Charlie Christian International music festival
In the past 26 years, the Charlie Christian International Music Festival has grown a great deal.
“It was a grassroots party, if you will,” said Anita Arnold, executive director of festival sponsor Black Liberated Arts Center. “You could even call it a block party.”
Named for the Oklahoma City-raised, influential swing and jazz guitarist Charlie Christian, the event has since grown from an informal party to a nearly week-long festival with a full slate of events. This year’s edition features six events over five days, starting Tuesday.
As the festival grew, it changed locations often, each time preceding a revitalization of the area. From the Zoo Amphitheatre to Second Street to Regatta Park, it has turned people’s thoughts toward a forgotten part of the city.
“Every time we went in with the festival, we cleaned it up,” Arnold said. “We’ve been pointing the way. And Charlie Christian pointed the way for a lot of musicians.”
Christian’s single-note guitar style was a part of the move from the sixstring as merely a rhythm instrument in jazz to a soloing one in the late 1930s and early 1940s. He died in 1942, at the age of 25.
But his legend lives on in the festival. If Christian, who would have turned 95 this summer, could have seen the performers on this year’s lineup, he’d see everything from a jam with the local Jeremy Thomas Band to California-based world/fusion group Tizer. The featured musician is former “Tonight Show with Jay Leno” musical director Kevin Eubanks. The final two days unleash several acts in true festival style at Bicentennial Park, 500 Couch.
While the festival will take place in several locations, organizers are in talks with Bricktown Ballpark to have a permanent home, hopefully in place by Christian’s 100th birthday, five years from now.