Thursday, February 5, 2015

A little of this, a little of that ... strikes again

Another round of short Guaraldiana bits...

Director Tim Burton's new film, Big Eyes, is a stylized biographical drama about the tempestuous relationship between Margaret and Walter Keane (played by Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz), the former best known for her pop-art paintings of small, wide-eyed children, which were quite the rage in the late 1950s and early '60s. The story's "hook" is the fact that Walter initially took credit for his wife's work: a ghastly artistic tussle that eventually climaxed in a famous courtroom trial ... all of which you can see in the film.

Margaret Keane (Amy Adams) visits the hungry i jazz club, and is horrified to discover that
her husband, Walter (Christoph Waltz), is taking credit for her displayed paintings.
For our purposes here, though, Burton and production designer Rick Heinrichs are to be commended for re-creating Margaret's artistic origins with such authenticity. She was "discovered" in the 1950s at San Francisco's hungry i nightclub, where owner Enrico Banducci was approached by Walter, to use the venue as a gallery showcase for his new bride's work ... although patrons initially believed that they were Walter's paintings.

The film spends some time in a re-created hungry i, where at one point the Cal Tjader combo can be seen and heard performing in the background (actors portraying the musicians, of course). And, off to one side, for perhaps a heartbeat on camera: As Walter enters the club, he passes a marquee that promises the Vince Guaraldi Trio as the next attraction.

(And, once the film is available on home video, I promise to replace the still above with the frame-grab in question.)

Definitely a cool name-check!


Further on the subject of San Francisco jazz clubs, I've exchanged several e-mails with a fellow fan named Edward, who remembers seeing Guaraldi perform at the Blackhawk — way back in the day — while being in the cramped, chicken wire "underage cage" that separated teens from the adults in the club proper, who were drinking alcohol while enjoying the show.

The Blackhawk's "underage cage" (photo courtesy of the San Francisco History Center)
"It was so abominably smokey, I could barely see him," Edward recalls, "let alone the issue of jostling for position at the screen. The cage was small: maybe about the size of a normal tract home bathroom, say 5-by-8 feet. Depending on how many other people were in there, it could be tight, and visibility was poor. I remember not staying long, because I hate cigarette smoke, especially in industrial-strength concentrations.

"The Blackhawk was on a corner, and to get into the cage, one had to walk up the side street and enter via an obscure door. The cage was above the club's floor level: a sort of balcony along the side of the club's long dimension.

"I wasn't underage; I would have been 22 or 23, and I likely learned about Vince from the Black Orpheus album. My date and I were in the cage because I had a tight student budget and didn't want to pay the club's cover charge!"


Back in early December, I was contacted by an editor at Cuepoint, the "music hub" of Medium, a nifty new Internet site dedicated to long-form, magazine-style writing. With the approaching annual re-broadcast of A Charlie Brown Christmas, they asked if I'd be willing to supply an excerpt from my Guaraldi bio, focusing on the sequence of events that led to Dr. Funk being selected to write the music for that debut Peanuts TV special. As an added bonus, they were even willing to pay me for the effort.

Who could refuse? I agreed immediately, even though December is always an insanely busy month for me ... and, for obvious reasons, they wanted the finished piece very quickly. They offered to cherry-pick the contents of Chapter 10, but I wasn't having any of that. (I do my own editing, thank you!) The abridgment actually proved a bit more challenging that I had expected, because I wanted to come in under 3,000 words ... and it's a long chapter. But it was an interesting exercise, and I finished the work in five days; the draft then had to be approved by my publisher, McFarland, which maintains control over such things. They okayed it as written, so I passed it along to the folks at Medium, and it was published on December 16.

Those who have my book won't find anything new, of course, but I was delighted by the story layout, which included a vintage photo of director/producer Lee Mendelson, during the 1963 filming of his first documentary, A Man Named Mays. That photo was new to me, although the various photos of Guaraldi himself were familiar.

During the next several weeks, I received numerous e-mail notices that the story was "tracking" quite well: In the first 30 days, it generated 11,532 "views" (3,040 on December 18 alone), 2,288 "reads" and 132 recommendations. It has tapered off since then, although there was an interesting "viewing spike" on January 20-22. (Ah, social media ... such a mystery!) At any rate, Medium seems to feel these are worthy stats, so I rate the experience successful on both sides.


And, finally...

Jazz pianist/singer Diana Krall has been making the media rounds to support her new album, Wallflower, and her corresponding concert tour. On February 4, she took over the Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy Facebook page to handle questions from fans. She wound up fielding 17 questions, on topics ranging from who cooks the best breakfast in their house (husband Elvis Costello, as it turns out), to the second-best thing she's good at, after singing. (You can visit the site to find the answer to that one.)

But I'm particularly delighted by Question 6, and her reply:

Is the late, great Vince Guaraldi an influence on your musical style?

Absolutely. Still is.

I'd love to know who posed that question!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

A century of San Francisco

By name, Arcadia Publishing may not ring a bell, but you've likely seen their books; you may even own a few. They're best known for the uniformly sized (6.5-by-9 inches) softcover "Images of America" series that showcases towns and cities throughout the United States. Each book is designed as a historical document recorded mostly via pictures: in essence, a lengthy photo essay. Chapters open with brief text introductions, mostly to set the stage for a fascinating collection of vintage photographs, all accompanied by lengthy captions.

I've done well by Arcadia, in my personal life; there's a volume devoted to the Southern California region where I grew up (Palos Verdes Estates), and two that cover the Northern California university city where I've lived since obtaining my college degree (Davis, California: 1910s-1940s and Davis: Radical Changes, Deep Constants).

But the series isn't devoted solely to municipalities per se; many titles focus on sports, lifestyle and other topics that are equally fascinating to observe, through the lens of vintage photographers ... everything from architecture to amusement parks, natural disasters (floods and earthquakes) to natural wonders (rivers and mountain ranges).

And music. Including, for our purposes, jazz.

Arcadia's backlist features a respectable assortment of jazz-themed titles, from Detroit: Ragtime and the Jazz Age to New York City Jazz. I'm here to praise the newest arrival in that sub-category: San Francisco Jazz, which just hit bookstores on January 5.

You absolutely must add this to your library.

Author Medea Isphording Bern has gifted us with a loving tribute to the Northern California jazz scene, starting with the upstart prologue around the turn of the 20th century — ragtime and the bawdy Barbary Coast — that essentially vanished in the wake of Prohibition. The bulk of the book is devoted to jazz's post-WWII resurgence, and the scores of clubs — and musicians — that turned San Francisco into a Mecca in the 1950s and early '60s.

The photos are captivating and illuminating, at times amusing and even poignant. They're all wonderful shots, each one telling a story, conveying a mood, or capturing a performer at a particularly electrifying moment. At times, I could almost hear music echoing from the pages.

Bern divides her study into eight roughly chronological chapters that chart regions, artists and venues: from "In the Beginning" and "The Fillmore Years" to "The Turk Murphy Era" and "Dave Brubeck and the Birth of West Coast Cool." Another chapter focuses exclusively on "Jazz Women of San Francisco," which gives the long under-appreciated ladies a well-deserved moment in the spotlight.

The 185 photos come from a variety of sources: the Library of Congress, the San Francisco Traditional Jazz Foundation, Stanford University's Archive of Recorded Sound, various private collections and professional photographers such as Harley Bruce, Brian McMillen and Jerry Stoll.

Photo courtesy of Marianne Kent
Additional ephemera is sprinkled among the photographs: newspaper display ads, concert and club tickets, LP labels.

It's hard to select favorites, because every photograph rewards close scrutiny. I laughed out loud at the matching zebra-striped shirts worn by the Pole Cats septet, in a 1950 shot; I'm enchanted by the image of Eubie Blake at the piano in Earthquake McGoon's, with Turk Murphy visible in the audience; you've gotta love the expression on the venerable Arthur Fiedler's face, as jazz chanteuse Marianne Kent teaches him to dance the twist at Bimbo's 365; and one can't help sighing over Harley Bruce's forlorn photo of the bland Tenderloin District parking lot that occupies the corner once home to the Blackhawk.

I know you're wondering, so yes, Guaraldi is mentioned a few times within these 128 pages ... but, alas, not pictured. That shouldn't be viewed as a sign of disrespect; Guaraldi is in phenomenal company, in terms of the many, many jazz icons who aren't shown. It would have been impossible to include them all, and also beside the point; Bern has deftly depicted the evolution of a music genre in a rapidly expanding city, and a "laundry list" approach to the photographs would have been distracting, even counter-productive.

That said, it does seem unfair that the Brubeck/West Coast Cool chapter is the book's shortest, at a mere six pages, and with a scant four photographs. But, then, I'm obviously biased...

Seriously, though, the book does have one significant failing, which absolutely isn't Bern's fault. Arcadia apparently doesn't believe in the index; their books never have one. That's quite irritating. Want to quickly find every photo of, say, George Murphy "Pops" Foster? Can't be done. You have to look through the entire book, page by page. I can't fathom why Arcadia behaves thusly; it wouldn't be that difficult to include an index, which probably would fill no more than two or three additional pages.


Photo courtesy ot Brian McMillen
Bern has resided in the San Francisco Bay Area for a quarter-century, during which time she has lived and breathed jazz, blues, funk, gospel and alternative music in venues as varied as The Independent and Davies Symphony Hall. Her work has appeared in print and online, and current projects include a collection of essays about growing up in her home town of Venice, Florida.

She also served on the board for several years at the Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society, the wonderfully eclectic performance venue in nearby Miramar, where she had the ear of owner Pete Douglas as a sort of unofficial advisor. No surprise, then, that her book's final chapter is devoted to the Bach, and enriched by Brian McMillen's marvelous performance photos of icons such as Art Blakey, Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner, Joe Henderson and several more of the many, many jazz cats who graced the venue's intimate, laid-back setting. Douglas died only a few months ago — as I discussed, in a previous post — and the Bach's fate still remains uncertain.

What is certain, however, is the enjoyment you'll get from each and every page in this book. It's clearly a labor of love, and a thoroughly engaging romp through a century of "jass" at Baghdad-by-the-Bay.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Santana connection

Carlos Santana is known to have jammed with Guaraldi during at least one public concert: on October 7, 1972, during a benefit at the College of Marin in Kentfield, California. Santana acknowledges this on his own website, without giving any other specifics about the gig. And while the entire event apparently was broadcast by a local radio station, only a few short fragments have survived, as I discussed in a previous post.

I've been reminded of this Santana/Guaraldi connection by the recent arrival of the former's autobiography: The Universal Tone: Bringing My Story to Light, published on November 4, 2014. Curiosity prompted a perusal of this volume, to see whether Santana chose to discuss Guaraldi to any degree. The answer is yes, and while the citations are brief, they're certainly respectful.

The first occurs as Santana looks back on the summer of 1963, when he's "almost 16":

Carlos Santana, circa the mid-1960s
San Francisco was like that jukebox [at the Tic Tock Drive In, at Third and King, where Santana "began his career as a dishwasher"]. Actually, San Francisco was a jukebox. The Mission was full of nightclubs, and I had friends there who had stereos. And San Francisco in general had lots of clubs and radio stations playing a variety of styles. KSOL — "Kay-Soul" — was one of the city's black stations. That's where Sly Stone started as a DJ. "Hey, you groovy cats..." He had his own thing that early. I heard a wild jazz organ on KSOL late at night — someone named Chris Colombo doing "Summertime" and just killing it. KSOL introduced me to Wes Montgomery, Bola Sete, Kenny Burrell and Jimmy Smith. They played Vince Guaraldi a lot. ... Basically, the city was a cornucopia of music — more than I had ever expected. I started hearing about clubs I would later try to sneak into — like the Jazz Workshop, all the way down Van Ness and over on Broadway, near the North Beach area. Just a few doors down was El Matador, where I would hear Cal Tjader and Vince Guaraldi for the first time, and later Gábor Szabó. El Matador was where I heard the amazing Brazilian guitarist Bola Sete for the first and only time.

The next mention comes a bit later, in late 1965:

That fall, I met Michael Carabello for the first time. He was a friend of Yvonne's [Christian] and would have been at Mission High except that his baseball skills got him into San Francisco Polytechnic. He remained close with his friends in the Mission, where he lived. Carabello had gotten hooked on music when he played congas in these informal jam sessions at Aquatic Park, very close to North Beach, and had even sat in once with Vince Guaraldi.

And, finally, a few more years along, in May 1969:

We weren't the only band getting it together [at San Mateo's Pacific Recording Studio] at that time — Vince Guaraldi was rehearsing there, too. At one point, he came over to our room and said, "I got to tell you, man, I was listening to your music, and I can tell the direction you guys are going — you guys are going to be big, man. Big." That was an amazing confirmation of what we felt. I used to see Guaraldi a lot, because we played in a lot of the same benefits. I also saw him play at an outdoor show at Stern Grove with his trio, and Bola Sete and John Handy were on the bill, too. It was my first love-in, and everyone was smoking weed, but the music was amazing. It felt like Guaraldi stepping in and giving his approval helped turn things around.

That Stern Grove show likely would have been one of Guaraldi's many appearances at the annual summer "Jazz in Stern Grove Musical Festival," probably in 1966 or '68 (since both those shows also featured John Handy's combo).

Guaraldi clearly was one of the smaller ships passing in the wake of Santana's blossoming career, and yet the latter's acknowledgment obviously is sincere, even grateful. Guaraldi rarely gets any sort of mention in jazz biographies or overviews, so it's double nice to see this shout-out by an icon from an entirely different portion of the music world.

Friday, December 26, 2014

A Jerry Granelli Christmas

As promised, longtime jazz drummer Jerry Granelli gladdened the hearts of many, many Canadian fans by touring his Charlie Brown Christmas show a bit more ambitiously this year. He and his trio — Simon Fisk, bass; and Chris Gestrin, piano — began their holiday showcase with a performance November 27 at Central United Church in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario; and concluded with a gig December 16 at the Arden Theater in St. Albert, Alberta. 

By all accounts, a great time was had by all, as clearly indicated by these two reviews:

The St. Albert Gazette, December 13

The Edmonton Journal, December 14

A point of clarification, though, which I noticed in the coverage of both his 2014 concerts and those in 2013. A few writers who breezed too rapidly through their press notes identify Granelli as "the last surviving member of the Vince Guaraldi Trio," which will come as a surprise to all the other surviving members of various Guaraldi combos. It's probably not even safe to say that Granelli is the only surviving member of the trio that recorded the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack LP, since the identities of that album's credited sidemen remain, ah, a point of discussion.

So let's just say that Granelli worked with Guaraldi for a couple of years in the early 1960s, most often joined by bassist Fred Marshall; and that Granelli is, indeed, the only surviving member of that particular trio.


You'll also want to take a look at this short December 4 news piece on Granelli done by CTV Ottawa...

...along with these two concert videos — with the trio performing "Linus and Lucy" and "Skating" — which were recorded during their December 7 performance at the Halifax Jazz Festival.

Sharp-eyed readers will note, on the latter site, a reference to the Granelli Trio's entire Halifax Jazz Festival performance having been recorded, for the December 20 episode of the CBC radio show The East Coast Music Hour, with David Myles. Unfortunately, the link to that program has been "geo-locked" and works only for folks who reside in Canada; attempts to click in from elsewhere — say, the United States — get re-directed to a default East Coast Music Hour page, with no indication of the Granelli material.

Savvy Internet users likely can work around that little issue, and the effort is worthwhile ... although perhaps not as much as avid fans might hope. The hour-long program features both concert excerpts and plenty of conversation between Granelli and Myles. While the latter is engaging and informative, I suspect plenty of listeners would have preferred more music and less chat. Still, we get to hear complete versions of "Linus and Lucy," "Christmas Time Is Here," "Skating," "Christmas Is Coming" and "O Tannenbaum." You'll note that Granelli departs from the "standard" Guaraldi arrangements, in some cases quite significantly; that's the nature of jazz, and — in my view, anyway — that makes these interpretations that much more interesting, and fun.

I'd like to think that, one day, CBC will broadcast the entire concert. I'd also like to think that Granelli might bring his tour to the States in 2015, so let's keep our fingers crossed!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A little of this, a little of that

Various scraps of information have been settling into my files for awhile now: none worthy of blog entries by themselves. But they're all interesting, if slight, and the (digital) stack has grown tall enough, that it seems appropriate to gather them into this single post.

To cases, then:

The first bit of news warrants a fist-bump for my good friend and radio colleague, Bill Buchanan, who has solved The Mystery Of The Ages: the identity of the "mystery track" on the second disc of the 2011 CD release, An Afternoon with the Vince Guaraldi Quartet. Contrary to what the liner notes claim, it most definitely is not "Autumn Leaves" ... even though Sound Hound and various other web sources now insist as much, having propagated the error (an issue I covered at length in this previous post). Bill and I discussed this situation at length, when I brought the song to his attention earlier this year; unknown to me, he kept chewing at it ... convinced that he recognized the melody from somewhere. Well, he was right; he did recognize it, and the penny finally dropped a few weeks ago.

The song is "Sunny Goodge Street," which made a splash in October 1965 on Fairytale, the second album from British singer Donovan. The tune took a few years to become a pop hit, and then was covered by the likes of Judy Collins and Tom Northcott. The arrangement performed by Donovan is the closest to Guaraldi's take, which you can hear by comparing Vince's version with Donovan's, thanks to this YouTube clip.

So, mystery solved. I'm forever indebted to Bill, and of course will take this opportunity to give his Davisville radio show another plug. Indeed, Bill and I just yesterday recorded our annual discussion of upcoming holiday movies: a show that should go live in about another week. Do give us a listen.

Friday, November 14, 2014

A Jolly Guaraldi Holiday 2014

Good heavens; the holiday season approaches, and much too rapidly. That means it's time once again to investigate the many Guaraldi-themed concerts taking place, most of which (of course!) are tied in to his music from A Charlie Brown Christmas.

These events clearly have become a successful business model, with more groups getting on board each year, some of them expanding their schedules.

I traced the history and growth of this delightful tradition in 2012, in a blog entry which I encourage the curious to read. Meanwhile, this new post will serve as a clearinghouse for any and all late 2014 concerts that come to my attention. I'll add to this schedule as new information becomes available, so do check back on occasion.

As has been the case for several years now, the most ambitious tour news comes from Concord recording artist David Benoit, who once again is taking his Charlie Brown Christmas show on the road. This year's schedule kicks off November 29 in Brea, California, and concludes December 22 in Modesto, California, with stops along the way in Oregon, Washington, New Jersey, New York, Georgia, Texas, Florida, North Carolina, New Mexico and several other California venues. We caught the 2011 performance in Livermore, California, and I can report that it's a great show. It's also tremendously sweet, since Benoit and his team work with a children's choir that is local to each stop. Check his website for details.

For those wanting a bit more detail about Benoit's involvement with the Peanuts franchise, this short interview is worth a look.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Beethoven, Schroeder and Vince

As I've observed many times, one's fame isn't merely a function of popularity in the moment, or even during a lifetime, but also the degree to which one's art becomes ubiquitous enough to be included as a relevant part of important events years — even decades — after passing on.

Thus, I was delighted by the significant role Guaraldi played during last weekend's public unveiling of the Green Music Center's new Schroeder Hall, all part of Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park, California. The intimate, 250-seat venue was named after Charlie Brown's Beethoven-loving friend, Schroeder, at the suggestion of Charles M. Schulz's widow, philanthropist Jeannie Schulz. Aside from that nod to the resolutely focused Peanuts character who never lets lovestruck Lucy Van Pelt distract him from pounding out complicated symphonies on a toy keyboard — with painted black keys! — the designation also acknowledges Charles "Sparky" Schulz's lifelong fondness for classical music.

Additionally, the name brings renewed focus to a longstanding debate among Peanuts fans: Is Schroeder the young lad's first name ... or his last?

"People ask if there's a Mr. Schroeder," laughed Laurence Furukawa-Schlereth, co-executive director of the Green Music Center, when he was interviewed in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

Schroeder Hall's debut weekend was marked by close to a dozen concerts and special events, the first of which — dubbed the "Schroeder Overture" — took place Friday evening, August 22. The cheerful, invitation-only crowd was an engaging blend of donors, Sonoma State University and Green Music Center personnel, staff members from both the Charles M. Schulz Museum and neighboring Creative Associates, and honored guests.

I had to wear a coat and tie, which conflicted with my long-established "Northern California casual" rep. Folks who know me would have fainted at the sight.

But it was a Snoopy tie, so maybe it would have been only a brief swoon.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

One university, three concerts

My efforts to track Guaraldi's concert and studio schedule have revealed that he performed at my college alma mater, the University of California/Davis, at least three times.

It's possible there were more than three. Cal Tjader's Quintet toured California in 1957 and '58, while Guaraldi was a member; the combo's many stops easily could have included UC Davis. A California college tour with Bola Sete in October 1965 also might have featured a stop at UC Davis. For that matter, Guaraldi easily could have managed one-offs, since Davis is only a 90-minute drive from his Bay Area haunts.

But I'm certain of only three appearances: November 3, 1963; September 26, 1968; and October 7, 1972. The latter is particularly frustrating, as I entered UC Davis as a freshman in the autumn of 1973, thereby missing him by just one year. He never returned to Davis during my undergraduate years, more's the pity.

That aside...

1960s-era masthead of the UC Davis
student newspaper,
The California Aggie
Thanks to the archives of the UC Davis campus newspaper, The California Aggie, we get a fascinating portrait of the jazz genre's slide into "unhipness" during the course of this decade from 1963 to 1972, along with a general sense of the rise of the anti-establishment attitude of the paper's student journalists.

The 1963 appearance was made while Guaraldi's Trio — Fred Marshall, bass; and Jerry Granelli, drums — shared the bill with headliner Dick Gregory and folksinger Margie McCoy. This ill-fated cross-country college tour was cut short on November 21, when President Kennedy's assassination brought the entire country to a halt. The tour's appearance three weeks earlier, however, was just another stop along the way; The Aggie duly sent an unbylined reporter to cover the show. He (I'll assume it was a guy, given the era) did a noteworthy job, treating the event quite respectfully, allowing for early 1960s attitudes that make us wince today. Thus, Gregory is identified as a "Negro comedian," while McCoy is dubbed a "talented blonde."

Guaraldi is cited as "the great jazz pianist," and the reviewer clearly enjoyed Dr. Funk's set, calling particular attention to his handling of Henry Mancini's "Mr. Lucky" and Guaraldi's then-newest composition, "Treat Street."

But I hope it was a typo, rather than bad ears, that prompted the writer to identify the Guaraldi trio's final number as Fats Waller's "Litter Bug Waltz."

Guaraldi and his trio only rated a single long paragraph, though; the bulk of the review went to Gregory's set, which followed an intermission. The writer cited several of Gregory's more amusing lines, such as the fact that he liked football because "it's the only time a colored man could chase a white man and have 40,000 people stand up and cheer" ... or how his favorite Halloween ritual involved visiting an all-white neighborhood, knocking on a door and asking if the adjacent house really was for sale. These obvious laugh lines aside, the writer also made a point of discussing Gregory's stronger political content.

All in all, a thoughtful and well written piece. ("Litter Bug Waltz" aside.)

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Vince on the Web

Guaraldi fans are lucky; most of the albums under his own name have remained in print and been readily available since their initial release. That's true of his entire Fantasy catalog, not so much his latter projects for Warner Bros. Oh, Good Grief was (and is) the most popular and easily obtainable of that trio; The Eclectic Vince Guaraldi and Alma-Ville require more digging, but even they're not too hard to find on either LP or CD.

But what about material that never saw commercial release?

Happily, a few nuggets exist, several of which are available via the Web. Some are housed in authorized online archives that are willing to share them with the general public; others are bootlegs that (shall we say) lack that level of legitimacy, but nonetheless are waiting to be enjoyed by folks who haven't yet discovered them.


Our first stop is SugarMegs Audio, "where live music lives since 1996." The site hosts a massive archive of more than 67,000 concert recordings, in whole or in part. Most are rock/pop, but you'll find other things as well. On the homepage, scroll down to where THE MAIN COLLECTION is headlined, then click on the "database interface" link below. That'll bring up a page with a small white SEARCH box on the left. Enter the name "Guaraldi," and — as these words are typed — you'll get six hits. (They're at the bottom of the page, so be sure to scroll down far enough.) Three are simply more recent performers covering one or more Guaraldi songs, but the other three entries actually feature Vince. In chronological order, they are:

• The massive jam during the final night of the five-day farewell party for San Francisco's Fillmore West, which ran June 30-July 4, 1971. Guaraldi was part of the final evening's "San Francisco Musicians Jam," which included Van Morrison, the Tower of Power horn section, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Cold Blood, Hot Tuna, the Loading Zone and even rock impresario Bill Graham, on cowbell. Guaraldi played electric organ. You'll be hard-pressed to hear him over the chaos, but you're welcome to try!

• A shared billing with no less than Carlos Santana, during a benefit for the College of Marin in Kentfield, California, on the afternoon of October 7, 1972. The band also included Coke and Pete Escovedo; other personnel, if present, remain unnamed. Although numerous sources agree that the entire show was broadcast by a local radio station — some claim KPFA, others KSAN — only two fragments seem to have survived: a portion of a jam running just shy of 7 minutes, and a second, longer fragment from an extended jam version of "Evil Ways," that clocks in at about 15:38. You'll find them both here, stitched together as a single file. Guaraldi's electric keyboard can be heard quite clearly throughout both fragments, although the melodic quality of his contribution is open to debate. Mostly, he delivers the extemporaneous riffs that characterized his occasional rock-inflected appearances at the Matrix, during this part of his career. This file's nice bonus, however, is the DJ who speaks over the music at roughly 20:40, to identify Santana on guitar, and Guaraldi on electric piano.

Guaraldi also shared the stage with Van Morrison
on December 1, 1972, during a benefit designed
to help save the Alhambra Theater in Sacramento,
California. (Sadly, that effort failed.)
• Unfortunately, the third item — Guaraldi's presence as part of Van Morrison's back-up band, for a concert at the Lion's Share, in San Anselmo, California, on February 15, 1973 — appears to have been removed from SugarMegs. Alternate sources, at The Midnight Café and Guitars 101, also no longer have active links; more's the pity. At this point, the only options appear to be much dodgier BitTorrent sites, so proceed with caution.

Morrison played two sets, and Guaraldi joined the band for the entire second set. To quote my book:

Perhaps inspired by Guaraldi's presence, Morrison devoted much of the second set to covers of standards that included "Misty" and "White Cliffs of Dover." The fit was awkward; Morrison did much better on his own hits, such as "Listen to the Lion" and "Hard Nose the Highway."

Even so, Guaraldi was allowed generous solos; he riffed on electric keyboard midway through "White Cliffs of Dover" and comped quite enthusiastically behind an oddly up-tempo handling of "Misty."

You can judge for yourself. Guaraldi spent about half a year with Morrison, from late 1972 through the spring of 1973, but this is the only known recording of their work together.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Library duty

Professionals constantly are asked to provide their services at no cost, often by well-meaning (but clueless) friends and neighbors. Attorneys get phone calls from folks in desperate need of free legal advice; doctors get backed into corners, at parties, by total strangers who proceed to describe a jaw-dropping assortment of symptoms, followed by the traditional question ... "So, whaddya think, Doc?"

We writers are no different. People know that I can string words and sentences together with persuasive competence, and so I've often been asked for press releases, letters of recommendation, essays and even full-blown feature stories ... at no charge, of course. Depending on who's asking, I might say something along the lines of "You know, I do this for a living," hoping to elicit at least a trace of guilt; that usually gets me a smile and a reply such as "Oh, c'mon; you could dash this off in no time."

Well, yes ... and the reason I sometimes can "dash it off in no time" is attributable to my having worked at it for 40-plus years. Which should be worth something.

Granted, people only take advantage of us if we let them; I have no trouble declining. But I often say yes — much to my wife's vexation — particularly if the request seems worthwhile, or if the pitch is made in an appealing manner.

Sometimes the weight of the potential honor also carries the day.

I therefore was quite intrigued, back in the spring, to receive a cordial note from Cary O'Dell, who works in the National Recording Registry for the U.S. Library of Congress. They're the folks who select 25 recordings each year for preservation: recordings that have been deemed so vital to our country — aesthetically, culturally or historically — that they demand (and receive) permanent archiving in our nation's library.

previously wrote about the National Recording Registry, a few years back, when Guaraldi's soundtrack for A Charlie Brown Christmas was one of the 25 recordings so honored in 2011 (although announcements didn't go out until 2012). That's a rare accolade for a jazz musician, and for a soundtrack, let alone the score for a half-hour television special. And yet I'm sure everybody reading these words would agree that Guaraldi's album easily deserves such a tribute.

Anyway, Cary explained that the Registry folks are attempting to augment their core web site with "scholarly essays" for each of the (currently) 400 titles within. Cary then asked if I'd be willing to supply such an essay for Guaraldi's A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Now, Cary didn't know this, but — to paraphrase a famous line from Jerry Maguire — they had me at "Library of Congress." Even so, I was particularly delighted by the following few lines in Cary's letter, which I'll reproduce verbatim:

Unfortunately, we are not able to pay you at this time. As a writer myself, I know of the nasty gumption and gall of asking writers to "give it away for free." So, all I can offer as an excuse is: "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you..."

Okay, you gotta love it.

As a further sweetener, I also was promised a byline and brief bio.

Heck, a byline on a document within the Library of Congress, attached to a recorded work that has been selected for permanent preservation? Meaning that, in all likelihood, my deathless prose also would stand the test of time? Goodness, isn't that what we all yearn for? Something significant that will outlive our mortal selves?

Where do I sign?

It was, indeed, that formal; I had to autograph an official release, and of course I also had to submit to format and editing requirements. Cary sent along a few sample essays and gave me a suggested length of 1,000 to 1,200 words.

Naturally, my finished essay came in at 2,025 words. After I trimmed it.

Twice as long as requested ... which also is pretty much what happened with the final draft of my Guaraldi bio. Happily, Cary was just as accommodating as my editor at McFarland, and I wasn't required to cut anything.

The results can be seen here, at its own page within the National Recording Registry site; it went live earlier today, and Cary kindly alerted me to same.

And I've been sporting a disgustingly self-satisfied grin ever since.

Because — let's face it — this is way-way-way-way-way cool.

Even if they didn't pay me.