Charlie Christian

When the Lights Are Low

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Charlie Christian wasn't the first jazz guitarist to plug in, but he was the first one that really mattered. As soon as he hit the stage with Benny Goodman, the acoustic guitar became passé and a world of possibilities opened for younger players. Barney Kessel, Oscar Moore, and Herb Ellis used Christian's work as a blueprint and began carving out a niche for the guitar in '40s jazz. Incredibly, Christian recorded and performed for only a couple years after he was discovered by John Hammond. When Lights Are Low collects 20 classics from the late '30s and very early '40s, from "Flying Home" to "Air Mail Special" to "Solo Flight," building an impressive portrait of a guitarist as a young man. After 60 years, Christian's breaks on "Stardust" and "Rose Room" remain vital. There are also refreshingly odd pieces like "AC-DC Current," packed with curious little runs and fills. One might guess that the young guitarist would be intimidated by his more established colleagues, but that never seems to be the case. Christian proceeds with confidence, always prepared to offer a fresh phrase or solid accompaniment. When Lights Are Low will appeal most strongly to those unfamiliar -- shame on you -- with the great guitarist. The collection offers a good overview of Christian's work, providing one with a good foundation for everything in jazz guitar that followed. The great music, however, is the best reason for picking up a copy of When Lights Are Low.

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