Monday, November 07, 2011

Music Monday ~ Great Jazz Guitarists

Now and again Music Monday will feature a trio of jazz icons, instrument by instrument, with brief astro detail along with an occasional link to archived posts or other sources. For the earlier post on tenor saxophone players see Greatest Sax Voices in Jazz.

I'm still on a steep learning curve when it comes to jazz - as with most other things in this life....but then, aren't we all? When pondering on jazz guitarists the only name I could come up with was Django Reinhardt (an early favourite of mine when he played with Stephane Grapelli on violin). This was the sum total of my experience of jazz before meeting Himself, my husband.

To fill out an iconic trio I took advice from Himself. He suggested Charlie Christian and Freddie Green as worthy of inclusion along with Django.

Freddie Green. That name sounds distinctly non-jazzy to my ear - brings to mind more the boy nextdoor, or the guy who ran a local cafe. But Freddie Green, known as "the dean of rhythm guitarists" filled the rhythm guitar slot for such jazz luminaries as Count Basie, Lester Young, Benny Goodman and Billie Holiday, during his 50-year long career.

«When he played with Count Basie, everyone knew that Freddie Green was half the orchestra on his own, the man who helped the band breathe. He was the "working lung", and as an accompanist he played "four-to-the-bar" like nobody else. The secret of his swinging lightness lay in the fact that he didn't play all the strings, merely three or four of them.» [Philippe Baudoin]

Basie's "left hand", as this humble rhythm player was dubbed time and again, the "fourth wheel on the Basie band wagon", a phenomenon only noticed when rarely missing. Freddie Green's rhythm work was immaculate, pure, elastic and bouncingly light, unlike any other. His commitment to rhythm guitar misled lesser guitarists to take Green's strict confinement to rhythm work for the mark of a second-rate player.
On the contrary, Green's rhythm work was high art.
Freddie Green: born on March 31, 1911 in Charleston, South Carolina; died on March 1, 1987.

As in my earlier post on jazz sax players, I'd expect to find Neptune (creativity) and/or Uranus (innovation, inventive) hooked into personal planets somehow, somewhere, in the charts of jazz musicians. In Freddie Green's case, less so than others, because his job was not to be inventive or creative but to provide, and hold, the chord structure and rhythmic pulse of the piece. We can see that effect in his chart: Venus in Taurus (planet of music/the arts in its sign of rulership) is conjunct Saturn. If any planet can be classed as a structure-holding planet, Saturn can! I'd say that Venus conjunct Saturn, especially when in Taurus, is classic signature for Freddie Green's style, as well as his longevity as a performer (50 years was a long, long time in the music business back then, when so many great artists fell by the wayside!)

Tribute to Freddie Green

Charlie Christian's career was tragically brief. He was born in Texas but grew up in an Oklahoma City slum. His father was a blind guitarist and singer, two of his brothers were musicians. Charlie himself built and played cigar-box "guitars" during his school days. He became a respected local musician in Oklahoma, playing an amplified acoustic guitar as early as 1937. John Hammond, the famous talent scout and producer, heard about Christian, was impressed, and arranged for the guitarist to travel to Los Angeles to try out with Benny Goodman.

Although Goodman was initially put off by Christian's primitive wardrobe, as soon as they started jamming on "Rose Room," Christian's talents were obvious. For the next two years, he would be well-featured with Benny Goodman's Sextet

Tragically, Charlie Christian contracted tuberculosis in 1941, and died, aged 25 on March 2, 1942.

It can be said without exaggeration that virtually every jazz guitarist that emerged during 1940-65 sounded like a relative of Charlie Christian. It would be 25 years before jazz guitarists finally moved beyond his style.


Born on 29 July 1916 in Bonham, Texas. Here, creative Neptune conjoins his Sun and Mercury in Leo. Moon would have been somewhere from late Cancer to 8 Leo, so could also have been close to Neptune. Musical planet Venus is tightly conjunct Pluto - I wonder if that was a dark omen of his tragically early demise?

A violinist first, guitarist later, Jean Baptiste "Django" Reinhardt grew up in a gypsy camp near Paris where he absorbed the gypsy strain into his music. A disastrous caravan fire in 1928 badly burned his left hand, depriving him of the use of the fourth and fifth fingers, but the resourceful Reinhardt figured out a novel fingering system to get around the problem that probably accounts for some of the originality of his style.

A free-spirited gypsy, Reinhardt wasn't the most reliable person in the world, frequently wandering off into the countryside on a whim. Yet Reinhardt came up with a unique way of propelling the humble acoustic guitar into the front line of a jazz combo in the days before amplification became widespread. He would spin joyous, arcing, marvelously inflected solos above the thrumming base of two rhythm guitars and a bass, with Stephane Grappelli's elegantly gliding violin serving as the perfect foil. Although he could not read music, with Grappelli and on his own, Reinhardt composed several highly original tunes.

See also my own 2007 post ~ Stephane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt - A Magical but Unlikely Pair of Aquarians>

Django Reinhardt was born on 23 January 19 in Liberchies, Pont-à-Celles, Belgium, at 10:00 PM according to Astrodatabank, with a "B" rating - not 100% reliable but it'll suffice for this purpose.

With Moon conjunct creative Neptune in Moon's rulership sign Cancer, and inventive Uranus just barely out of range to be considered conjunct Sun in Aquarius - Uranus's sign of rulership, Django had near enough a classic planetary lineup for a jazz artist. Venus, the musical planet is tightly sextile (helpful aspect) Mars in Taurus - reflecting his dynamic musical style. There's a Grand Cross in his natal chart linking Neptune, Uranus, Saturn and Jupiter, this configuration usually signifies some kind of ongoing inner conflict, possibly manifesting in Django's case as his unreliability and tendency to be unpredictable.

Below, one of Django's own compositions Nuages (Clouds). The person who uploaded this video at YouTube wrote:
This was done just weeks before he died.
I recall the original liner notes, written by Charles Delauney ( a friend of D.R) stating that there was a "certain ennui about the session" ..a sadness and premonition that Django had that he didn't have long. Delauney stated that it was the most emotional version of "Nuages" ever done.

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