Friday, April 11, 2014

The other Ella

Hang onto your hats, kids; this one's huge.

Guaraldi backed a number of female singers during the early stages of his career. He memorably accompanied Faith Winthrop when both were house musicians during 1954 and '55 at the hungry i. Several years later, after fresh stints with Cal Tjader and Woody Herman, Guaraldi once again commanded his own trio and became the house band at Palo Alto's new club, Outside at the Inside. From the spring of 1960 through early '61, Guaraldi and his trio would play their own sets and also back headlining singers such as Helen Humes, Toni Harper and his former hungry i colleague, Faith Winthrop. 

For two weeks during the summer of 1960, Guaraldi flew to New York and backed June Christie at the famed Basin Street East.

None of these sessions was recorded, nor did Guaraldi hit the studio with any of these singers. Indeed, until just a few weeks ago, I would have said — with confidence — that Guaraldi never had been recorded while backing a female vocalist.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.


Imagine my surprise, boys and girls, when a recent eBay auction featured an item that rocked my world: a Galaxy Records 45 starring vocalist Ella Jamerson, back by none other than the Vince Guaraldi Trio.

The single — Galaxy Records #724 — features Buddy Johnson's blues ballad "Since I Fell for You" on the A-side, and is backed by Victor Young and Edward Heyman's "When I Fall in Love" on the flip side. (Doris Day made the latter a pop hit in 1952.)

Okay ... so who's Ella Jamerson? How did she encounter Guaraldi, and where has this disc been all my life?

She was born November 13, 1931, in Rome, Georgia; she and her family moved to San Francisco's Daly City district when she was 9. She grew up singing in gospel choirs and choruses; as a young adult, she joined groups such as the Angelairs and the Inspirational Tones. The latter ensemble split up in 1961, at which point Ella put together her own group, with an eye toward performing in San Francisco-area nightclubs. This new group — The Apollos (note the final vowel) — became a fixture at the Sugar Hill, on Broadway; later, and quite notably, they shared billing and sang back-up for young Barbra Streisand, during a gig at the hungry i.

Considerable more detail about Jamerson and The Apollo(a)s can be found in this 2005 essay by Opal Louis Nations.

For our purposes, however, I'll note that Fantasy Records' Sol Weiss caught The Apollos during their hungry i appearance, and clearly was captivated by what he heard. At that point, the group was a quintet: Jamerson, Augustine Jackson, Gloria Beverly, Shirley Brown and Connie Wye. As of 1961, Fantasy's subsidiary Galaxy label had been moribund for a bit, having stalled after putting our four singles featuring Cal Tjader, and one featuring Vido Musso (Galaxy 701-705). Weiss decided to expand the label by adding some blues and gospel artists, and The Apollos were first out of the gate. The group cut two singles: Galaxy 707, featuring "I Can't Believe It" and "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child"; and Galaxy 708, with "Say a Prayer" and "Lord, Lord, Lord." Sadly, despite a live stage delivery that was known to be electrifying, those 45s didn't do a thing for Fantasy/Galaxy or The Apollos.

But they eventually came to Guaraldi's attention, and he clearly liked what he heard. As for what came next ... well, let's allow Jamerson to continue the story, in her own words. Because yes; she's still with us, and I was overjoyed to chat with her on the phone a week ago.

"I was at Fantasy one day, and Sol told me that Vince was interested in me," she began, in a sparkling voice that remains crystal-clear, all these years later. "Sol said, 'You understand that this won't be a group thing, right? It's just you he's interested in.' That was so surprising, but what the heck? I didn't know Vince from Adam, and I'd never recorded as a soloist. But I said okay. So Sol introduced me to Vince, and I went to his home and met his mom, his wife and his two children. They were all very nice.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

A visit with the Doc

Guaraldi continues to elicit interest from jazz critics and historians, which of course is marvelous. Late last year, I was contacted by Richard "Doc" Stull, a jazz fan, writer and radio host whose CV reveals that he also dabbles as a musician and entertainer. You can learn more about him at his quite engaging web site.

Anyway, Doc wanted to chat about Guaraldi, and my book; we eventually enjoyed a lengthy phone conversation on February 4. Doc was well prepared, and his questions touched on everything from Guaraldi's childhood to his legacy, with stops along that way that covered bossa nova, the Grace Cathedral Jazz Mass and (of course!) the Peanuts gang.

I was particularly pleased to spend several minutes discussing Guaraldi's recording and performance association with Bola Sete, pictured here. For roughly two years, from March 1964 through February 1966, the Guaraldi/Sete Quartet was the hot ticket in the greater San Francisco area. Their debut run at Berkeley's Trois Couleur was extended repeatedly; they performed together at the 1964 Monterey Jazz Festival; and they wrapped lines around the building during numerous bookings at El Matador.

"The joy in Guaraldi's jazz is a priceless and timeless gift to music lovers," Doc wrote at one point, during our many e-mails. I couldn't have expressed that sentiment better, and Doc's appreciation for Dr. Funk is evident throughout the lengthy podcast that resulted from our chat. It went up April 3 on the New Books in Jazz website, where you'll also find Doc's generous review of my book. The interview runs 73 minutes; you can either play it via the site's pop-up player, or download it for later listening at your leisure.

Thanks again, Doc. It was great fun.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

When did Vince become Guaraldi?

Public records are amazing.

Information about Guaraldi's childhood is sketchy, despite his mother's devotion to her only child. Carmella preserved quite a few mementos and photographs; she also began a diary when Vince was quite young, but — alas! — didn't maintain it for very long.


As a result, I was able to obtain some broad strokes about Dr. Funk's boyhood self, and a bit more data came via interviews. Sadly, Carmella died before I began my book; the same was true of Vince's ex-wife, Shirley; and longtime girlfriend, Gretchen; and his two uncles (Carmella's brothers), Joe and Maurice "Muzzy" Marcellino. All that information lost.

Makes me wish I'd started this project a decade or two sooner. But woulda/coulda/shoulda is a sure and certain path to madness and frustration, so we do the best we can, in the moment.

Anyway...

I know that Vince grew up in San Francisco's North Beach area; I know that he was born to Carmella (Marcellino) and a brick-layer named Vince Dellaglio. (Yes, Vince was named after his father.) The elder Dellaglio moved out of the house when the boy was 4, and a divorce followed. Carmella soon met and married Anthony (Tony) Guaraldi, generally known as Secondo. Initially, at least, Carmella and Secondo lived on their own; Vince was "booted upstairs" (that's a quote) to live with his grandmother.

At some point during the next few years, Secondo Guaraldi adopted Vince, giving the boy the name by which we now know him. Sadly, though, Carmella's second marriage fared no better than the first; she and Secondo eventually divorced, and she never married again.

That's what I know. Here's what I don't know:

• The dates of Carmella's first marriage and divorce;

• The dates of Carmella's second marriage and divorce;

• The date Vince was adopted.

Ah, but thanks to a much-appreciated note I recently received from a fellow Guaraldi fan named Jeff, we have some very solid clues.

Jeff enjoys trolling through public records; he's pretty good at it. He informs me that full census forms become available to the public after 70 years, and you can imagine the wealth of data that presents.

As a result, Jeff called my attention to census records which verify that, as of April 25, 1940, young Vince was indeed living with his grandmother, Jenny L. Marcellino, at 1555 19th Avenue, San Francisco. You can view the relevant census page here; look in the left column, toward the middle of the page.

Note Vince's full name: Vincent Dellaglio. Having been born July 17, 1928, Vince would have been 11 years old, not quite 12. Not yet Guaraldi.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Orange is the New Gold

We're coming up on a couple of important anniversaries for Guaraldi's Peanuts music, and the first will land in about six weeks.

Guaraldi's first Peanuts album — Jazz Impressions of A Boy Named Charlie Brown — was released in December 1964. Technically, then, the album won't celebrate its 50th anniversary until the end of this year ... but Fantasy Records isn't waiting that long.




A limited-edition, collectible vinyl reissue of the original album will be released on May 13 by Fantasy, via the Concord Music Group. All concerned have worked hard to restore the original 1964 gatefold LP cover design, and the package also includes reproductions of the 8-by-10 Charles M. Schulz lithographs that were included inside first-edition releases.

Finally, the disc itself will be orange, as a nod toward Fantasy's original gimmick of issuing records on colored vinyl.

(Don't ask me why orange, rather than gold, which is appropriate for a golden anniversary.)

This collector's-edition vinyl will be readily available via Amazon and any music store willing to order and stock it.

In addition to this vinyl package, the album also will be re-released on CD on the same day (May 13), where it has been enhanced with 24-bit remastering by engineer Joe Tarantino, who has handled the remastering work on several Guaraldi re-releases. The CD booklet will include a lengthy new essay by my own self; I once again was delighted to assist with another of Fantasy's loving acknowledgments of Dr. Funk's legacy. (For those who might be curious, my essay is available only with the re-mastered CD, not with the LP.)

And I know what you're thinking: Additional surprises? Bonus tracks?

Yes.

Well, bonus track (singular). The remastered CD includes an alternate take of "Baseball Theme," a variant which — as I briefly explain, in my essay — is performed at a gentler tempo that more closes matches the version heard in the actual documentary.

Concord has set up an entire media page for the album, which you'll find here. The site includes a detailed press release, the album art, a link to the "Fans of Vince Guaraldi" Facebook page, and, thanks to SoundCloud, a means of sampling the music itself.

Original first-gen 1964 vinyl pressings of this album — with both vinyl and gatefold packaging in nice condition — are extremely hard to find. Those that include the Schulz mini-posters — also in nice condition, without (eek!) tape marks or thumbtack holes — are as rare as hen's teeth. (And quite expensive, when they do surface.) This is a chance to reach back 50 years and own a little slice of Guaraldian history.

And I must admit, the prestige approach taken with this album makes me wonder how Fantasy/Concord will top itself next year, when Guaraldi's score for A Charlie Brown Christmas celebrates its golden anniversary...

Friday, March 21, 2014

A Man Called Charlie Brown

In a brief untitled squib that appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on March 13, 1964, jazz columnist Ralph Gleason mentioned that Vince Guaraldi would write the music for a TV film about Charles M. Schulz's Peanuts newspaper strip: a documentary to be titled A Man Called Charlie Brown.

The documentary eventually re-christened A Boy Named Charlie Brown, directed and produced by Lee Mendelson, never aired on television; in 1964, no sponsor was willing to bring Charlie Brown and his friends to the small screen.

Decades passed, after which Mendelson's film finally found a home — and obtained distribution — at the Charles M. Schulz Museum, in Santa Rosa, California. The 30-minute documentary regularly screens in the museum's theater; it's also available for purchase, on DVD, from the museum's online store.

Thus armed with copies of the film, inquisitive Guaraldi fans found fresh reasons for raised eyebrows ... because the documentary's musical contents don't precisely correspond with what we've all enjoyed on the soundtrack album, which Fantasy released back in 1964. Most notably, several songs — "Blue Charlie Brown," "Charlie Brown Theme," "Freda (sic)" and "Pebble Beach" — aren't in the show at all. Were they extras that Guaraldi simply tossed in, to round out the album?

Likely not.

As originally detailed in the April 1964 issue of San Francisco magazine, Mendelson conceived his film as a 60-minute special: a logical choice, given that his previous hit documentary — A Man Named Mays, which profiled baseball great Willie Mays — had been produced at that length.

A few months later, on June 9, Fantasy Records' Max Weiss issued a press release that read, in part, "A Boy Named Charlie Brown has been eight months in production, and features such notables as Bing Crosby, Willie Mays, Dean Martin, Arnold Palmer and Frank Sinatra. Vince Guaraldi has written, scored and recorded the soundtrack, and Fantasy Records is readying an album of the original soundtrack, featuring Guaraldi and his trio."

Bing Crosby? Arnold Palmer? Frank Sinatra?

Folks who own the DVD know full well that they're nowhere to be seen. So ... what happened?

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The score, the whole score, and nothing but the score...

Sharp-eared Guaraldi fans love to analyze every single note heard in A Charlie Brown Christmas, in part because that’s the only Peanuts TV special to have generated its own soundtrack album. Many times over the years, I’ve fielded this question: “What’s being played about seven minutes into the show, as Charlie Brown watches Snoopy decorate his doghouse? That music isn’t on the album!” Answer: “Air Music,” also known as “Surfin’ Snoopy” ... and while it’s true that tune doesn’t appear on the soundtrack album, it is included on the CD Charlie Brown’s Holiday Hits.

For quite awhile, my interest is this particular topic was confined solely to such easy album/soundtrack comparisons. But when what we can call the “sidemen controversy” erupted anew late last year — regarding which of Guaraldi’s bassists and drummers performed on the special’s TV soundtrack, and/or the subsequent album, as detailed at length in this blog’s previous post — I realized that Fantasy’s long-standing justification for the credits, as given since the album’s re-release in 1998, required further scrutiny.

The assumption, as I explained, is that one set of sidemen (bassist Monty Budwig and drummer Colin Bailey) recorded the show’s actual soundtrack, in Hollywood; and a second set of sidemen (bassist Fred Marshall and drummer Jerry Granelli) subsequently recorded the album’s music, in San Francisco.

But can this theory be supported by the evidence?

In a word ... no.

At least, not completely.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Credit where due?

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Guaraldi’s first album of Peanuts music, Jazz Impressions of A Boy Named Charlie Brown, which debuted in December 1964. Next year, we’ll mark the same anniversary for the album soundtrack of A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Half a century. As Charlie Brown himself would say, Good grief!

I don’t remember precisely when I bought both albums, but it likely would have been some time in 1966 or ’67. I still have both of those LPs, and they’re still in pretty good condition ... which is amazing, considering how many times they’ve been played.

Half a century. You’d think, by now, that Guaraldi’s essential collaborators — his bassist and drummer — also could be acknowledged properly, for both albums.

You’d think.

You’d be wrong.

Over the years, the most frequent Guaraldian queries I’ve fielded have concerned either the sidemen credits for one or both of those albums, or the degree to which the music on both albums does — or doesn’t — match what we hear when watching the corresponding short films. Attempting to suss out the credits remains a source of conflicting opinions to this day, as demonstrated by the recent squabble that took place behind the scenes of Guaraldi’s Wikipedia entry. (See this blog’s previous post for details.)

Comparing the albums to the actual scores, however, has been a long-gestating project delayed only by my awareness of the effort involved: a challenge that therefore sat on a back burner for several years. Gathering the resources certainly wasn’t a problem: Copies of the TV special A Charlie Brown Christmas are easy to find, and the never-aired documentary A Boy Named Charlie Brown is available on DVD, from the Charles M. Schulz Museum.

Now, thanks to considerable assistance on the part of my good friend and fellow Guaraldi fan Doug Anderson, it’s time to shed some light on both issues. What follows raises fresh questions (with respect to credits) and contains some intriguing surprises (with respect to how the music was used). I’ll divide the results of recent analysis into three posts, starting with this one, which will concentrate on who did — or didn’t — play what on which.

As Bette Davis comments in 1950’s All About Eve, “Fasten your seatbelts; it’s going to be a bumpy night!”

Friday, January 31, 2014

Why I hate Wikipedia, Part One

Many concepts seem great in theory. Then people get involved, and the so-called “great idea” rapidly goes to hell.

Communism is a perfect example.

So is Wikipedia.

I applaud the premise behind Wikipedia: an expanding roster of experts supplying information about the topics they know best. What could go wrong?

Plenty, as it turns out.

Drummer Jerry Granelli, bassist Fred Marshall and Guaraldi, as captured on camera
for Ralph Gleason's documentary, Anatomy of a Hit. Guaraldi's trio was filmed during
its long run at The Trident, in the summer of 1963.
Wikipedia’s all-access submission model grants equal credence to anybody wishing to add, enhance or outright change an entry ... regardless of said individual’s actual credentials, and, most particularly, regardless of whether said individual might have an impish streak, or an axe to grind. Thus, some fantasy fan vexed over the omission of unicorns from a thorough discussion of equine history can simply add a reference to the horned critters, and hey, presto! An article of fact has been corrupted forever.

Okay, yes; I give Wikipedia’s “monitors” credit for modest efforts to weed out egregious examples of that nature. Unfortunately, most errors and fabrications aren’t that obvious, and therefore don’t get caught; Wikipedia simply doesn’t have the staff (or the inclination, in my humble opinion) to fact-check everything ... unlike, say, the folks behind centuries of The Encyclopedia Britannica, who do fact-check everything. Or even the editors at your local newspaper, who try their best to do the same. Information presented as authoritative deserves — nay, needs — to be vetted. Thoroughly.

Wikipedia authors, upon publication, don’t get vetted by anybody. Worse yet, mounting anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that the Wikipedia culture can be biased against efforts to correct untruths. Attempts to do so often anger those who posted the ludicrous blather in the first place, and they simply change it back. Make the attempt often enough, and you — the individual attempting to strike a blow for indisputable fact — risk getting branded a “troublemaker,” and subsequently blackballed.

Rather than a resource offering reliable information from that theoretical roster of experts, Wikipedia actually is an Internet outlet for those who shout the loudest and fight the hardest for “their” version of reality. Hardly the same.

And in the Internet age, bad information is much, much worse than no information at all ... because bad information spreads just as rapidly. Indeed, Wikipedia’s bad information spreads even faster, because this “resource” enjoys an undeserved reputation as an “authority.”

I’d laugh, if it weren’t so tragic.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Missing in action

I lament the ones that continue to elude me.

During the early years of Guaraldi's long association with Lee Mendelson, the jazz pianist and composer worked on several projects outside the realm of Charles Schulz and his Peanuts characters. The most noteworthy was a 1965 documentary, Bay of Gold, which told (and I'm quoting here) "the dynamic history of San Francisco and the Bay Area." I discuss the film at some length in my book, and note that it's available for viewing here, thanks to the kind folks at the San Francisco Bay Area Television Archive. Take a look, and enjoy Guaraldi's background score.

Aside from Bay of Gold, Guaraldi also scored a few short industrial films for clients such as Sunset Magazine and the Leslie Salt Company. I've never been able to find a copy of the latter, a 1966 film titled An Adventure with Spice Islands, which — according to Lee Mendelson's production index — existed in both a 26-minute and 15-minute format.

Here's the description, from the same Mendelson document:

An Adventure in Spice Islands is a documentary on the history and operation of the Spice Islands Company. A "typical housewife" who discovers the Spice Islands spices and herbs in her search to learn the art of good cooking is a humorous link which ties the shows together. On-camera interviews and an original music score enhance the entertainment value of this film.

Ah, the 1960s ... you gotta love it. The mind doth boggle, wondering how that "typical housewife" behaved on camera.

The Leslie Salt Company, once the largest private land owner in the San Francisco Bay Area, was absorbed by Cargill in 1978. Queries to the latter went nowhere, and from there the trail went cold. All that's known of Guaraldi's score is his "Spice Islands Theme," one of the tracks on his album Vince Guaraldi with the San Francisco Boys Chorus. (At least, I assume said theme is from the film in question. Seems too strong a coincidence to be otherwise.)

I did, however, just come up with this droll little squib from the Wisconsin Rapids (Wisconsin) Daily Tribune, published August 4, 1969, on the society page:

The film "An Adventure with Spice Islands" will be shown when St. Luke's Lutheran Ladies Aid meets at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, members to note change of time. On the hostess committee are Mrs. Leland Hagen, Mrs. Edgar Klingforth, Mrs. Elmer Lueck and Mrs. Carl Polansky Jr.

Okay, so it's clear that copies of the film were circulated, and we all know what that means: Somebody, somewhere, still has one. Needless to say, if any of this blog's followers can think of any leads, do let me know.

While we're on said subject, Guaraldi also scored at least a couple of 1966 TV commercials that Lee Mendelson produced. One was a 30-second spot — or perhaps a series of 30-second spots — for Granny Goose Potato Chips, to promote the company's new "Green Onion" brand of chips. The other was a 60-second spot for the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company. Titled "Susan," this short film was designed (again quoting from the Mendelson document) "to generate interest in young women to seek employment as service representatives for the Telephone Company. This was accomplished by presenting — in a documentary manner — the friendly people, atmosphere and conditions that the company offers — through the eyes of a young woman employee."

As of this writing, YouTube offers one Granny Goose TV spot from the 1960s ... but clearly not the right one. The few Pacific Telephone spots I've been able to unearth from that era also offer no joy.

Once again, though, I remain hopeful. I'm sure they're out there someplace...


Saturday, January 4, 2014

Saul Zaentz dies at 92

Depending on which artistic realm they inhabit, most people familiar with Saul Zaentz know him for one of two reasons: either as the producer of nine films from 1975 through 2006; or as the music producer and owner of Fantasy Records who got into several quite notorious legal spats with John Fogerty over the Creedence Clearwater Revival catalog.

In the former capacity, Zaentz took home an impressive three Academy Awards for Best Picture: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1976), Amadeus (1985) and The English Patient (1997). His other films included The Mosquito Coast, The Unbearable Lightness of Being and animator Ralph Bakshi's 1978 version of The Lord of the Rings, decades before Peter Jackson tackled the same material.

As the head of Fantasy, Zaentz is known mostly for embarking on a series of shrewd acquisitions of small jazz labels, including Prestige (1971), Riverside and Milestone (1972), Stax (1977), Contemporary (1984) and Pablo (1987).

Additional details about his career can be found in this Variety obituary.

Given this quite famous individual's thoroughly professional bearing — check YouTube for clips of him at the aforementioned Oscar ceremonies — it can be quite jarring to see him scruffy and youthfully laid back, at left, in Ralph Gleason's Anatomy of a Hit. Zaentz gets a fair amount of screen time in this 1963 documentary about Vince Guaraldi and the creation, packaging and subsequent explosive popularity of "Cast Your Fate to the Wind." Indeed, Zaentz was a key player at Fantasy during the crucial decade when Guaraldi blossomed from sideman, primarily in various Cal Tjader combos, to leader of his own groups.

This March 1955 clip from Billboard Magazine announces Zaentz's having been named Fantasy's national sales manager; roughly a year later, he's the one who offered Guaraldi a record deal and three-year contract with the label. Zaentz then faded into the background, at least as far as Guaraldi's career at Fantasy was concerned; the pianist's life subsequently was ruled by label co-owner Max Weiss. That relationship soured due to Weiss', ah, complicated contracts, which eventually prompted Guaraldi to sue the label. The litigation might have continued for years, except for an intriguing coincidence: In September 1967, a consortium led by Zaentz purchased Fantasy and Galaxy Records from Max and Soul Weiss ... and, a few months later, the twin lawsuits between Guaraldi and Fantasy were dissolved, the pianist having won his freedom and a very substantial improvement in royalty payments.

Might Zaentz have helped orchestrate that favorable outcome for Guaraldi? After all, the two had known each other even before their shared involvement with Fantasy, back when Zaentz was a bookkeeper at Melody Sales, and also, later, as the head of sales at Mercury Records. Perhaps Zaentz respected Guaraldi and that long friendship. On the other hand, it's quite obvious — from the various lawsuits with Fogerty — that, as a businessman, Zaentz was tough as nails, and not known for cutting anybody any slack.

We'll never know the truth, but this much is certain: Zaentz played an extremely important role in Guaraldi's career.