Jazz at Lincoln Center Presents: Hall of Fame Jazz Guitarists

Classic Arts Features   Jazz at Lincoln Center Presents: Hall of Fame Jazz Guitarists
On May 2 and 3, Jazz at Lincoln Center celebrates the artistry of Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian.

In its first celebration of jazz guitar, Jazz at Lincoln Center welcomes guitarists Frank Vignola, Russell Malone, Bobby Broom and Bir_li Lagrne, accompanied by the Lewis Nash Trio, to perform music of the legendary talents that came before them: 2007 Nesuhi Ertegun Jazz Hall of Fame inductees Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt. On May 2 & 3, 2008 at 8pm in the Rose Theater, they join drummer and music director Lewis Nash, pianist Mulgrew Miller and bassist Peter Washington for Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian: A Celebration of the Jazz Guitar.

These two great pioneering guitarists led the way for everyone from Muddy Waters to Jimi Hendrix. Born in 1916 in Texas, Charlie Christian turned pro in 1934 and was an influence on modern jazz guitarists into the 1960s. Through jazz impresario John Hammond, Christian met Benny Goodman and joined his sextet. Christian was the first to turn the guitar into a solo instrument whose single-note lines were as rhythmically and harmonically daring as those played by the finest brass and reed players. "I don't look at it as playing a guitar," he said. "I try to make my guitar sound like I think a saxophone should."

"He was a sweet loving man with few defenses against the world," says Hammond. "His only resource was music and when he was unable to play he was unable to live." But Christian's short life (he died in 1942 from pneumonia) profoundly impacted the future of guitar playing. He was the first to establish a mature vocabulary for the electric guitar, the style of which was passed on to young players including Jim Hall and Barney Kessell. As Dizzy Gillespie once said, "Charlie was bad! He knew the blues and he knew how to do the swing. He had a great sense of harmony and he lifted up the guitar to a solo voice in jazz."

Django Reinhardt was born January 23, 1910 in Liverchies, Belgium in a shantytown caravan, the son of a gypsy entertainer who worked in a traveling show in France and Belgium. He learned violin first, then guitar. When a caravan fire in 1928 permanently injured two fingers on his left hand, he developed a revolutionary and spellbinding technique based on his limitations. In 1934, he formed a quintet, the Hot Club de France, with violinist St_phane Grappelli, and the group became the first to not use a true percussion section.

"Ah, what trouble he gave me!" Grappelli remembers. "I think now I would rather play with lesser musicians and have a peaceable time than with Django and his monkey business." The Hot Club quintet lasted until 1939. Reinhardt soon received a cable from Duke Ellington inviting him to play concerts, which he did before returning home to France. His music stayed powerful until the end, which came with a stroke at the age of 43. Mercer Ellington called Reinhardt "the most creative jazz musician to originate anywhere outside the United States."

Guitarist Bobby Broom explains his view on the impact early electric guitarists Reinhardt and Christian had, "What these two have done for establishing the guitar in jazz is immeasurable. I only recently became aware of Charlie Christian's influence as an improviser to young musicians who would forge the bebop era; I'm happy to know that the guitar is a more significant part of the story than is commonly written," Broom says.

"The most influential jazz guitarist of the 20th century, Wes Montgomery, always cited Christian as his main influence," Broom continues. "Thanks to the work of Reinhardt and Christian, the guitar, though perhaps the last instrument to be added to the jazz band historically, has not been without its share of innovative players who have been major contributors to jazz: improvisationally, compositionally and innovatively.

"Hopefully," Broom adds, "whenever I play I can speak from the viewpoint of a beneficiary of the great jazz and jazz-guitar work that has come before me."

Frank Vignola, Russell Malone, Bobby Broom and Bir_li Lagrne promise a serious evening of guitar. This instrument gains a different sound, style and approach with each artist that picks it up. Vive la difference!

For tickets to Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian: A Celebration of the Jazz Guitar, go to the Jazz at Lincoln Center lobby box office on Broadway at 60th Street, call CenterCharge at (212) 721-6500 or visit www.jalc.org.

A free pre-concert lecture precedes both nights at 7:00 p.m. in the Irene Diamond Education Center: Lewis Nash (the musical director for Celebration of the Jazz Guitar) along with other performers will discuss the music of Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt. Mr. Nash will be joined by Jazz at Lincoln Center Education Manager Ken Druker for these lectures.

Scott H. Thompson is Assistant Director of Public Relations for Jazz at Lincoln Center.

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