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Charlie Christian’s Box of Genius

How is it that during an era of dispossessed Tom Joads, the PWA, FDR’s promises of “a chicken in every pot” and the angst of pre-WWII America that Charlie Christian and Benny Goodman were able to produce such raucous, devil-may-care music that infected hips and feet across the nation with the irresistible urge to get up and dance? It’s fairly obvious: they were of that lucky subset of night-clubbing Americans who knew that even though times were tough as tough can be they were in no danger of having to dig ditches, sweep the streets, or pick endless rows fruit and vegetables meant for other stomachs while theirs went hungry. It was a celebration of good fortune in bad times, and it helped the downtrodden keep their chins up. After all, if a poor black kid from Oklahoma City playing gigs for $2.50 a night could make $200 a week in the Big Apple playing guitar with Benny Goodman’s band, surely there was hope for everyone.

In September Columbia will release Charlie Christian: The Genius of the Electric Guitar, a 4-CD box set that embodies the spirit of this turbulent period of U.S. history. According to Columbia the set is a “comprehensive collection of [Christian’s] Columbia recordings [from] 1939-41” containing 98 tracks, 28 being previously unreleased in the U.S., 17 having never been issued at all.

In what is arguably the beginning of the Golden Age of jazz, when horn was king, Charlie Christian stood out as a revolutionary guitarist. Though he died at a very young age, Christian’s impact transcended the world of jazz. The box set will include accolades and testaments of Christian’s influence from such diverse artists as Warren Haynes, Bill Frisell, Wes Montgomery, and Joe Satriani. Christian biographer Peter Broadbent provides the liner notes for this historic collection.

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