboard, nailing those tasteful, yet puzzling phrases.
The first Charlie Christian solo I ever learned was his take on “Six Appeal,” played and recorded with the Benny Goodman Sextet. Throughout this solo, Christian switches playfully between outlines of the harmony, and angular, chromatic lines. Simultaneously, he maneuvers between short statements with deliberate articulation, and longer, rhythmically uniform phrases. Regardless of the phrase length, Christian’s unmistakable 8th notes are always present.
Grace Ward’s transcription of Six Appeal
The brilliance of this solo, and Charlie Christian’s playing in general, lies in his time feel. Christian was a magician, capable of making the most jagged lines feel in the pocket, and the simplest of ideas seem new and spunky. Just as the listener anticipates what Christian will play next, he surprises them by imposing a new, clever rhythm.
Another great example of this classic “Charlie Christian-ism” can be heard in the first 12 measures of his solo in “Seven Come Eleven.” Although the harmonic content of this solo is not very complex, Christian still finds a way to surprise the listener.
Grace Ward’s transcription of Seven Come Eleven
To capture Christian’s sound when learning his solos, I recommend first listening while focusing only on his articulation. Listen for details, like the short duration of the last note of each line, or the instances in which he decides to play the full duration of a quarter note. Then, try playing along to recordings (measure by measure, if necessary) matching the articulation until you can feel it without having to play along. This attention to detail is essential to capturing the spirit of Christian’s playing.
The time I have spent listening to, transcribing, and appreciating Charlie Christian’s music has shaped my ideas about what it means to be a soloist, an accompanist, and more simply, a creator of sounds. It will have a lasting influence on my playing and thinking.