Buddy Christian was one of the original members of King Oliver's band, described by no less an expert than Louis Armstrong as "the hottest jazz band ever heard in New Orleans between the years 1910 and 1917." Christian can also lay claim to having played on some of the finest recording sessions of New Orleans jazz, having had the luck to be part of a small band that put both Armstrong and Sidney Bechet in front of the same microhones. The banjoist, who later switched to guitar along with every other jazz banjoist in existence, also had a knack for clever band names when fronting his own outfits, cutting sides throughout the '20s with ensembles such as Buddy Christian's Jazz Rippers and Buddy Christian's Four Cry Babies. The Jazz Rippers recorded in 1926 for Pathe, the sessions shrouded in mystery ever thereafter. Is it Clarence Williams who provides the secret piano and vocals, trying to disguise his voice? The sizzling instrumentalists in the group who actually took credit for their playing included exuberant Happy Caldwell on clarinet, colorful Ted Brown on alto saxophone, the fine early jazz trombonist Charlie Irvis, and the under-rated Charlie Thomas on cornet. Vocalist Margaret Turner also tried to be sneaky, crediting herself as Margaret Johnson, or is it the other way around? Highlights of these recordings include the jazzy aroma of "The Skunk," as well as the anxious "Come Get Me Papa Before I Faint." Christian's banjo was also part of the Creole Five, the Gulf Coast Seven, the Red Onion Jazz Babies with Bechet and Armstrong, J.C. Johnson's Five Hot Sparks, and the Clarence Williams Blue Five. Christian was born Narcisse Christian, but picked up a nickname like many of other New Orleans musicians. There was already a "bunk", so he wound up a buddy, that's one way to look at it. Some New Orleans jazz punters will say that Christian has nowhere near the banjo power of Johnny St. Cyr, but there are definitely superior recordings involving Christian, such as the sides cut by classic blues singer Rosetta Crawford. The banjoist is part of stripped-down band -- just piano, banjo, and the soprano saxophone of Bechet -- and the results are gorgeous. A similar early session by classic blues queen Bessie Smith substitutes clarinetist Ernest Elliot as the horn for an amazing version of "Beale Street Mama." Christian also dabbled in composing. He was the co-writer with bandleader Porter Grainger of the classic "Texas Mule Stomp."
by Eugene Chadbourne