Saturday, October 24, 2020

Fools' gold?

Perform a Google search on the terms “Vince Guaraldi” and “gold record,” and the first result is a segment of the musician’s biography, which reads (in part) “… ‘Cast Your Fate to the Wind’ became a hit, rising to the Top 20 of the pop charts and earning Guaraldi a gold record, as well as a Grammy for Best Original Jazz Composition.”


(Actually, the song peaked at No. 22 on February 23, 1963, so it was in the Top 30, not the Top 20. But that’s another matter.)


Read one of links further down, and you’ll see this sentence: “His breakthrough album Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus (1962), which earned him a gold record, etc.”


Performs searches on various permutations of “Guaraldi,” “gold record,” “Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus” and “Cast Your Fate to the Wind,” and you’ll find countless posts and articles that repeat one or the other of these two claims.


So … which is correct?


Answer: Technically, neither.


Despite “accepted wisdom,” Guaraldi didn’t win an official gold record for either the album or the song. According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), which maintains a handy (searchable) “Gold & Platinum” page, neither ever hit gold status … not even to this day.


Which begs the question: From where did this misinformation spring?


The answer is … complicated.


I was prompted to investigate as a result of ongoing correspondence with Alec Huntley, a doctoral candidate at the University of North Texas, whose upcoming dissertation is titled The Guaraldi Sound: The Musical Devices that Characterize Vince Guaraldi’s Improvisational and Compositional Style. We’ve been emailing since February, and he has hit me with occasional questions and requests for clarifications. (Alec and his dissertation — when it’s published — will be the subject of an upcoming blog post.)


The merde hit the fan — although neither of us initially knew that — just a few days ago, when Alec queried a quote from journalist Barry Gordon, writing in the February 6, 2009, issue of The Scotsman — reproduced in my book — which says, in part, “Guaraldi was the first jazz musician to have a gold record; one of the first to win a Grammy; one of the first musicians to play a stadium; and one of, if not the, first artists to have their music played in space.”


In trying to verify the gold record claim — something I obviously should have done a long time ago — Alec came up with the fact that Glenn Miller was the first jazz musician to win a gold record, in 1942, for “Chatanooga Choo-Choo.”


Hmmm, I thought. Well, that was a gold for a single. Guaraldi’s gold must’ve been for the album, Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus.


But no. As I quickly discovered, the RIAA database shows no such thing. Going for additional verification, Billboard magazine also had no indication, in any 1962 or ’63 issues, that Guaraldi had won a gold record.


The RIAA database does note that Dave Brubeck’s Time Out album hit gold status on April 19, 1963. Furthermore, it is well-known that “Take Five” — from that album — was the first jazz single to attain gold-record status.


As it happens, I have access to archival data not available to the general public. Guaraldi and his mother saved everything relevant to his career, in the 1950s and ’60s. Thanks to Vince’s son David, I was able to view and copy all this data, while compiling information for my book. These included two BMI certificates for “Cast Your Fate to the Wind,” to acknowledge “over one million broadcast performances” and, somewhat later, “over two million broadcast performances.” (Maddeningly, neither certificate is dated.) I also saw the certificate for the Grammy Award that Guaraldi won for “Fate,” as Best Original Jazz Composition, along with the actual Grammy Award.


No sign of any gold record, or certificate acknowledging same. And it certainly would have been present, if it existed.


But this still didn’t answer the key question: From where did this misinformation spring?


I have a theory.


The confusion may have originated in Anatomy of a Hit, Ralph Gleason’s three-part 1964 film about Vince and “Fate.” The second segment, “We’re Getting’ Action,” concludes as Guaraldi good-naturedly climbs into the same back-stacks cubbyhole where he posed for the cover photo of his first Fantasy album, The Vince Guaraldi Trio. Once properly ensconced, Max Weiss hands Guaraldi a “gold record,” signifying — as Weiss explains — “sales of over 300,000 copies of ‘Cast Your Fate to the Wind.’ ”


Ah, but — at that time — official RIAA gold records were presented for albums or singles that achieved $1 million in retail sales … and 300,000 singles wouldn’t have come close to that total. (RIAA gold records were re-defined in 1976, to indicate sales of 500,000 units, either albums or singles.)


(Fantasy was no different than other labels, in this respect. Decca and RCA also presented their own in-house “gold records” in the 1940s and ’50s, as with the one mentioned above, given to Glenn Miller.)


Ergo, this was a nice gesture by Weiss, during a sequence clearly staged for Gleason’s film: an in-house “gold record” … and not an actual RIAA honor.


So, technically, yes; it’s true that Guaraldi was given a gold record. But it wasn’t a formally presented, RIAA-certified gold record.


This inaccuracy has blossomed ever since, gaining ever more credibility by the magnitude of Web exposure, and well-intentioned journalists who dutifully repeat the claim in almost every published overview of Guaraldi’s career.


I’m sorry to say, by including Gordon’s quote in my book — and failing to call attention to the distinction — I’m partially guilty for contributing to this ambiguity. Worse yet, I repeated this oversight in the brief Guaraldi bio I wrote for a reputable source that researchers would have no reason to question. (Rest assured, I’m taking steps to amend that, as these words are typed.)


Alas, as I’ve mentioned many times before, bad information circulates via the Internet far more rapidly, than efforts to rebut and correct it. I can only hope, with time, that this clarification/correction will propagate to the most important research outlets.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Dr. Funk and the high school entrepreneur

Daniel “Danny” Scher spent the final 24 years of the 20th century working alongside famed San Francisco Bay Area music impresario Bill Graham. Danny’s accomplishments were significant, and included some of the company’s biggest projects. He created and produced the annual New Orleans by the Bay Festival, the largest New Orleans food and music festival outside of New Orleans itself; developed the famed outdoor Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, California; and booked venues such as San Francisco’s iconic Winterland Ballroom and the massive Day on the Green concerts at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.

Danny remains quite active in the music and concert world, and has been in the news lately for facilitating the release of a vintage live performance by Thelonious Monk; the album, titled Palo Alto, debuted this past summer.


In the autumn of 1967, Danny was a junior at Palo Alto (Paly) High School. Even then, he wanted to be a concert promoter.


He began with Vince Guaraldi. Danny turned 16 on October 19 that year; shortly before that milestone birthday, the ambitious young man cold-called Guaraldi, to “invite” him to perform at Paly High. And Guaraldi accepted.


But let’s back up a bit.


Danny was born with music in his blood. He has played drums his entire life, ever since attending Palo Alto’s Herbert Hoover Elementary School. He grew up bold; as a child of 8 or 9, attending dinner shows and concerts with his family, he’d sneak backstage in order to get autographs from the performers. He fronted a Dixieland jazz band in junior high school — The Dukes of Dixie — and was principal percussionist and timpanist with the California Youth Symphony.


He also was something of an anomaly, during a time when kids his age were obsessed by rock ’n’ roll. “I started studying jazz,” he recalls, “and giving reports on its history in my eighth and ninth grade classes.”

He desperately wanted to see the many big names booked into San Francisco’s clubs during the height of the city’s jazz scene, but his age was an insurmountable barrier.


“You had to be 21 to get in. That was one of the reasons I wanted to start promoting in high school; I couldn’t see these guys any other way. The only exception was Basin Street West, which allowed minors, because they served food.”


(The Blackhawk also briefly maintained a section for minors, separated from the rest of the bar by chicken wire. But that practice ceased in 1953 or ’54, by order of San Francisco Mayor George Christopher; besides which, the club closed in July 1963.)


Danny saw Dave Brubeck perform at Basin Street West when he was 14. The excursion involved bus fare, a door admission fee and a pair of Cokes, to accommodate the two-drink minimum: a month’s wages from his newspaper route. “The best money I ever spent,” Danny insists, to this day.


Thursday, August 6, 2020

A blast of Granelli

Like many traditionally large-scale public events this summer, the annual Halifax Jazz Festival has gone "virtual and vibrant," which is great news for fans throughout the world. Many (most?) of the performances will be streamed via the festival's Facebook page and YouTube channel.

Drummer Jerry Granelli is among the featured guests, and he'll deliver a set at 7:30 p.m. (Halifax time) this Saturday, August 8. He'll undoubtedly play a lot of material from his just-released tribute album to Mose Allison and Vince Guaraldi; we can hope that he'll deliver some Guaraldi tunes not on the album.

"[Guaraldi] taught me a lot about being a professional jazz musician," Granelli said, during a August 6 interview for the Chronicle Herald, "and also about being honest, and playing in a way that follows the music. He protected his music, and he followed it to the largest-selling jazz record in history, so they were really great years."

Links to Granelli's Saturday concert will be posted here; it's not clear whether his performance will remain available for some period, or streamed solely the one time ... so plan accordingly!

Thursday, July 30, 2020

The Trident: Then and now

Technology marches on, and I’m delighted by the increasing number of newspapers that have migrated their archives into public Internet search engines … often at no cost. (Having said that, I still await this service from the San Francisco Chronicle, merely the most important newspaper in Guaraldi’s career. I cannot imagine what the heck is taking them so long!)

Recent online newcomers include the Sausalito News, a weekly newspaper based (as you’d expect) in Sausalito, California, and published from 1885 to 1966; for a few years prior to its demise, it was re-branded the Marin News, but returned to its former self shortly before the final issue was published on November 2, 1966.

The newspaper still was vibrant in 1961, when the former Yacht Dock — a dilapidated venue that had hosted Guaraldi’s trio on occasion, built on the site of the original 1898 home of the San Francisco Yacht Club — was transformed into the Trident, which became Guaraldi’s “home base” for the next several years. The paper provided more detail on this transition, which I’ve woven into the following narrative, augmented by some interview quotes that didn’t make it into my book. (The News also provided the conclusive specific date of the Trident’s closure: a piece of information that eluded me for years.)


The July 22, 1961, issue of the Sausalito News reported that “the clatter of hammers, the shouts of workmen and the rustle of blueprints prevail over the venerable wharf at 558 Bridgeway on the Sausalito waterfront.” The Trident-in-process, according to new manager Louis Ganopolar, would be dedicated to “casual imbibing in an atmosphere of elegance.” Ganopolar had been “poached” from his former position as manager at Greenwich Village’s famed jazz nightclub, the Village Vanguard. The then-popular Kingston Trio were booked there for a weeklong engagement; they arrived in the company of manager Frank Werber. The latter mentioned that the clean-cut young men had purchased the Yacht Dock as a tax write-off, intending to transform it into “something special.” Werber invited Ganopolar to Sausalito, to check out the place and (hopefully) suggest somebody who’d make a good manager. Ganopolar volunteered himself, and moved his family from New York to Northern California, the week this Sausalito News story saw print.

Brad McNutt, one of the remodelers, hoped for an “early August” re-opening. He explained that the new venue’s seating alcoves would be “dramatically lighted and arranged on several levels, to take advantage of the superb view of the Bay, the bridges and the city, while retaining an atmosphere of intimacy.” The article concluded by citing other features: “complete yacht docking facilities, music by the Vince Guaraldi Trio, and a select bill of fare of international hors d’oeuvres, sandwiches and snacks.”

Friday, July 17, 2020

Many happy returns!

Guaraldi would have turned 92 today, and I'd like to think — in some alternate universe — that Dr. Funk is celebrating this milestone in the best possible way: with a club gig playing to a sell-out, standing-room-only crowd (masked and social-distanced, of course).

Meanwhile, and in anticipation of this birthday, I recently spent a delightful half-hour chatting with Dennis Green, of KCCK Jazz 88.3 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The resulting "Guaraldi special" airs today, and you can listen to it here.

Dennis and I discovered our mutual fondness for Guaraldi in early May, when we had a similar radio chat concerning my two newest books, Crime and Spy Jazz on Screen, 1950-1970 and Crime and Spy Jazz on Screen, 1971-Present

(What's that, you say? Not yet familiar with what took over the past four years of my life? Well, hie thee hence to the books' companion blog!)

(And, rest assured, I found a couple of reasons to mention Guaraldi in those books, as well!)

Happy birthday, Vince. I genuinely believe you get more popular every year!

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

A summer with Vince

Vinyl fans are in for a treat; Craft recently announced new editions of two Guaraldi Peanuts-themed compilation albums.

I'm particularly pleased, as I provided fresh liner notes for both albums. It'll be fun to see my name in a larger font size!

I'll turn the rest of this post over to Craft's press announcement:


Craft Recordings announces two vinyl reissues to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Charles M. Schulz’s beloved Peanuts comic strip, which debuted in seven newspapers across the country on October 2, 1950. 

The first is a limited-edition picture disc of Peanuts Greatest Hits, featuring the faces of Snoopy and Woodstock; it will be available on July 24. The second release, coming August 21, is the first-ever vinyl pressing of Peanuts Portraits. Both titles, which are available for pre-order, feature the enduring music of the Vince Guaraldi Trio. Peanuts Portraits, in addition, includes several recordings from Guaraldi and pianist George Winston which have never been available on vinyl. 

Limited to 2,500 individually numbered units, the collectible Peanuts Greatest Hits picture disc offers music for all seasons from the animated TV specials, including the instantly recognizable “Linus And Lucy,” the classic “Great Pumpkin Waltz” and yuletide favorite, “Christmas Time Is Here.” Side A features a cheerful-looking Snoopy, while his avian sidekick, Woodstock -- who made his first official appearance in the Peanuts comic strip 50 years ago this June -- graces Side B. The collection also includes some of Guaraldi’s earliest Peanuts compositions, such as “Baseball Theme,” which originally appeared on his 1964 LP Jazz Impressions of a Boy Named Charlie Brown: the soundtrack for an unreleased TV special about the comic strip’s anti-hero. Another highlight is “Little Birdie,” written for the 1973 special A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, and featuring a rare vocal by Guaraldi.

On vinyl for the very first time is Peanuts Portraits, which collects the vivid musical cues that Guaraldi wrote for the cast of Peanuts characters. With his evocative compositions, the artist added new dimensions to beloved regulars such as Peppermint Patty, Schroeder, Sally and (of course!) Charlie Brown. In addition to nine songs performed by Guaraldi, the album includes two classic Peanuts tunes recorded in the 1990s by pianist George Winston. Eight of the selections on Peanuts Portraits -- including Winston’s renditions of “Linus And Lucy” and “Masked Marvel,” along with Guaraldi’s alternate takes of tracks such as “Frieda (With the Naturally Curly Hair)” and “Charlie’s Blues” -— will make their vinyl debut.

While Peanuts Portraits will be released across all major music retailers on black vinyl, fans also can find an exclusive edition of the album via Vinyl Me, Please. Limited to 1,000 copies, the LP will be pressed on 180-gram red vinyl.

(This actually is the second picture vinyl edition of Peanuts Greatest Hits; the first, featuring the images of Charlie Brown and Lucy, debuted in September 2015.)


Drummer Jerry Granelli joined the Guaraldi Trio on February 21, 1963, for a three-night gig at the Berry Patch, in Sacramento, California. He and bassist Fred Marshall became Guaraldi's third "classic trio," working together during the post-"Cast Your Fate to the Wind" rush that turned Dr. Funk into a Northern California jazz star. The trio blossomed into a quartet with the arrival of Bola Sete, and they became a multi-month mainstay at Trois Couleur in the spring of 1964.

Granelli and Marshall went their separate ways after that gig finally concluded on May 31, although the former reunited with Guaraldi briefly for a few tracks on The Eclectic Vince Guaraldi, and some cues for the big-screen film A Boy Named Charlie Brown.

Granelli then spent the bulk of his career alongside jazz/blues pianist, singer and composer Mose Allison.

More recently, Granelli has been fronting Charlie Brown Christmas tribute concerts each December at a handful of Canadian venues, mostly close to his Nova Scotia home. No surprise, then, that he finally decided to honor both of the icons with whom he spent so many happy years, with a tribute album titled The Jerry Granelli Trio Plays Vince Guaraldi & Mose Allison.

Guaraldi is recognized with three tracks, to Allison's seven (which is appropriate, considering that Granelli was at the latter's side for much, much longer). Granelli is joined by pianist Jamie Saft and bassist Bradley Christopher Jones.

The album opens with an oddly ethereal handling of "Cast Your Fate to the Wind," the initial 60 seconds of which sound like all three musicians are still warming up. But they eventually settle into a lovely reading of Guaraldi's Grammy Award-winning hit, which is highlighted by Saft's sensitive keyboard work.

Their work on "Christmas Time Is Here" is even sweeter, with Granelli tastefully understated while both Saft and Jones contribute lyrical solos. The Guaraldi highlight, though, is an extended run at "Star Song," which Granelli should know quite well (having recorded it, alongside Vince, on three different albums). Granelli sets up a tasty, bossa nova-flavored atmosphere, while Saft and Jones trade the melody back and forth, comping the other during each hand-off.

Granelli's trio maintains a gentle touch on all three of these Guaraldi tunes; the same cannot be said for their Allison covers, which are far more outré. Guaraldi fans therefore are advised to tread carefully; give the album a listen on Spotify first, before jumping to purchase.

(And, just in passing, this has got to be one of the most unattractive album covers I've ever seen!)

Friday, May 22, 2020

A bit of keyboard magic with the Charlatans

Bear with me; setting the stage for this one will take a bit.

The Charlatans — not to be confused with the popular West Midlands rock band of the same name, founded in 1988 and still going strong in the UK — was a Northern California folk rock and psychedelic rock band that formed in 1964. Despite a run that lasted only five years and was plagued by personnel changes, bad decisions, bad record deals and just plain bad luck, the group had an outsized influence on the burgeoning San Francisco/Haight-Ashbury music scene.

The Charlatans, circa early 1967: from left, George Hunter, Richard Olsen,
Mike Wilhelm, Dan Hicks and Mike Ferguson
Indeed, the Charlatans also strongly influenced the developing 1960s look, starting with their affected late Victorian/Wild West clothing: a style that was embraced by the emerging anti-establishment youth movement. The band also kick-started the era’s poster art, thanks to a playbill created by members Mike Ferguson and George Hunter, to publicize their summer 1965 gig at Virginia City’s Red Dog Saloon, across the state border in Nevada. Rock historians credit that advertisement as the first true psychedelic concert poster, which quickly influenced the artwork of Rick Griffin, Victor Moscoso, Bonnie MacLean, Wes Wilson, and Stanley Mouse & Alton Kelley.

(It could be argued that the Charlatans also deserve recognition as the first true acid rock band, given that everybody took LSD prior to their first Red Dog performance. But the band’s sound wasn’t characteristic of what became true acid rock, so that claim is debatable.)

Ben Marks’ complete history of the band — “Hippies, Guns and LSD: The San Francisco Rock Band That Was Too Wild for the Sixties,” a thoroughly enjoyable read — was published July 19, 2017, and can be found here. The essay is laden with photos, and I’m indebted to Marks for some of the information that follows.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

The De Maupassant connection

On July 16, 1964, San Francisco Chronicle columnist Ralph Gleason reported that Guaraldi and Bola Sete were scheduled to record some short programs — known as “fills” — for National Educational Television (NET) member stations; San Francisco’s KQED Channel 9 was one such station. (NET existed from 1952 to October 4, 1970, at which point it was replaced by the PBS network we know today.)

Guy de Maupassant
As with PBS, NET programming aired without the advertising spots found on commercial networks such as ABC, CBS and NBC. The aforementioned short spots therefore were used when a series — often imported from the UK — ran only 54 minutes or so, which required the NET network to “fill” the remaining time with a short subject of some sort.

On January 27, 1965, Gleason reported that “a series of solo ‘fills’ of five and six minutes, which Guaraldi did for Educational TV, now is being shown on KQED before dramas.”

Despite the fact that numerous copies of these fills must’ve circulated among the country’s many NET stations, none has surfaced. (I can’t help feeling that tapes are Out There somewhere, in some station’s storage room, or some retired line producer’s attic.) These fills therefore remain high on the list of Guaraldi’s most-wanted video appearances.

Indeed, until just a few weeks ago, I hadn’t even figured out how many existed, and how they were used. That said, I’d seen tantalizing clues over the years, although their significance was difficult to judge. Scattered among the results of generic Internet searches on “Vince Guaraldi,” I’d see occasional newspaper TV listings at odd hours of the evening, which read something like this:

Channel 7, 10:55, “Vince Guaraldi: Twilight of Youth.”

(Since I didn’t learn that “Twilight of Youth” was an unrecorded Guaraldi composition until several years after my biography was published, I didn’t immediately suspect it might be one of the aforementioned fills; it sounded more like a short interview segment.)

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

An Ear-ful of Poppycock

My renewed deep dive into Guaraldi's career resulted in a fresh look at his activities in the early 1970s, when — from the autumn of 1971, through the late winter of '72 — he had a semi-regular gig at a Palo Alto night spot dubbed In Your Ear. This is the venue where — most famously (for our purposes) — a young George Winston played intermission piano in between Guaraldi's sets, and was bold enough to introduce himself to Dr. Funk, probably on October 24, 1971. And we all know where Winston's admiration eventually led.

I was reminded, while re-reading some of the notes and performance dates, that I'd learned very little about this club, during my bio's research phase in 2009 and '10. Aside from the fact that it occupied the building at 135 University Avenue, in Palo Alto — and that Guaraldi often could be found there on Tuesday evenings, for five or six months — newspapers and the Internet had yielded very little. Heck, I've never even been able to find a photo of the place, inside or outside. Whazzup with that?

Clearly, it was time for renewed exploration.

The effort proved very fruitful.

In Your Ear wasn't the first music club at 135 University; that honor belongs to The Poppycock, which opened its doors in April 1967. A sign of things to come was visible in the classified "employment opportunities" section of Stanford University's newspaper, the Stanford Daily, beginning April 12:

Beertenders, waitresses, Olde English Fish Cooks. Full and part time. Start Immediately. Poppycock. 135 University Ave.

(One wonders how many Stanford students qualified as "Olde English Fish Cooks.)

Guests musicians were eclectic and comparatively modest during the initial few months; the stage hosted a diverse assortment that included The Flowers, Doc Watson, The Mind's Eye, Lightning Hopkins and Schlomo Carlsbach (a folksinging rabbi). But all manner of San Francisco Bay Area outfits soon found their way to The Poppycock: some little more than short-lived garage bands, others ... well, a whole lot more famous. Stanford's radio station KZSU claims credit for a live broadcast from the Poppycock, which gave the first-ever airplay to an obscure little group dubbed Creedence Clearwater Revival.

In March 1968, politically active students hosted a "petition party" for Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy, to help fund his effort to become the Democratic nominee for U.S. President.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

More bits and bobs

Continuing our engaging journey through various newspaper archives...

Beloved San Francisco-area journalist Herb Caen's April 17, 1964, column -- appearing in the Santa Maria Times, among other outlets -- offered this update on producer Lee Mendelson's in-the-works TV special, A Boy Named Charlie Brown:

"It will have Vince Guaraldi playing the piano for Schroeder, [and] Cal Tjader beating the vibes as Snoopy."

Alas, we know that if Tjader was part of the special's original one-hour edit, his participation wound up on the cutting-room floor, when Mendelson trimmed it down to 30 minutes. And the little documentary still didn't sell.


Jazz columnist Richard Hadlock published a terrific (and lengthy) interview with Guaraldi in the San Francisco Examiner, on March 29, 1964. When asked about his influences, Guaraldi replied:

"I listen to everybody. There were really only three main departure points in jazz piano: James P. Johnson, Earl Hines and Bud Powell. They're all great, but Powell had the biggest influence on me. I also like the awkward grace of Thelonious Monk very much. And then there are Art Tatum and Duke Ellington: each in a class by himself, over and above the rest. I hear Chopin in Tatum, and the classical composer in Duke."

When asked if he got tired of playing "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" over and over and over again, Guaraldi insisted otherwise.

"Not at all. For one thing, we keep changing the way we do it. Basically, it's only a skeleton to improvise on, to play new chord uses on. Oh, when you do it six times a night, it can get to be a bore, but I'm not really tired of the tune. I play better on my own compositions anyway. The main thing is the feel you get when you're really communicating, and 'Cast Your Fate to the Wind' helps to reach people. The concert we did at the Museum of Art recently with Bola Sete, that had the happy feel to it."