Lynn Christie

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He was born Lyndon Van Christie, and appears in credits almost equally as a "Lyn" and a "Lynn." And he is also known as Dr. Lyn Christie, the designation totally legitimate as he is also a medical doctor,…
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He was born Lyndon Van Christie, and appears in credits almost equally as a "Lyn" and a "Lynn." And he is also known as Dr. Lyn Christie, the designation totally legitimate as he is also a medical doctor, a status that has opened many doors that would have been closed to a mere bass player. There is really nothing mere or any question of identity about his bass lines, which are fast thinking and full of the type of steaming and varied harmonic implications a brilliant improviser such as guitarist Tal Farlow likes to see piled up on the smorgasbord.

Christie's days on the Australian jazz scene begin sometime in the late '50s; by the early part of the following decade, he was already leading his own groups as well as working with leaders such as Errol Buddle, Judy Bailey, and Bernie McGann. The latter character is sometimes considered something of the Sun Ra of the early Australian scene, and the association with him might have been deadly had the bassist not also been carrying a doctor bag. While the owner of the famous El Rocco jazz club had forbade any bandleader to hire McGann or otherwise associate with him, Christie got around the so-called El Rocco rule because he was also a medical doctor and thus on the top of the social ladder; with musicians on the bottom as far as the club's owner was concerned, anyway. Christie's growing status also had something to do with his playing, as well. He was part of an influx of new bassists on the scene in that period, such as Mike Ross or Andy Brown, all of them credited with enormous feeling and conviction as well as a definite feeling of competition in their playing. Jazz fans find the overall standard of bass playing brought up by this gang a crucial development, as Australian jazz rhythm sections had started out with all the swing of a foot caught in a coral reef.

In 1965, Christie headed for New York, a rite of passage for players from a continent that is unlike any other in its physical isolation from the mainstream jazz scene. During the Manhattan sojourn, he took care of the employment issue by working as a hospital doctor, and thus could observe the important New York ritual of not even trying to get on-stage with your instrument for months. Once this ritual was observed, nobody can accuse the good doctor of not getting on-stage. One house band he was involved with for an extended period included Billy Hart on drums, Hal Galper on piano, and George De Leon on tenor sax. In 1968 and 1969, Christie attended the Juilliard School of Music, playing in orchestral contexts as well as continuing a playing relationship with vibraphonist Mike Mainieri, who would prove to be both an important contact and a stimulating collaborator. Christie had been featured on a recording with Mainieri in 1967, and in the next few years the list of associates grew: the bassist backed the fascinating pianist Ahmad Jamal; the hilarious, disruptive, and historically accurate pianist Jaki Byard; the sometimes snoozing trumpeter and former sex symbol Chet Baker; and world music maestro Paul Winter, whose entourage carried around 12 tons of Tibetan gongs. All in all, not a bad jazz experience, late-'60s state-of-the-art for a lad who might have been out on the highway dodging kangaroos, or delivering babies. He also lasted longer than 90 percent of the bassists who worked with the temperamental drummer and bandleader Buddy Rich; i.e., more than two weeks.

In the '70s, he began working with pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi on an international basis as well as gigging in Germany with the guitarist Attila Zoller, at that point receiving a better reception on the German soil than his namesake had. His playing was bolstered by some solid mainstream experiences, most notably a recording session with somersaulting tenorman Flip Phillips and the one and only Clark Terry, who pushed for simplicity in the bassist's contributions. Christie also began leading his own groups, sometimes including sidemen such as guitarist John Scofield, years before he was embraced as a grandfather by the jam band scene; pianist Walter Bishop Jr., already related by blood to Charlie Parker; and trumpeter Randy Brecker, on the verge of his own fraternal funk in the Brecker Brothers. Perhaps the oncoming tide of fusion was not his taste in bathing, but Christie seemed to begin stressing teaching activities by the mid-'70s, establishing a teaching position at Westchester in New York state. Officially, his eventual title evolved into Director Emeritus of Jazz Studies at Westchester Conservatory. Many fine jazz musicians studied formal jazz arranging with him.

The contact with Farlow came about during one of this guitarist's periods of musical hiatus. He was playing totally on a local basis in Sea Bright, NJ, supporting himself with a sign-painting business. In 1967, Farlow "came out for a while," as described by one of the guitarist's champions, the jazz disc jockey Mort Fega. Pianist Johnny Knapp suggested "a doctor who plays real good bass," and that turned out to be Dr. Lyn Christie. Exciting later developments, including a surprise visit from ill-fated Canadian guitar legend Lenny Breau, is captured in the film Talmadge Farlow. Christie recorded other projects with Farlow in both 1977 and 1981. In 1985, Christie also recorded with jazz harpist Daphne Hellman, whose seemingly endless stint at the Village Gate was one of New York City's longest running jazz gigs. Christie has doubled on electric bass as well as several woodwind instruments, and has composed a variety of music ranging from jazz ensemble charts such as "Doubled Up" to film scores.