BAO Fam Share: Boston Musician Transcribes 1930's Bebop Guitarist Charlie Christian's Six Appeal

By Grace Ward for Input/Output Magazine

April 22, 2020


In honor of the season finale of their podcast, In Conversation, today’s BAO Fam Share spotlights INPUT/OUTPUT Magazine. I/O aims to provide a platform for women and non-binary musicians, especially those whose music defies the label of a specific genre. As Founder and Editor in Chief Magdalena Abrego explains, ““Input” refers to the gender discrimination that women and non-binary artists experience in the music industry; “output” describes the ways in which these experiences do – or do not – shape our work.”

In light of the COVID-19 epidemic, I/O has found innovative ways to raise money for performers such as their Dinner and a Show series hosted on Instagram Live. The series is featuring live music and delicious recipes and is also accepting donations for performers via venmo (@magdalenaaa) or PayPal (maa.abrego@gmail.com). Follow them on instagram or subscribe to their newsletter for more updates on their inventive response to the COVID-19 crisis.

Without further ado, here is one of the articles featured in the first issue of I/O mag, released in May 2019, for more articles from Issue #1 check out their website here:

Grace Ward transcribes the solos of legendary jazz guitarist Charlie Christian.

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.

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The cover photo of this article is Grace Ward, photographed by Sasha Pedro, and makeup by Veronica Nunes