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Jazz Guitar Licks: Charlie Christian 2-5-1 lick from "Tea for Two"

Updated on May 1, 2013

Bringing the Jazz Guitar Out of the Rhythm Section

While he might not be as widely known to the general public as the Charlie who bit his brother's finger, he was an undeniable historical figure in the development of jazz guitar, specifically when it came down to soloing.

Charlie was one of the most influential jazz guitar players of all time, and has been a huge influence in shaping the early sound of the jazz guitar. Before Charlie's time, the guitar was used more as a rhythm section instrument, playing chords on the beat like Freddie Green.

With the advent of the electric guitar, and Charlie's immense improvisational talent, the guitar was to gain a more important role in jazz in the late 30's and in the 40's. His soloing skills also went on to influence the Bebop movement in jazz, as well as the early rock and roll guitarists, a style where the guitar was the natural leading instrument.

Tea for Two solo excerpt

Charlie's 2-5-1 Lick, Standard Notation



Theory Talk!

Notice the repetitive rhythmic pattern of the Bb note in the first bar, and the F note in the second bar. Try accenting these notes while you play the passage. The Bb is the tonic (root) note of the Bb minor, but the accented F is the 9th extension of Eb7, making the chord a Eb9.

The first two bars are more chromatic in style, while the third bar follows more closely an arpeggio of Ab major. Those of you who know their major scales, will notice that the G (7th), F (6th), Eb (5th), and C (3rd) are all used to outline the Ab major chord, finishing with the 5th and the root played simultaneously.

Also of interest in the third bar, the C note on the 4th beat is preceded by Db and B natural notes, encircling the C note from a half step "on either side". This method is used frequently in jazz improvisation, and lends itself very easily to the jazz guitar. Try experimenting with this idea in your solos. It is probably most often done from a scale tone above, and from a half-step below, regardless if that half step falls on a note from the scale. In fact, it is a great way to include notes outside of the scale. The tension of the false note is quickly resolved when you play the scale tone right after the "outside" note.

The best way to really get this lick down in your fingers is, like in any other musical concepts, to play it over and over and over and over...

UPDATE: I have transcribed a second lick from the same solo, and made a similar article about it here:

Jazz Guitar Licks: Charlie Christian Lick #2


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    • Act 3 profile image

      chet thomas 4 years ago from Athens, GA

      Air Mail Special has some good short solos if I remember correctly. I always liked Waiting for Benny and Seven Come Eleven.

    • RaunSeymourCole profile image

      RaunSeymourCole 4 years ago from Illinois, USA

      Thanks Act 3, I have a few licks from that solo that I plan on making into hubs. Come to think of it, I'll probably do a few Charlie Christian hubs before I move on, I always wanted to but never spent much time studying his style.

      Any song suggestions?

    • Act 3 profile image

      chet thomas 4 years ago from Athens, GA

      Good hub. The record of Charlie Christian playing with the Benny Goodman Orchestra is what first piqued my interest in jazz guitar.