Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Peanuts Connection: Down to the last note!

I first "met" Rob Kirby when he was one of several hundred individuals who submitted an essay for 2009's Security Blankets: How Peanuts Touched Our Lives, the book I co-edited with Don Fraser. Rob's essay was charming, warm and droll: precisely the sort of "personal touch" that we were seeking. He easily made the cut, and his contribution — and a similarly droll photo — can be found on Page 75.


Rob's essay also acknowledged his fondness for Guaraldi, and recognition of the major impact that Vince's music had on the early Peanuts TV specials. Our shared interest kept us in touch, exchanging notes every so often, with Rob occasionally hinting at a "big project" that he kept meaning to tackle.

Typical British understatement.

Rob has completed his labor of love, and it's astonishing. Starting with the Music Use Sheets that I had posted on one of my many Guaraldi web pages, and armed with DVDs of every Guaraldi-scored Peanuts TV special — and the big-screen film A Boy Named Charlie Brown — along with all the albums of Guaraldi's music available to the mainstream public, Rob meticulously analyzed every second of music in each film, cross-checking against the titles indicated by the Music Use Sheets, and in many cases filling in additional data and correcting mistakes. (As I explain, in that page's introduction, Music Use Sheets are "dynamic" documents that undergo changes en route to a finished product, much the way scripts can change during filming. Initial intentions notwithstanding, when it came time to edit a given scene, a last-minute decision might be made to drop a planned cue, or add one where music hadn't originally been requested. The Use Sheets kindly shared by Lee Mendelson, many years ago, gave no indication of what part of production they represented. A few dovetailed very neatly to an animated special as aired; others did not.)

Rob's efforts allowed me, at long last, to amend that page so that the Music Use Sheet list for each film now accurately reflects the finished product; the results can be viewed here.

But that's only the tip of Rob's research. He also carefully analyzed every cue, from the shortest snippet to a full-length melody, to determine uniqueness. Many of Guaraldi's most popular Peanuts themes appear multiple times in a given TV special, in some cases in different arrangements or different "takes" (as is the nature of jazz). That distinction wasn't mentioned in the original Music Use Sheets; thanks to Rob, we now know — as just one example — that several different versions of the "Baseball Theme" are used in 1966's Charlie Brown's All-Stars, only one of which matches the version included on Guaraldi's album, Jazz Impressions of A Boy Named Charlie Brown.

And that's the other great feature of Rob's work: He also identified where specific cues — which is to say, a precise arrangement — can be found, among Guaraldi's various albums.

Along the way, he uncovered a few surprises, and made some savvy observations.

He realized, for example, that the delightfully upbeat version of "Peppermint Patty," heard midway through 1967's You're in Love Charlie Brown, is a bonus track on the CD re-release of Vince Guaraldi with the San Francisco Boys Chorus. Along a similar line, the terrific, brass-heavy arrangement of "Linus and Lucy," heard midway through 1973's A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, can be found on the CD The Charlie Brown Suite and Other Favorites, where it's titled "Linus and Lucy with the Band."

Rob also has a keen ear, having recognized something that I'm ashamed to admit I've missed, all these years: The cue "Bon Voyage," heard early in 1968's He's Your Dog, Charlie Brown, clearly is adapted from the song "Monterey," one of the other tracks on Vince Guaraldi with the San Francisco Boys Chorus.

On a more sobering note — literally — Rob noticed that most of the cues written for 1976's It's Arbor Day, Charlie Brown sound suspiciously similar to earlier tunes such as "Christmas Time Is Here," "Joe Cool" and the aforementioned "Baseball Theme." An overly hasty assumption might suggest that Guaraldi was running out of creative juice, but I strongly doubt that; it seems much more likely that Guaraldi's very poor health affected his work on this special. Remember, he died right after finishing the studio recordings for this show.

My Music Use web page doesn't begin to cover all of Rob's thorough research, which must be appreciated in its entirety, at his blog. (You'll also want to read his detailed account of what prompted this project, and how he approached it.) As he explains, in his key, bold entries refer to specific arrangements of cues that can be found on various Guaraldi albums. Green entries address disputed existing information, and blue entries refer to cues that were rearranged and re-recorded on albums by Guaraldi or George Winston.

Granted, Rob's efforts represent a degree of "geeking out" that'll likely be appreciated — to the proper degree — by only a small handful of people. But as somebody who shares Rob's obsessive research tendencies, I regard his work as an invaluable document, and a resource of historic proportion.

On top of which, it's a lot of fun to read!


Sunday, December 18, 2016

Tidbits from the newspaper archive

Of late my good buddy (and fellow Guaraldi fan) Doug has been researching Dave Brubeck's early work, in the course of which pursuit he has spent considerable time with the newspapers.com archives. I buried myself in the same site while gathering information for my Guaraldi biography, but that was seven years ago; it's clear, based on Doug's explorations, that the site has added considerable regional content since then.


Not one to waste a subscription fee, Doug also utilized the same access to investigate Guaraldi on my behalf. The results came to me on a thumb drive that contained roughly 140 full-page scans from various newspapers. I'd already seen many of them (mostly from the Oakland Tribune and San Mateo Times), but the San Rafael Daily Independent Journal hadn't been among the newspapers.com holdings, back when I did my research. Some of the relevant articles, photos and ads duplicated items and events I'd already seen in other papers, but an impressive amount proved new ... and, in some cases, quite enlightening. I've already updated and amended entries in my Guaraldi timeline, and added a few entirely new ones, but some of the more engaging discoveries definitely deserve additional exposure here. I'll present them in chronological order; unless otherwise specified, everything comes from the Daily Independent Journal.

By far the best ad is the one at left, which ran October 1, 1964. I'd already known that Guaraldi had been booked to perform at this particular event, but hadn't seen an ad for same. It's definitely a blast from the past; can you imagine a similar ad running today, in a newspaper, for similar candidates? For that matter, can you imagine a jazz performer being the featured entertainer, at such a function?

The Santa Cruz Sentinel's early March TV listings show that Guaraldi was a guest on Lloyd Thaxton's afternoon chat/variety show, at 5 p.m. March 3, 1965. Similar TV listings two months later cite one of the fabled 5-minute "bumpers" that Guaraldi and his trio recorded, to fill 30- and 60-minute time slots on National Educational Television (NET) channels which — as the precursor to the nationwide PBS network — ran without commercials. I've included the listing here; you can see that Guaraldi and his combo performed a tune titled "Twilight of Youth" ... which (more's the pity) he never recorded on an album. It's one of a dozen or so compositions that he registered with the U.S. Copyright Office, and no doubt performed live on numerous occasions, but never found the time to include on an LP.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Quadruple platinum!

Big news today, folks.

The milestone cited here actually has been public since August, but Concord/Fantasy waited for the official ceremony on Friday, December 9, before issuing the following press release:


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From left, Jeannie Schulz, David and Dia Guaraldi, and Lee Mendelson
LOS ANGELES, CA -- Concord Bicycle Music and Fantasy Records announced the Quadruple Platinum certification of A Charlie Brown Christmas at a presentation today, with Vince Guaraldi's children David and Dia, Peanuts creator Charles Schulz's widow Jeannie Schulz, and the animated television special's producer, Lee Mendelson. The certification, awarded by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), marks four million units in album sales of the 1965 soundtrack by the Vince Guaraldi Trio. That makes it the second-highest certification of a jazz album, behind only Miles Davis' Kind of Blue.

Guaraldi's engaging score to the synonymous holiday television special --̶ which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year -- has introduced generations of children to the joys of jazz, with tracks such as the instantly recognizable "Linus and Lucy," and the yuletide favorite, "Christmas Time is Here." The album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2007, and the Library of Congress' National Recording Registry five years later, and it continues to be a perennial favorite, thanks in part to annual airings of the Christmas special. 

Guaraldi, a native of San Francisco, became one of America's best-selling jazz artists during the course of his life. Though his legacy is most famously tied to his association with Peanuts, he already was an established, Grammy Award-winning artist by the time that producer Lee Mendelson tapped him to score the first of many animated specials based on the Charles Schulz-penned newspaper strip. In a 2003 interview, excerpted from Vince Guaraldi At The Piano (Derrick Bang; McFarland Books), Mendelson declared, "There was no doubt in my mind that if we hadn't had that Guaraldi score, we wouldn't have had the franchise we later enjoyed."

Jeannie Schulz was equally taken with the musician. "Vince Guaraldi was already a legend when I first met him in the mid-'70s," she said. "What amazed me, and touched me, was his humility about his celebrity, and his complete joy in playing the piano for a group at a gathering. Music was like breathing to Vince."

"The combination of Vince Guaraldi's music and Peanuts continues to prove a magical marriage, which has helped push this iconic recording to being one of the best-selling jazz albums of all time," remarked Concord Bicycle Music's Chief Catalog Officer, Sig Sigwort.

"Celebrating this wonderful achievement with the families and principles involved is a great honor."


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In point of fact, this sales figure is low, being based mostly on electronically recorded sales made subsequent to 1991, when Neilsen SoundScan began tracking data. Clearly, Guaraldi's album sold many, many copies during the previous quarter-century ... but because Fantasy's record-keeping was so sloppy during the early years, a precise figure has been impossible to determine.

Meaning, it's entirely possible that Guaraldi's score album already has surpassed Kind of Blue ... but we can only speculate. Meanwhile, the RIAA certification is indisputable.

(And yes: It was a nice surprise to see that the official press release cited a Mendelson quote from my Guaraldi biography.)

Congrats all around ... and onward to quintuple platinum!

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In a droll bit of related news...

Back on November 21, USA Today interviewed Billy Bob Thornton prior to the release of his newest film, Bad Santa 2. When asked when folks should start celebrating the Christmas season, Thornton responded with the following:

"My 12-year-old daughter Bella is vehemently opposed to starting the holidays too soon, and I support that. She thinks it's unfair to whichever holiday comes before. She can't stand it when people put Christmas decorations on our street before Thanksgiving. It's, like, give Thanksgiving its due. If you want to start the day after, I'm cool with it.

"But I listen to Christmas music all year round. I always have a CD in a little boom box in my trailer on every movie. All I listen to is A Charlie Brown Christmas, by Vince Guaraldi. Doesn't matter what season. Every waking moment, I have that record on. It's my obsessive/compulsive nature."

I appreciate the sentiment, Billy Bob. It's nice to know I'm not the only one!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Jolly Guaraldi Holiday 2016

The schedule gets busier every year ... and isn't that marvelous?

The holiday season returns anew, and it's once again time 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.

I traced the history and growth of this delightful tradition back in 2012, with a modest schedule that now seems quaint. This new post will serve as a clearinghouse for any and all late 2016 concerts that come to my attention. As always, 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 Christmas Tribute to Charlie Brown on the road. He's touring this time with special guest Sara Gazarek. Their schedule kicks off November 26 in Brea, California, and concludes December 19 in Livermore, California, with stops along the way in Washington, Alaska, North Carolina and Arizona. We caught Benoit's  performance in 2011 and 2015, 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.

Benoit may be grabbing the lion's share of headlines in the States, but our Canadian neighbors will enjoy the return of the season's most historic booking. Drummer Jerry Granelli, who worked as a member of Guaraldi's trio in the 1960s, will headline Tales from A Charlie Brown Christmas with his own trio. The tour kicks off November 26 in Calgary, and concludes December 10 in Victoria. Alas, they're still all Canadian venues; he has yet to bring this show to the States. Granelli began this annual celebration with a few shows in 2013, and the results were quite popular (no surprise there). He'll again be joined by Simon Fisk (bass) and Chris Gestrin (piano). Check his website for details.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

A little of this, a little of that: The fall 2016 edition

Dr. Funk’s fans have long awaited the wide release of The Anatomy of Vince Guaraldi, ever since its debut as a work-in-progress at the 2009 Monterey Jazz Festival. The completed Andrew Thomas/Toby Gleason documentary subsequently screened at more than two dozen film and music festivals during 2010 and ’11, garnering several awards along the way, while seeking a mainstream distributor: a necessary next step which — sadly — never materialized.

Years passed, as Andy and Toby continued to pursue every possible lead; Guaraldi’s fans began to despair. Many of them wrote me impassioned notes, hoping I’d have an inside scoop on the situation. Alas, my response always was the same: Nothing had changed.

Until now.

The final barrier was the need to expand performance permissions — for the music used within the film — beyond the “festival license” level, in order to obtain the legal right to distribute The Anatomy of Vince Guaraldi via home video and streaming platforms. That isn’t cheap, and Andy and Toby had exhausted their own financial resources (hence the lengthy search for a distribution company, which would have handled such requirements).

But there is another option these days, at a time when crowd-funding has resulted in happy successes such as the creation and release of a big-screen sequel to the cult TV hit, Veronica Mars. Andy and Toby have set up a Kickstarter campaign, which went live on November 17. They have 31 days to reach a pledge goal of $61,000, and they’re hoping that fan interest will push them over that hurdle.

You can read an official press release here, and check out a 2-minute trailer here.

As with all Kickstarter campaigns, the various levels of financial support are accompanied by inducements: from a 16-page preview booklet, at the modest Jazz Cat level; to a producer credit that will appear at the beginning of the film — along with all the goodies promised at the levels in between — for those willing to become an Angel-Headed Hipster. Details are available here, and several of the promotional items will be available for shipment in time for the holidays.

Check it out, and you’ll surely agree: A wide release of The Anatomy of Vince Guaraldi would make a great Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Holiday-of-Choice gift ... not only for yourself, but for the entire jazz community. So pledge early, and pledge often ... and spread the word!

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Jazz drummer Jerry Granelli, beloved in this blog as one of Guaraldi’s former sidemen, just received a tremendous honor at the annual Creative Nova Scotia Arts Awards gala, held November 5 at the Halifax Central Library. He was presented with the Portia White Prize, which recognizes cultural and artistic excellence in Nova Scotia — where Granelli has lived since 1988 — and those who have attained professional status and mastery in their discipline.

Among other things, Granelli was a prime mover in the establishment of the Halifax Jazz Festival, more than 30 years ago.

“When I recall ... how over the years you have trusted me with teaching your children, and supported the Creative Music Workshop as well as my performances, I feel such enormous gratitude,” Granelli said, during his acceptance speech. “And now to be honored with [this] award ... all I can really say is thank you. I will not stop.”

Additional coverage of this event can be found in the Halifax Chronicle Herald and the Nova Scotia Local Express ... although both articles repeat a grotesque error that has long circulated in Canadian newspapers, when discussing Granelli. Contrary to oft-published report, he is neither an “original” member of the Vince Guaraldi Trio, nor the “only surviving member” of the said trio: a claim that would be met with annoyance by Eddie Duran, Dean Reilly and Colin Bailey, all of whom preceded Granelli at Guaraldi’s side, and all of whom are still with us ... and, like Jerry, “not stopping.” (Talk about sloppy fact-checking. Sheesh!)

None of which is Granelli’s fault, of course, nor does it detract from the magnitude of his honor. Congrats and high-fives, Jerry!

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Finally, a small surprise: Basement Blues, the new album from the John Stowell/Michael Zilber Quartet — Stowell (guitars), Zilber (sax and piano), John Shifflett (bass) and Jason Lewis (drums) — includes a Zilber original called “Have Yourself a Vince Guaraldi Xmas.” I’m hard-pressed to detect any obvious nods to Vince’s classic score for A Charlie Brown Christmas — although faint suggestions of “Christmas Time Is Here” hover throughout — but the tribute itself is quite nice to see.

Friday, August 5, 2016

By George!

George Winston needs no introduction to this blog; his devotion to Guaraldi pre-dates mine by a few years (albeit only a few!), and he has demonstrated his fondness with two gorgeous cover albums: 1996's Linus and Lucy: The Music of Vince Guaraldi, and 2010's Love Will Come: The Music of Vince Guaraldi, Volume 2. Nor has George stopped; he tirelessly seeks out and puts his own spin on additional Guaraldi recordings, even meticulously examining brief solos on Vince's recordings with (for example) Cal Tjader.

This fixation is about to bear fruit once again, as George soon will release Bay of Gold: The Music of Vince Guaraldi, Volume 3.

But these albums weren't George's first opportunity to interpret the music of his favorite Northern California-based jazz cat. Peanuts fans know that George was one of several noted musicians selected to score individual episodes of the 1988-89 eight-part animated miniseries, This Is America, Charlie Brown. His assignment, The Birth of the Constitution, ran second in the series, debuting on October 28, 1988.

George routinely writes quite extensive liner notes for his albums, often with additional information available on his web site. These notes read like an ongoing memoir, and in some cases I've gotten the impression that such essays might have been composed for an album project that never quite materialized. In this case, the notes were intended for an individual DVD release of The Birth of the Constitution, which Warner Bros. ultimately opted against. (George chose not to issue an album of his score, unlike Dave Brubeck and Wynton Marsalis, who did share their scores on CD.)

George recently has been going through his massives piles of notes, and he came across some items related to The Birth of the Constitution. He generously agreed to share them here, and so I'll turn the rest of this post over to him.

Take it away, George!


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I was amazed when Lee Mendelson contacted me in 1988, about recording this soundtrack. After Vince’s untimely passing in 1976, when everyone decided to continue the Peanuts animations, I had imagined some time recording the soundtrack for an episode, and especially to use a Guaraldi song that he himself had not used in any of his 16 Peanuts scores — as I did here, with "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" — and also to use as many Guaraldi songs as possible, also keeping in mind first and foremost what Lee wanted.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Additional 'Grace' notes

2015 was a big year for Guaraldi, with 50th anniversary celebrations of both his score for A Charlie Brown Christmas, and the May 1965 debut of his Grace Cathedral Jazz Mass. The latter prompted two commemorative presentations of the Mass: the first in a concert setting that showcased Guaraldi's music, and took place August 15 at San Francisco's Grace Cathedral; the second a "replica" liturgical service that took place September 6 at the First Presbyterian Church in Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania.


St. John's Episcopal Church, Boulder, Colorado
Preparations for both were followed avidly by the Rev. Bruce Swinehart, rector of St. James Episcopal Church in Wheat Ridge, Colorado. Bruce corresponded enthusiastically with Jim Martinez, who orchestrated the San Francisco event; Bill Carter, who mounted the Pennsylvania service; and me, contributing whatever I could from the sidelines. Bruce eventually revealed his own plans for a presentation of Guaraldi's Mass, also in a church setting: a development I've followed with great interest.

2015 got away from him, but — proving once again that there's no such thing as too many commemorative honors — Colorado's own Guaraldi Mass has been scheduled for this Sunday, June 19, the fifth Sunday after Pentacost, at St. John's Episcopal Church in Boulder. The Rev. Swinehart will be the guest preacher, drawing from the sermon given by the Rev. Malcolm Boyd back in 1965, during the original Grace Cathedral Mass. The music will be performed by the Eric Gunnison Trio, a well-known local jazz ensemble. The St. John's Choir will be directed by Tom Morgan, known for leading the 36-member Ars Nova Singers, a nationally recognized ensemble celebrating its 30th anniversary this season.


The Rev. Bruce Swinehart
Bruce has taken pains to use the same hymns — all still in the Episcopal hymnal — that were sung by the San Francisco congregation during that original service. "I got them from an original bulletin from the May 1965 service," Bruce explains, "which Charles Gompertz very generously gave me, when I met him last year. It even has his notations in the margins, indicating which pieces were to be included in the subsequent Fantasy Records album."

The anticipated program is as follows:

Prelude
Processional Hymn: "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty"
Collection for Purity
  + "Lord Have Mercy" (arrangement by Guaraldi)
Collection for the Day
Old Testament Lesson
Epistle
  + Gradual Hymn: "Come Holy Ghost, Our Souls Inspire"
Holy Gospel: Luke 8:26-39
Sermon by The Rev. Swinehart
  + "Nicene Creed" (arrangement by Guaraldi)
Prayers of the People
Confession/Absolution
The Peace
The Offerings of the People
  + Offertory: "Theme to Grace" (Guaraldi)
Doxology
  + "Lift Up Your Hearts"
  + "Holy, Holy, Holy"
Prayer of Consecration
The Lord's Prayer
  + "O Lamb of God" (sung by the choir)
  + Communion (accompanied by Guaraldi's "Holy Communion Blues")
     Hymnal #314: "Humbly I Adore Thee" (arrangement by Guaraldi)
Prayer of Thanksgiving
Blessing
Dismissal
Recessional Hymn: "Christ for the World We Sing!"
Postlude


The Eric Gunnison Trio
"The prelude and postlude may include other melodies by the trio," Bruce adds. "I'm not exactly sure what they're planning. After all, they're jazz musicians!"

I remember hoping that last summer's 50th anniversary events might generate additional interest in Guaraldi's Grace Cathedral Jazz Mass, along with more church and/or concert presentations of that music. Dare I hope further than this Colorado service will be the first of many more such tributes?

It's a nice thought.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

A little of this, a little of that: The spring 2016 edition

I’m always delighted when fresh information allows a new entry to be placed in my timeline of Guaraldi’s activities ... and even more pleased when said information simultaneously solves a mystery.

My good buddy Doug — a frequent contributor to this blog — has been investigating Dave Brubeck of late, via various archives that included expanded subscription access to Newspaper.com, a fabulous site that I frequently consulted while researching my Guaraldi bio. My (roughly) year with Newspapers.com was back in 2010 and ’11; the nifty thing is that the site continuously expands, as more digitized publications are added to the archive. Thus, when Doug also indulged a whim to investigate Guaraldi a bit, he came across several items I’d not seen before.

The first is a TV program description. The Thursday, April 20, 1961, issue of San Rafael’s Daily Independent Journal, in writer Hal Case’s “Checking the Channels” column, includes this paragraph:

Another KQED attraction [Friday] night, at 10:30, will be a one-time-only battle of talent between three artists in different fields: illustrator Don Freeman, jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi, and pantomimist Bernard Bragg. The trio will challenge each other to ad lib performances.

In an earlier Independent Journal issue (Saturday, April 15), the actual TV listing titles this half-hour special Trio, with a brief explanation that reads “artist Don Freeman, pianist Vince Guaraldi and pantomimist Bernard Bragg.”

The program likely was broadcast live from San Francisco’s KQED Channel 9 studio, and there’s no evidence that a recording has survived. (More’s the pity.)

Freeman died back in 1978, after a successful career as an author and illustrator of children’s books; his best-known title likely is Corduroy. His son has mounted a loving tribute website. Bragg had a long and successful career as a performer, playwright, director and poet; his website is filled with information, photos and video clips.

But here’s the really cool part:

The first printing of my book incorrectly identified the individuals in this photo, on Page 162, as Guaraldi, director Lee Mendelson and animator Bill Melendez. Several people quickly pointed out the error, including Mendelson himself (which once again demonstrates the folly of relying on a single, so-called “authority” for information, and the need to double- and triple-source everything). Subsequent printings corrected that error, but nonetheless left me clueless regarding the identities of the other two men. Well, early 1960s photos of Bragg and Freeman have left no doubt: This photo, reprinted above, must’ve been taken at KQED either before or after the show. From left, we’re looking at Guaraldi, Bragg and Freeman.

And, so, another mystery yields to determined investigation. Way to go, Doug!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

You're a picture LP, Charlie Brown

Fantasy/Concord surprises us this week with the release of a vinyl version of last summer's CD compilation, Peanuts Greatest Hits (discussed in greater detail in this previous post). Ah, but this isn't just any LP; it's a gorgeous picture disc with a smiling Charlie Brown on one side, and an equally (atypically?) cheerful Lucy on the flip side.

You can see the album in action — literally — during this YouTube promotional video. Note, as well, that the disc is being played on Crosley's Peanuts "Cruiser" Record Store Day Turntable, released back in late 2014 (but still available via Amazon and other outlets, if it slipped past your radar).

As one final bonus, Rock Father Magazine is giving away one of these picture LPs via an online raffle. A bit of registration is required, and entrants also need to cite their "favorite record of all time." (One wonders if responders who mention a Guaraldi album will get preferred scrutiny.) As these words are typed, the contest continues for only 11 more days, so if you're interested, don't delay!

But if you'd rather not wait, and/or don't fancy your chances in the raffle, of course you can purchase the picture disc right away, via Amazon.


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Speaking of LPs, I just caught up with celebrated comedian Dick Gregory's East & West, released back in November 1961, just as his star was rising. The album has been available on CD for quite a few years at this point, and it's an important listen for several reasons.

Guaraldi shared a stage with Gregory numerous times, most famously during a nationwide college and university tour that began at Sacramento State University on October 23, 1963, and was scheduled to conclude at Detroit University on November 23. It didn't work out that way, thanks to an assassin in Dallas, Texas; the tour was cut short.

Gregory was already quite famous by the time this tour was put together, and East & West features two of his earliest sets, both from 1961: the first at the Blue Angel in New York City; and the second during his debut at San Francisco's hungry i. The precise recording dates aren't given, but it's known that Gregory did a lengthy stint at the hungry i during the summer of 1961. Since he mentions Soviet cosmonaut Gherman Titov's Earth orbit as a recent event — and it took place on August 6, 1961 — we can assume that this set was recorded either August 7 or 14, as hungry i bookings (at that time) usually began on Monday evenings.

Gregory touches on numerous other topics, such as airline hijackings; he also playfully disses San Francisco and, toward the end of the set, fantasizes about what he'd do if elected President of the United States (a particularly pointed segment, all these years later).

But the best part comes toward the beginning, when Gregory takes a lengthy poke at the hungry i itself, mere minutes after having been introduced by club owner Enrico Banducci:

Ain't no place in the world like this crummy joint. This is a weird place ... this is a basement! Three dollars a head they charge you, to get in a basement. I bet you don't go in your own basement for free, at home! You should see this joint when the fog lifts: no second floor! This is what you would call an 86-proof Disneyland. You ever been to a nightclub with no tables? Ain't this weird? It's sorta like drinking in church!

But they have to have joints like this in San Francisco, to bring tourists in. A lotta people come here, just for these types of places. Sorta like a nice place you'd like to visit, but you wouldn't want in your own neighborhood...

Given what I heard about the hungry i from the numerous musicians I interviewed, it sounds like Gregory really nailed it...!

Friday, February 26, 2016

A little of this, a little of that: the early 2016 edition

The greater San Francisco-area jazz community was quite tight in the late 1950s and early ’60s; not only did all the players know each other, they likely all performed together at some point during their careers. It’s therefore no surprise when I come across yet another musician who worked with Guaraldi, even if only briefly.

Dalt Williams
Today’s case in point is Dalt Williams, born and raised in Vallejo, California, where his music interest initially found him playing trumpet and tuba. He enlisted in the U.S. Army following high school, and soon found himself in the 438th Army Band at Camp Stoneman, in Pittsburgh, California. This was in the 1950s.

“They wanted to form a jazz group,” Dalt recalled, during a recent chat, “and a friend of mine was studying theory with Jack Weeks, well known for his work then with Cal Tjader. My friend suggested that I tag along, and I said sure. I’d been playing sousaphone at the time, but thanks to Jack, that’s how I got started on the bass.”

The bass subsequently became Dalt’s instrument of choice. A few years later, after his military service concluded, he resumed his formal education.

“I transferred to San Francisco State, and was playing with groups in the city. I got a call from Vince one day, it probably was some time in 1958, wanting to know if I was available, so I wound up working a few gigs with his trio. I remember the first one very well: It was for a dance at the NCO Club on Treasure Island, which still was a naval base back then.”

Dalt is certain that a few other gigs followed, but details are lost in the haze of more than half a century gone by. But his memory of Vince remains fond.

“He was an amazing player, and a straight-ahead guy. We’d have played standards at that dance; he’d call ’em, and we just played ’em. It was a smooth fit; as a bass player, I remember it was easy to follow along.”

Alas, no photos were taken of this meeting between rising pianist and bassist.

The stint with Vince was brief, and Dalt soon found himself a regular part of the Al Trobbe Trio. Graduation and a degree in music education from San Francisco State followed, after which Dalt happily embraced a 35-year career as a teacher. He never saw Vince again.

Even while teaching, Dalt found time to gig here and there. Today he’s part of a combo that bills itself as Jazz for All Occasions, which promises “swingin’ jazz for your event ... public or private, in the San Francisco Bay Area or Northern California.” Jazz obviously remains a passion.

“The idea is to book the gigs,” he chuckles, “get out, and have some fun!”