Settlemires Joins Legendary Guitarists for Tribute Concert
CHICKASHA – When Joe Settlemires signed on to play at a tribute concert this summer, he didn’t just salute one of jazz guitar’s greatest musicians; he performed alongside some of the greatest jazz guitarists to date.
At the annual Charlie Christian International Jazz Festival in Oklahoma City this June, Settlemires opened for the jazz quintet The Yellowjackets, members of which he played with 30-40 years ago.
On hand during the three-day festival was jazz guitarist George Benson, known for his No. 1 hits “Give Me the Night” and “Turn Your Love Around.”
Christian became a well-known jazz guitarist in Oklahoma City in the late 1920s and 1930s, performing on a handmade instrument built from a cigar box. In 1939, he joined forces with Benny Goodman and contributed to the hits “Soft Winds,” “As Long as I Live,” “Blues in the Night” and many others.
Highly regarded as a versatile musician, Christian performed with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton, Thelonius Monk and others. At 25, Chrisitian died of pneumonia in New York.
Settlemires, director of the ShowBand at the University of Science and Arts, wasn’t even born until after Christian’s death, but he was familiar with Christian’s family.
“I knew his brother Clarence, who played piano,” he said. “I also knew his daughter Loraine, who didn’t know her dad, because he died so young.”
A noted musician in his own right, Settlemires began playing guitar at age 12; Christian was among his many influences. At age 16, Settlemires was performing in Merle Lindsay’s Ozark Jubilee Band, backing up such notables as Tex Ritter, Red Foley and Bob Wills. He even backed up Willie Nelson with another band.
Today, Settlemires is the youngest surviving member of the Texas Playboys. He has been inducted into four musical halls of fame, including three western swing organizations. Settlemires teaches guitar at USAO and directs the USAO ShowBand with his wife, Donna.
At the annual jazz festival, Settlemires ran into jazz guitar legend George Benson, who remembered a particular meeting as a youngster.
“George recalled back when he was just 19 and passing through Oklahoma City, and he sat in at the Trevis Club, where me and my band were playing,” Settlemires said. “That was pretty remarkable to hear after all these years.”
Although he didn’t perform with Benson, Settlemires said the meeting was meaningful.
“This meeting with George was quite inspiring,” he said. “He was really good, and very nice to me.”
Since the 1980s, the annual Charlie Christian International Jazz Festival has paid tribute to the groundbreaking musician from Oklahoma City. The event is sponsored by the Black Liberated Arts Center, a non-profit group dedicated to cultivating fine arts in Oklahoma City while fostering arts education in schools.