I can’t believe I found this on YouTube, as this specimen of jazz improvisation is pretty obscure. A few days ago I put up the song “Rose Room” by Benny Goodman and his sextet, featuring Charlie Christian on the electric guitar. Idly entering “Waiting for Benny” in the search engine, I found that that song was on YouTube as well.
I’m putting it up because it’s the only recording I know that shows the actual birth of a jazz melody during an improvised jam session.
On March 13, 1941, some members of Goodman’s group were waiting for the boss to arrive in the studio. These included Cootie Wiiliams on trumpet (formerly a famous member of Duke Ellington’s orchestra), Georgie Auld on tenor sax, Johnny Guarnieri on piano, Artie Bernstein on bass, Dave Tough on drums, and Charlie Christian on guitar. The engineers did a sound check while the group was warming up, and recorded it, capturing an amazing session.
Christian starts noodling around, and then, at 1:30 into the recording, comes up with a theme. The other players riff on it (Cootie does great trumpet work) until the boss arrives five minutes in, when the engineer says, “Stand by—ten seconds.” It’s is a superb example of how accomplished jazz musicians can put together a great piece on the spot.
The theme was later recorded and released by Goodman as a regular song: “A Smo-o-o-oth One,” which you can hear here. I have “Waitin’ for Benny” on the CD “Charlie Christian: The Genius of the Electric Guitar.”
I notice that Goodman gets credit for the composition of “A Smo-o-o-oth One,”, although he had almost nothing to do with it. He was famously a real s.o.b. as a boss.
Charlie Christian was an amazing guy, the first jazz musician, I think, to fully realize the possibilities of the electric guitar (Django Reinhardt is also famous for jazz guitar, but was more of a one-off). Christian was also a huge influence on bebop. And he made all his contributions before he died of tuberculosis (exacerbated by wild living) at age 25.