It keeps getting better. The site for Charlie Christian's International Jazz Festival:

A nice article on its driving force:

Searching For Charlie Christian
by Dr. Wayne Goins

(Excerpt from Jazz Improv Magazine Volume 4, Number 4)

Charlie Christian is alive and kicking. His music still breathes down in the Deep Deuce-the legendary locale in the heart of downtown Oklahoma City, the place of discovery for the jazz guitarist who blazed a trail that stretched from the Southwest Territory all the way to East Coast of New York City. Jazz guitar players throughout the world are still reaping the benefits of the bop lines that he left us. Charlie accomplished a great deal in what is considered by most standards to be a miniscule amount of time-a mere four years, a blink of an eye. But you wouldn’t know that judging by the reaction when his name is mentioned on the streets of Oklahoma City.

It seems everybody knew Charlie Christian, or knew somebody who knew him. Among those who spent time on the Deep Deuce, Charlie’s legacy only grew, even if the reputation of Second Street died a slow and painful death over the years, until eventually it was all but gone and replaced by what is now known as ‘Bricktown.’ This latest edition of the Deuce offers sleek condominiums and office space designed to bring young, affluent corporate movers to a town that-at least until maybe recently-hasn’t exactly earned the reputation as “the place to be” among American cities.

Meanwhile, Charlie’s name and legacy-along with world-renown novelist Ralph Ellison’s-remains synonymous with the incredible burst of traffic and energy that funneled through the city and supported the territory bands, and mothered what ultimately become known as “Kansas City Jazz.” Truth be told, many of those musicians who eventually established permanent residency in the old “Kaycee” originally earned their reputation on the Deuce, including Jay McShann, Count Basie, Lester Young, and Claude “Fiddler” Williams.

A Pair of Aces over the Deuce: Anita and Leo

One of the primary reasons that Charlie Christian’s legacy is far from dying in the Southwest territory is due to a shining light among the stars who keep the memory of Deep Deuce alive. To call her a one-woman army is somewhat of an understatement, as she is a prime force for the Charlie Christian International Jazz Festival. Anita G. Arnold-an incredibly vivacious woman who has all the stamina and fortitude of marathon runner-has already contributed three books dedicated to Charlie Christian and the Oklahoma City legacy (Charlie and the Deuce, Charlie Christian Photo Collection, and Legendary Times and Tales on Second Street). She is the Executive Director of the Black Liberated Arts Center, a non-profit organization that has been in existence for more than thirty-two years now. Dedicated to arts education, Arnold’s group brings in groups from all over the country for the festival, as well as other events for the entire year to the delight of citizens throughout the entire Oklahoma City community.

The award-winning BLAC organization is one of the groups that has partnered with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, since 1995. Among its many endeavors, the annual music festival in Oklahoma City looms large, and has expanded from its original status as the Deep Deuce Jazz Festival in 1984 to the current Charlie Christian International Jazz Festival, which will be held this year in June, lasting four days from June 2-5.

For more than twelve years, Arnold has had a great vision for the incredible potential that the festival possesses, and is working diligently to present a powerful lineup of musicians on the roster for this upcoming June’s proceedings. Anita Arnold is a woman that knows how to get things done, leaving most others with the decision to either get on board or get out of the way. I chose to roll with her.

A Simple Twist of Fate

Anita Arnold’s continued quest to guard Oklahoma’s rich heritage led her on a trip to Bonham Texas, where a commemorative event was taking place in Charlie Christian’s honor. As expected, many followers attended the gathering, and they came from near and far. One particular member in attendance, Leo Valdes, an unassuming elder statesman whose relatively quiet demeanor belies his intense pursuit of even the most minute details of Charlie’s life, has been under Christian’s spell ever since he heard a recording of him in Greenville, Texas back in 1958. From that day on he was hooked, and decided to collect everything he could find (he now has practically every picture and recording.) Leo began the arduous process of transposing a few of those brilliant solos of Charlie’s, in hope that he might gain a better understanding of the left and right hand technique that best executed the musical phrases captured on the records. He soon realized, however, that not only was the transcribing process an exhausting and time-consuming one, but also that a certain part of what Charlie Christian played defied notation. Still, he pressed on, and now oversees the most accurate collection of transcription anywhere in the world.

In the town of Charlie’s birthplace, Anita met Leo Valdes in April of 1994 while standing at the gravesite of Charlie Christian. Valdes, who lives in El Paso, had traveled across the state to attend the event. He recognized Arnold and shyly introduced himself, asking if she would be interested in perusing his incredibly vast collection of material gathered over what was then a thirty-six year project. She was astounded by what he’d amassed, and, crossing her fingers, politely asked if she might borrow some of his gatherings to take back with her to Oklahoma City to share at the 11th Annual Charlie Christian Festival. He agreed, and it was the beginning of a strong bond between two Southwest enthusiasts who played similar yet different roles in championing Charlie’s place in history.
The Summit

I met Leo Valdes as a result of my own quest for knowledge about Charlie’s legacy. During the process of gathering materials (for what would eventually become my next book project) I began surfing through websites for any tidbits of information that might provide a direction. I came across Leo’s location-“Solo Flight: The Charlie Christian Website” ( and was immediately struck by the enormous weight of this site. It had just about everything anyone would want-a virtual one-stop shopping for Christian fanatics. Valdes’ site boasts, in his words, “a detailed solography, complete discography, solo and riff transcriptions ( including tablature), photo gallery, bibliographies, CD reviews, newsletters, links to other sites, and more.” I knew that there way no way I’d write a book on Charlie Christian without him-I didn’t want to try going around Leo. I decided to go through him.

I sent him an email, telling him how much I both admired and appreciated what was obviously-cliché as it may sound-a life-long labor of love. I asked if he’d be willing to direct me via email on the best strategy to take regarding my new project. He quickly admitted that he’d already been burned by certain others who’d asked for his personal material on Christian earlier (it wouldn’t be polite to provide names), and now seriously regretted having contributed to publish their books and websites. In some instances some of his materials were blatantly stolen from him, and had invariably appeared on sites, magazines, books, or album covers. It made him gun-shy, to say to least. But Leo said he’d like to hear my take on the matter of researching the subject of Charlie Christian.

In my next email to him, I fired no less than three salvos: 1) a general layout of the chapters of the book, 2) a confession that I had no plans whatsoever of trying to complete the enormous task without his assistance, and 3) if he granted me the same blessings that he’d given those who burned him in the past, I guaranteed that I would never use anything he sent me without his permission, that my publisher gives me total control over content, and that his material would be presented completely in tact when all was said and done. Lastly, I asked for his number so that we might talk “in person.” I also offered to send him a copy of my latest book, The Jazz Band Director’s Handbook: A Guide for Success as a non-too-subtle way of both appeasing him and showing him that I was a fairly decent writer.

The strategy worked. In our first phone conversation we talked for hours, and I was elated when he wrote back that he enjoyed my writing style, thought I was the right person to do the project, and that he’d send me copies of Anita Arnold’s work. Then he strongly suggested that I contact not only Mrs. Arnold, but also some of Charlie Christian’s relatives and associates still living in Oklahoma City. He said he’d make the initial introductions on my behalf. Things were getting serious now, and fast.

Within days I was in touch with one the main political figures on Oklahoma City arts scene, Anita Arnold, along with many others in the cast that, in my mind, represented the living history of Charlie Christian and the Deep Deuce. First, I was introduced to George Wesley, with whom, it turned out, I had much in common with, including being fraternity brothers at the same alma mater. Then, after having an incredibly warm but somewhat guarded conversation with Charlie Christian’s only offspring, Billie Jean Johnson, and her mother (now Margretta Lorraine Downey), I was invited to come and visit with them for extended interviews. (I would later come to understand the slight hesitancy toward the many requests for interviews and artifacts from Billie Jean and Margretta.)

Not one to squander a great opportunity, I immediately called Leo again, telling him that all the phone conversations with Arnold, Wesley, and the Christian family went quite well, and that it was evident that I needed to make a pilgrimage to the stomping grounds of our guitar hero. Out of respect, I asked if he thought it would be worth the trip for him, if there would be much to discover that he didn’t already know. “I don’t think so,” says Leo. Now I’m licking my chops. I know that if I can persuade Leo to come down with me, I am certain that new items or artifacts will be unveiled-even if only a few -thereby allowing me to return the good favor that Leo has shown me thus far.