Monday, February 15, 2021

What's in a word? (Or two?) (Or three?)

You’d think, after slightly more than three decades, that somebody would have noticed and discussed this by now.

 

But no; it appears to be a recent discovery, brought to my attention by David, a good friend and fellow Guaraldi fan.

 

Readers of this blog — and probably a good percentage of people throughout the world — undoubtedly know the lyrics of “Christmas Time Is Here” by heart. Goodness, we’ve watched A Charlie Brown Christmas countless times, and played the soundtrack album even more than that.

 

So we all remember that the show opens with the Peanuts gang ice skating and crooning the tune (actually “ghosted” by young members of the St. Paul’s church choir, from San Rafael, California: a group that included David). It’s a joyous scene, and — following the “Sleigh bells in the air” bridge — this is what we next hear:

 

Christmas time is here …

Fam-lies drawing near …

 

A quarter-century passed, before the song was covered by another artist: Patti Austin, on the 1989 compilation album, Happy Anniversary, Charlie Brown!

 

Following the “Sleigh bells” bridge, this is what she sings:

 

Christmas time is here …

We’ll be drawing near …

 

Take a moment. Let it sink in.

 

Perform an Internet search on the lyricss to “Christmas Time Is Here,” and most results — but not all — show “We’ll be drawing near.” That’s likely due to the way the song is printed — complete with sheet music — on pages 93-95 in Lee Mendelson’s 2000 book, A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition. Because why would anybody assume that Mendelson’s book might be incorrect? After all, he penned the lyrics, back in the day.

 

“We couldn’t find anybody to write the lyrics,” Mendelson recalled, in a 2008 interview for TV Time Machine. “I called all my Hollywood friends who were songwriters. But nobody took the assignment, so I sat down, and in about 10 minutes wrote the words to ‘Christmas Time Is Here’ on an envelope.

 

“I sure wish I still had that envelope!”

 

Well, we may not have the envelope, but we have something almost as good: the song’s copyright deposit, filed with the U.S. Library of Congress on February 7, 1966. You can see the relevant bit at the top of the second page, shown at left:

 

Fam-lys. Growing (!)

 

So … what happened?

 

Did Lee change his mind, at some point between 1965 and 2000? Did he mis-remember? Did he hear and prefer Patti Austin’s slight modification?

 

(I sure wish I’d learned about this sooner, because he’s no longer around to ask. More’s the pity.)

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Valentine's Day treat

Celebrated solo pianist George Winston, a longtime Guaraldi fan, will devote this weekend's live-streamed concert to compositions from Dr. Funk's catalogue.

It will take place at 7 p.m. (Eastern time) and 4 p.m. (Pacific), on Sunday, February 14.

The performance is in support of Feeding America, and donations can be made here. The concert's direct YouTube link is here, and it'll likely be available via Winston's Facebook page, as well.

The tentative set list will include selections from Winston's two tribute albums — Linus and Lucy: The Music of Vince Guaraldi, and Love Will Come: The Music of Vince Guaraldi, Volume 2 — along with a preview of material from his upcoming album, Count the Ways: The Music of Vince Guaraldi, Volume 3. Following the pattern of those albums, many of the selections will be medleys, with two or three Guaraldi themes weaving in and around each other. One tune, "The Masked Marvel," will be performed in the style of famed New Orleans rhythm and blues keyboardist James Booker, another of Winston's musical inspirations.

Set your reminders!

Sunday, January 24, 2021

The respect of one's peers

My good friend Scott recently called my attention to the fact that jazz vibraphonist Tony Miceli's 2014 album with violinist Diane Monroe, Alone Together, includes an original track titled "Vince Guaraldi."

"For a lot of people my age," Miceli notes, "[A Charlie Brown Christmas] might have been your first exposure to jazz. [Guaraldi] wrote beautiful melodies, and as my musical taste grew, I began to realize more and more how heavy he was. Thinking of him was a great inspiration for me."

Vexingly, the album isn't available for listening on Spotify or Amazon, but you can watch Miceli deliver a live performance of "Vince Guaraldi" here. The Guaraldi vibe isn't exactly obvious, but I do detect the wistful quality of "Rain, Rain Go Away" and "Great Pumpkin Waltz."

This reminded me that I'd earlier written about the 2016 John Stowell/Michael Zilber Quartet album, Basement Blues, which includes an original composition titled "Have Yourself a Vince Guaraldi Xmas." Again, an obvious nod to Vince's work is hard to detect, although (as I said then) "faint suggestions of 'Christmas Time Is Here' hover throughout." You can investigate that here.

And this got me thinking...

Album tributes to Guaraldi's score for A Charlie Brown Christmas have become ubiquitous; I've most recently tabulated them here. All four of Guaraldi's original compositions from that TV special also have gotten heavy coverage, as has "Cast Your Fate to the Wind," which has become one of the most oft-covered anthems in the jazz pantheon.

But what about all of Guaraldi's other original compositions?

The Dan Dance Trio's 2003 album, Live at the PY, includes a reading of "Ginza Samba," which can be enjoyed here. Brad Myers and Michael Sharfe's 2016 album, Sanguinaria, features a tasty arrangement of "Great Pumpkin Waltz," which you'll find here. How 'Bout Now, a 1993 album by the Portland, Oregon, jazz trio Tall Jazz, features a sensational cover of "Red Baron." You'll have to take my word for that one, because the album is woefully out of print, and nowhere to be found online.

French horn player Aaron Brask led a jazz/string combo that covers a whopping 20 compositions on his 2010 album, The Guaraldi Sessions; samples are listenable here. (The instrumentation is unusual, to say the least, and the album doesn't exactly swing. But it's enjoyable nonetheless.) Northern California jazz pianist Terry Disley and his quartet cover five Guaraldi compositions, including "Treat Street" and "Peppermint Patty," on their 2011 album Brubeck Vs. Guaraldi; check his website for more information. And former Guaraldi drummer Jerry Granelli includes a cover of "Star Song" (along with "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" and "Christmas Time Is Here") on his 2020 album Plays Vince Guaraldi and Mose Allison, as I previously mentioned here.

So ... what else is Out There?

To quote the former (and dearly missed!) Los Angeles-based sci-fi radio talk show Hour 25, I'm calling on the Group Mind for some assistance, in order to compile a definitive — or at least, somewhat longer — list of Guaraldi covers. But there are some ground rules:

• Ignore "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" and the four Charlie Brown Christmas compositions ("Linus and Lucy," "Skating," "Christmas Is Coming" and "Christmas Time Is Here"). We're after the less common stuff.

• Ignore the efforts of Cal Tjader, George Winston and Davis Benoit. They're too easy.

• And while we're at it, are there any other Guaraldi tribute compositions, along the lines of the ones mentioned above by Tony Miceli and the Stowell/Zilber Quartet?

So c'mon, gang. Acknowledgement will be given, and I'll amend this blog entry — or prepare an entirely new one, if warranted — as the information rolls in.


Thursday, December 31, 2020

Chart success ... after 55 years!

Well, here's something worth singing about.

For the first time ever, Guaraldi's soundtrack album for A Charlie Brown Christmas has hit the Top 10 of Billboard's "Hot 200" album chart. This reflects sales and streaming data compiled for the week that concluded on Christmas Eve, December 24.

Granted, it's perched in the No. 10 spot ... but that's still Top 10!

And, mind you, this isn't merely the Top Holiday Albums chart, where it has tracked regularly since 1987. No, we're talking about the overall album chart, where the top spots currently belong to (respectively), Taylor Swift, Paul McCartney and Eminem.

This is huge.

Read the full report here, and you'll find the relevant chart here.

What a lovely, lovely way to conclude the year!

Saturday, November 28, 2020

A Jolly Guaraldi Holiday 2020

It's time once again for this annual round-up of Guaraldi-themed concerts taking place between now and the end of the year, most of which (of course!) are tied in to his music from A Charlie Brown Christmas.

I've been concerned about this year's schedule, for obvious reasons. With the options for live performance venues -- and audiences willing to attend -- so limited, I feared this would prove to be a woefully short list. But the news isn't all bad; numerous individuals have pivoted by offering streaming concerts or YouTube options ... along with, to my surprise, a fair number of actual in-person performances. So while the expanding momentum established during the past few years has stalled, you'll still find a respectable number of groups and individuals below, all keeping Guaraldi's musical torch aloft. And we can hope that things return to normal next year.

I traced the history and growth of this delightful tradition back in 2012, with a modest schedule that now seems quaint. This year's post will serve as a clearinghouse for any and all 2020 concerts that come to my attention. Bear in mind that some of these listings are likely to be fluid; it's best to keep an eye on the artist and/or venue web site, to determine if a hoped-for live presentation has shifted to streaming-only. 

It's also highly likely that some of these live events will be canceled, perhaps even at the last moment; be sure to keep checking with the venue.

As always, I'll add to this schedule as new information becomes available, so you'll want to check back frequently. Additionally, some of the streaming performances will be available after the fact, so keep an eye on older entries, as the month proceeds.

• Let's start with something quite different: Jazz pianist Jody Nardone will present a three-week course on the life, compositions and piano stylings of Vince Guaraldi, on behalf of the Nashville Jazz Workshop; he'll draw anecdotes and other material from my very own Guaraldi biography (and thanks for the shout-out, Jody!). Sessions will take place on three consecutive Mondays: November 30, December 7 and 14. Details. He and his trio also will present their fifth annual Charlie Brown Christmas: A Tribute to Vince Guaraldi concert on Sunday, December 13, at the Music City Wine Garden, in Nashville, Tennessee. Details. Finally, he'll perform some of Guaraldi's holiday hits during a virtual "Jazz from Home" show, which will go live on December 16, and remain available through the 25. Details.

• The Malcolm Granger Trio — Granger, piano; Rich Hill, bass; and Michael Dunford, drums — recorded a selection of highlights from A Charlie Brown Christmas, traditionally performed at the Cotuit Center for the Arts, Cotuit, Massachusetts. This mini-concert can be viewed via YouTube.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Vinyl madness

As has become tradition for several years now, Guaraldi's score for A Charlie Brown Christmas will get plenty of vinyl action in the next several weeks, starting with a genuine treat.

As a tie-in for Record Store Day's 10th annual Black Friday event -- that's November 27, the day after Thanksgiving -- Craft Recordings is releasing a 7-inch single on green vinyl. Side A will feature the familiar vocal version of "Christmas Time Is Here," performed by young members of the Bay Area's St. Paul's Episcopal Church. Side B, however, is something a surprise: the "Alternate Vocal Take 5" of the same song, previously available only as one of the bonus tracks on the (ahem) somewhat notorious 2006 digital re-issue of the iconic album, which "horrified" so many people, because the re-mastering engineer had the temerity to slightly modify some of the tracks, so they could be heard as originally recorded by Guaraldi's trio. Alas, despite such good intentions, the maneuver proved a PR disaster -- people wanted the album to sound just like it had when originally released in 1965, thank you very much -- and Fantasy quickly "corrected" this "error" with subsequent pressings, and even allowed folks to send in their "defective" discs for replacement. (The full story can be read roughly midway down this web page.)

Anyway...

Only 5,000 copies of this single have been pressed, and they'll be available only on November 27; you can't pre-order, or request your local record store to hold a copy. It'll be first come, first served.

As for the album itself, we'll once again see a variety of colored and picture-vinyl releases, along with another novelty: a lenticular LP sleeve. Here's the rundown:

• Craft Recordings: a lenticular sleeve with explosive "snowball" vinyl

• Urban Outfitters: a lenticular sleeve with red and green "splattered" vinyl

• Cracker Barrel: a lenticular sleeve with half-red, half-green vinyl

• Walmart: a lenticular sleeve with blue snowflake vinyl

• Barnes & Noble: a lenticular sleeve with double-sided picture vinyl

• Target: a lenticular sleeve with solid green vinyl

A few of these vinyl variants have been released previously -- such as Walmart's blue snowflake pattern — but the lenticular sleeves are new ... so you'll just have to buy them again!

(Have fun!)

Friday, November 6, 2020

Big man on campus

Back on February 1, I was contacted by Alec Huntley, a graduate student at the University of North Texas (UNT), who was working toward his doctoral degree in jazz. He had decided to write his upcoming dissertation on Guaraldi’s specific idiomatic musical techniques: the first time (to my knowledge) that Dr. Funk has been accorded such scholarly attention.

Alec already had spent considerable time with my Guaraldi bio, blog and companion web pages; he was — at that point — in the process of compiling a master chronological spreadsheet of Guaraldi’s entire recorded output, with an eye (and ear) toward revealing trends in the way he developed his signature sound during his lifetime. That was a challenging task, since many of the later (posthumous) digital releases are bereft of recording dates.

Alec asked if I’d be willing to help with that and any other questions, general insights, leads or suggestions; of course I agreed immediately and enthusiastically. (Actually, he had me before I finished reading his note’s second sentence.) We subsequently began an occasional correspondence; I also put Alec in touch with George Winston, who became just as helpful (which didn’t surprise me at all). Alec and I also “met” during a lengthy Zoom chat; he was armed with lots of questions and comments, which I did my best to address.

He completed the first draft of what became The Guaraldi Sound: The Musical Devices that Characterize Vince Guaraldi’s Improvisational and Compositional Style on October 1. He hoped I’d be willing to read it, to ensure no errors had crept into the manuscript; again, I cheerfully agreed. (This was strictly a factual read-through; Alec made it clear that I was not to act as a copy-editor, as he’d get that sort of feedback when the manuscript was presented to his committee members.) In fact, I wound up reading it three times, during the next two weeks, as he sent along second and third drafts.

He submitted the final draft to his committee members on October 23, and then presented it during a formal lecture/recital on October 26. Normally, this would have taken place in a lecture hall filled with people, but COVID restrictions prevented that; the event instead was livestreamed to any and all interested folks. Happily, the event also was recorded, and Alec just posted the entire presentation on YouTube.

(Alec’s wife Katie drew the illustration. The Woodstock-ish character is the UNT mascot, Scrappy the Eagle.)

As Alec notes there, the dissertation also will be available to all when published, and he’ll include a link to it at the same Facebook page; I’ll also add that link to this post, when accessible.

I was quite honored to have been entrusted to help Alec, and I’m delighted that his thorough research and insightful analysis are shortly to become available to the general public. On a personal note, I’m thrilled by the number of footnotes that source my various Guaraldi-related endeavors. Dissertations are as “forever” as the Internet, and it’s exciting to know that future scholars, looking into Guaraldi’s career, will find my modest contribution acknowledged. 

********

UPDATE: Alec's dissertation has been published, and can be read here.

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 allmusic.com 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 allaboutjazz.com: 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.

(It should be noted, by the way, that Guaraldi has earned three RIAA gold records posthumously: for the songs "Linus and Lucy" and "Christmas Time Is Here," and for the soundtrack album A Charlie Brown Christmas. The latter, in fact, has gone quadruple platinum.)

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!