Lester Young and Guitars

In the last two years, I’ve tried to learn guitar — Swing and Gypsy Jazz guitar.  While most people are wailing out AC/DC, Steve Vai, or Joe Satriani, I decided Freddie Green, Django, and Charlie Christian as my direction.  For the most part, the guitar was used as a rhythm instrument.  It hung back with the bass player and the drummer, only hitting those 4/4 beats, rockin on the 2 and 4.  Freddie Green was the master of this.  He sat behind Count Basie, strumming that beat to a clock so precise the band members gave him the nickname Father Time.

Django Reinhardt, show me someone who would not want to cut a rug after hearing some of the French Gypsy influenced jazz?  It’s truly unique.  In Gypsy, there are usually multiple guitars that represent lead and rhythm.  You learn to play both.

Finally, there is the young wonder from Texas that died way too early, Charlie Christian.  He was discovered, from what I recall reading, by Benny Goodman’s manager.  Goodman didn’t like change, so the manager sprung Christian on him at the last-minute while going on stage.  Benny was a notorious perfectionist, and didn’t agree at first.  After the manager assured him it would work out, Goodman agreed to one song.  By the end of it, Goodman continued with it and jammed for another 45 minutes with Christian.

Christian influenced many musicians and is consider the first single note soloist.  For the average person, you could say he created the first guitar solo bringing the guitar forward from the rhythm section.  Prior to Christian, solos were played in block chords in melodies.  Artists like Lonny Johnson, Eddie Lang, and Allan Reuss performed that way.  Charlie Christian did it different.

Christian was horn influenced, meaning he grabbed his solo lines, playing them note by note like horn players do.  One of the horn players that he seemed to be really influenced by was Lester Young.  I’ve listened to some Lester Young songs, and really have grown fond of his playing.  You can see how it would work with guitar and how it would influence other styles.

Not to long ago, I was on another blog and found a site belonging to Ethan Iverson, a piano player for the modern jazz trio — the Bad Plus.  The post was done in 2009, and was a centenial celebration of Youngs life.  He analysed the work of Young, seeking influence for his own music.  It’s obvious that this post took a lot of time and effort.  For God’s sake, there are even transcriptions of the classic Oh, Lady Be Good, sixteen different solos.  SIXTEEN! It’s worth alook if you are into music, or a fan of swing and bop.  As I learn more about swing guitar, I hope this will rub off on me.

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