Friday, July 25, 2014

Explosive developments

First, the happy news:

Northern California fans have a treat in store, when Larry Vuckovich once again presents his Guaraldi Tribute Show at 4:30 p.m. Sunday, September 14, at the Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society, 311 Mirada Road, Half Moon Bay. Vuckovich is calling this concert "The Jazz and Latin Side of Vince Guaraldi," and the set list will include songs Guaraldi recorded with guitarist Bola Sete, along with "Cast Your Fate to the Wind," a few compositions written for the Peanuts TV specials, and another performance of a Guaraldi original never recorded on an album.


I'm guessing the latter is "Blue Lullaby," and that this upcoming concert will be similar to the show Vuckovich headlined last summer, at Silo's in Napa. I discussed that show at length in an earlier post, which should give a flavor of what to expect this September. The personnel will be the same: Vuckovich on piano; Josh Workman on guitar; Seward McCain on bass; John Santos handling Latin percussion; and Akira Tana on drums. McCain, you will recall, was part of Guaraldi's trio during the final years of his life.

Additional details can be found both at Larry's website and the Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society site.

Now, the sad news:

Pete Douglas, founder of the Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society, died July 12, at the rich, well-lived age of 85. Both Douglas and his rather eclectic venue have been famous for numerous decades; their Sunday afternoon concerts have been a popular Northern California attraction for fans of all ages and musical tastes. Guaraldi and his combo are known to have performed there several times, although I have only one firm date (September 16, 1973). Not quite two months after Guaraldi died, Douglas' venue was the site of a tribute concert dedicated to Dr. Funk; the March 28 event featured none other than Larry Vuckovich, along with Benny Barth and George DeQuattro. That first tribute spawned an annual series; Guaraldi memorial concerts continued at the Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society, every spring, through at least 1981.

Douglas' passing prompted numerous excellent news stories; you'll want to read those in the Half Moon Bay Review, Broadway World and (my favorite) the San Jose Mercury News. Douglas and his venue were — are — treasures, and although scheduled concerts will continue through late October, the club's long-term fate isn't yet known. It would be a catastrophic shame to lose both in the same year ... but, then, the club derived its atmosphere and je ne sais quoi from its founder. It might be difficult to carry on without him.

We can only wait and see ... which makes the September Guaraldi concert by Vuckovich and his combo that much more of a must-attend event: a chance to once again hear the Italian Leprechaun's music at a venue where he actually performed. Because, let's face it: There aren't many of those left!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Birthday greetings

Dr. Funk would have turned 86 today: a ripe old age, but certainly not prohibitive, in terms of further sharing his talent. Plenty of jazz elder statesmen have continued to record and perform well into their 80s; it's nice to think, in an alternate universe somewhere, that Guaraldi is doing the same.


Concord/Fantasy hasn't let the moment pass; the label has acknowledged this birthday milestone with a spanking-new vinyl release of Guaraldi's career-making album, Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus. The LP jacket front is virtually indistinguishable from the album's later re-christening as Cast Your Fate to the Wind, following that song's chart-rising success and Grammy Award. Even the catalog number is identical: Stereo 8089/Fantasy 3337 ("High Fidelity").

The jacket back also appears the same, down to the "other Fantasy albums of interest" listed beneath Ralph J. Gleason's liner notes. Closer scrutiny, however, will reveal the Concord Music Group address in tiny print at the very bottom, along with a new catalog number (OJC-437) at the upper right.

The LP contents are identical to those pressed in 1962, and — unlike other recent LP re-issues of Guaraldi albums — the vinyl is basic black. (Alas, no fun color.)

AllAboutJazz.com has cited Guaraldi as its "Jazz Musician of the Day," and you can check out this honor here. The AllAboutJazz page, in turn, links to an essay I wrote many years ago, long before I decided to embark on a full-blown biography; you'll also find a modest selection of photos.

That appears to be it, in terms of acknowledgment by the wider world ... unlike last year, when KMUW 89.1 in Wichita, Kansas, devoted an installment of its award-winning show, Global Village, to Guaraldi. (I guess an 86th birthday isn't quite as exciting as an 85th. Those multiples of 5 always seem more significant.)

As for my own sentiments, on this day ... I can't really do better than what I wrote a year ago, so I'll refer you back to that post.

But I will add this: We can take enormous pleasure in the fact that Guaraldi's music continues to resonate just as much, 365 days after his previous birthday. Indeed, there's no shortage of fresh news about our favorite Italian leprechaun, as followers of this blog know. Nor does Concord show any signs of slowing down, in terms of CD and LP re-issues.

I recall being told, by drummer Mark Rosengarden, that Guaraldi's tipple of choice, during the latter part of his life, was Courvoisier. Acknowledging that this brand of cognac is something of an acquired taste, I nonetheless encourage the faithful Out There to raise a glass of the stuff, and join a heartfelt toast to the man whose small hands belied his massive jazz chops. May his celestial star ever brighten.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Tjazz by Tjader

Effective research isn't merely about hours spent in dusty library microfilm rooms, or chasing vague leads via Internet searches; it's also about cultivating a network of friends and colleagues who possess their own areas of expertise. In other words, it's never just what you know; it's also who you know ... and whether they can help you find an elusive something-or-other.

And, when it comes to Guaraldi's association with Cal Tjader, I was lucky, early on, to strike up an acquaintance with Duncan Reid.

Tjader, left, and Guaraldi, in back, rehearse while the production crew gets
ready to film the quintet's guest appearance on the TV show Stars of Jazz.
Guaraldi worked closely with Tjader twice during the 1950s: first from the autumn of 1951 through January 1953, generally in a trio format with bassist Jack Weeks; and then again from September 1956 through January 1959, this time as part of Tjader's Quintet (initially alongside Eugene Wright, bass; Al Torre, drums; and Luis Kant, congas; and later alongside Al McKibbon, bass; Willie Bobo, drums and bongos; and Mongo Santamaria, congas).

What eventually blossomed into my Guaraldi biography began as a modest essay in the summer 1993 issue of the Peanuts Collector Club newsletter. When I helped take the club online and became its official Web guru a few years later, I scrambled for enough content to give the new site a reasonably splashy debut; the Guaraldi essay was an obvious choice, so I expanded it slightly and posted this revised version in February 1996. Over time, that article drew the attention of several very helpful folks, who contributed additional facts and gently corrected some of my assumptions (and the occasional downright error). One of those individuals was Duncan, who at the time was gathering information and conducting interviews for a planned biography of Tjader. Duncan already had started mining the San Francisco Chronicle and Oakland Tribune newspaper archives, and he helped me augment the few paragraphs I had devoted to Guaraldi's involvement with Tjader.

Fate can be funny. A few years later, when Duncan was ready to commit to an actual book, he asked for ideas regarding a publisher. As a longtime fan of the McFarland catalog, I knew that publishing house would be a good fit for such a project; I suggested as much, and it turned out to be an ideal match. 

Duncan and I corresponded frequently, even met a couple of times. We exchanged photos and contact information for various sidemen and other individuals within the 1950s and '60s Northern California jazz scene. Duncan called my attention to — and (bless his heart!) — got me a copy of 1958's The Big Beat, the only big-screen film in which Guaraldi appears, as part of the Tjader Quintet.

Many years later, when I bit the bullet and decided to tackle a similar book-length project about Guaraldi, I asked Duncan who he was working with at McFarland, and that's how we wound up with the same editor.

Although Duncan started his book years before I began mine, I beat him to publication by a little more than a year. In fairness, though, Duncan had a lot more material to assemble, and folks to interview; Tjader lived longer than Guaraldi, toured more aggressively, and assembled a much more ambitious recorded catalog.

Cal Tjader: The Life and Recordings of the Man Who Revolutionized Latin Jazz was published in August 2013. It's a meticulously researched book, highlighted by a wealth of detail and an impressively descriptive discography. (Duncan and I share a fondness for attempting to insert every last little factoid, thus running the risk of drowning casual readers in data.)

The work never stops, of course; as I've observed on numerous occasions, new information flows in scarcely before any just-published book's ink has had time to dry. Most obviously, the book itself attracts readers who, in some cases, knew and/or worked with these folks back in the day, and can supply their own fresh nuggets of information. Anticipating this led me to create this blog, as an outlet for fresh data; recognizing the wisdom of this approach, Duncan has done the same. His blog, Cal Tjader's World, has just gone live.

Drop by and leave him a comment or two. And say hello for me.


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Swingin' singles

Life brings constant surprises.

That's a good thing; it would be terrible to wake one morning, realizing that the world offered no more mysteries, no more unexpected answers.

Discovery is one of life's many spices.

Happily, I continue to discover new wonders about Guaraldi's life and recorded output. Some things come my way via helpful correspondents; other items wander across my path entirely by accident, usually while I'm seeking additional sources for some other piece of information.

Two recent finds, then: both concerning Guaraldi's recordings on 45 singles.

By now, we all know the story about how "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" was "discovered" by Tony Bigg, a DJ at KROY 1240 AM, in Sacramento, California. Having received a copy of Fantasy's single for Guaraldi's album Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus, Bigg played and enjoyed the A-side selection, "Samba de Orpheus." But he was totally knocked out by the B-side song, "Cast Your Fate to the Wind," and played it as often as possible. He very likely sparked public awareness of the song, which quickly spread throughout the Golden State, and then the rest of the country, eventually earning Guaraldi a Grammy Award.

Okay, that's familiar history.

But here's my fresh question: Might Bigg have been playing a red vinyl 45?

It's also well-known that — during the label's early years — Fantasy Records got considerable mileage from its gimmick of issuing LPs on colored vinyl, generally red or blue. Old news.

Until a few weeks ago, however, I'd never heard of — let alone seen, or been lucky enough to own — a colored vinyl single.

And yet here it is, thanks to a recent eBay auction.

Fascinating, eh?

The question now is whether only promotional 45s were issued on red vinyl, and perhaps only the first printing of same. That seems logical, and they're certainly rare; standard singles of "Samba" and "Fate" are as common as blades of grass, and they pop up all over the place. This red one, though, is something truly special.

And it begs a question: Were any of Guaraldi's other Fantasy 45s released on colored vinyl?

I suspect not. Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus was the last Guaraldi LP originally released on colored vinyl — red (mono) and blue (stereo) — and Fantasy discontinued this practice shortly thereafter. In other words, all of Guaraldi's subsequent 45s were attached to LPs issued solely on standard black vinyl, so the singles would have been pressed the same way, also on black vinyl.

That was the first surprise.

Within a few days of my obtaining this little treasure, I learned about the existence of another hitherto-unknown Guaraldi 45, this one derived from the "storybook LP" released as a soundtrack, of sorts, for the 1969 big-screen film A Boy Named Charlie Brown. Guaraldi's isolated score for this film remains a major unreleased item in the soundtrack world, a sad and frustrating story I detailed at great length in an earlier post.

To my knowledge, however, Columbia Records never released a single from this LP ... at least, not in the United States.

During a routine perusal of the Guaraldi titles referenced at the very handy Discogs site, I unexpectedly came across a listing for a French single (CBS 5399), released in 1970. The gatefold-style packaging is quite attractive, as you can see from the images here. The A-side contains Rod McKuen's title song, while the B-side is unusual for its presentation of two tracks: short versions of McKuen's "Champion Charlie Brown" and Guaraldi's "Snoopy on Ice" (actually "Skating").

Granted, Guaraldi's contribution runs a scant 95 seconds, but that's still enough for this disc to qualify for inclusion in Dr. Funk's library of 45s.

Assuming you can find one. As these words are typed, the aforementioned Discogs entry lists 10 people who'd like to find this little disc, while also showing the disheartening word "never" under "Last sold." I therefore suspect that finding a copy of this puppy might be even harder than landing "Fate" on red vinyl.



But — as I said above — what fun would life be, if we didn't have things to desire, and search for ... awaiting that golden moment of triumph, when...

Sigh. If only, right?

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Dr. Funk's first Golden Anniversary disc

Guaraldi fans have two new items to put on their wish lists ... assuming said fans haven't already picked 'em up.

On Tuesday, May 13, the Concord Music Group unveiled 50th anniversary editions of Jazz Impressions of A Boy Named Charlie Brown, in two states: a CD newly re-mastered by engineer Joe Tarantino; and a collector's-edition LP that reproduces the original 1964 "gatefold" packaging, along with all its contents.


The CD features the original album's nine tracks, along with the bonus track of "Fly Me to the Moon," added when the album went digital back in the 1980s. Additionally, we get one more bonus track, new to this release: an alternate take of "Baseball Theme." The 16-page booklet has a reversable cover, so you can view either a reproduction of the aforementioned gatefold LP cover -- when the album's full title was Jazz Impressions of A Boy Named Charlie Brown -- or the later cover that most people recognize. Perhaps in a nod to historical accuracy, the latter CD cover now only identifies this as "The original sound track recording," and leaves off the second half of the phrase ("of the CBS television special") ... which makes sense, since the documentary for which this score was composed, never aired on TV at all.

The disc is rather drolly designed to resemble a baseball, complete with stitching; the booklet and cover/interior page are laden with artwork taken from the 12 Charles M. Schulz "collectible lithographs of Peanuts characters" included in the 1964 gatefold edition. (Indeed, the CD cover art is taken from one of those 12 lithographs, shown above.) The booklet includes the original LP notes by both director/producer Lee Mendelson and jazz historian Ralph Gleeson, along with a new 1,900-word essay by my own self.

The collectible LP reproduces the original 1964 gatefold edition as accurately as possible, with one major change: This anniversary edition is pressed onto orange vinyl, in a nod toward Fantasy's original gimmick of releasing its LPs on colored vinyl (usually red or blue). From the outside, the gatefold package looks just as it did 50 years ago, up to and including the list -- on the back -- of "Other Fantasy albums of interest": eight titles, complete with their original Fantasy mono and stereo catalog numbers.

(This list undoubtedly was responsible for one of the common errors that has plagued many careless Guaraldi discographies. At first blush, these eight LPs appear to belong to Guaraldi, but that isn't true; two of them are Bola Sete albums ... and I've frequently found one of those, Tour de Force, incorrectly assigned to Guaraldi. Tsk-tsk!)

I note only one difference, between the front and back cover art of this 50th anniversary gatefold and my 1964 original: The latter lists the Fantasy catalog numbers for both the mono and stereo versions at the upper left of the front cover, while the anniversary edition cites only the stereo release.

The LP itself divides the original nine songs between the two sides in the same sequence, reproducing the spelling error present back in 1964: The little girl with the "naturally curly hair" is Frieda, not Freda. But a new mistake has crept in, as well: "Freda [sic] (With the Naturally Curly Hair)" is Side B's final track, as always has been the case. But Side B has only four tracks, yet this anniversary disc identifies that tune as Track 5 ... having skipped the number 4. (Oopsie!)

The LP is made from a fresh (new) master derived from the original analog tapes (as opposed to the CD re-master). The LP has no bonus tracks.

Lee Mendelson and Ralph Gleason's essays occupy the interior gatefold panels. As before, the sidemen remain uncredited. And no, my new essay isn't part of this LP, which makes sense, since it obviously wasn't part of the 1964 package.

The 12 Schulz lithographs are almost identical in size and content, including the original 1964 copyright assigned to "United Features Syndicate Inc., N.Y.C." But there are slight changes, reflecting a half-century difference between graphic reproduction. The paper stock is different; the 1964 lithos are on slightly shiny paper, which reflect any light sources. The new lithos also are roughly an eighth of an inch shorter horizontally, which -- depending on the image -- results in some artwork being chopped off one side or the other. 


Some of the colors are slightly different, generally slightly darker, and most visibly with the blues; the new blues are more "true." In the iconic pose of Charlie Brown on the pitcher's mound, for example, the sky behind him now looks more accurate, whereas the sky color in the 1964 counterpart is more of an aquamarine blue. Schroeder's piano is a slightly darker orange in the new litho; the background purples (floor and wall) in that image also are a bit darker. Snoopy's brown baseball glove, in the new litho, has the faint moirĂ© pattern cross-hatching that one gets when scanning a halftone-screen image. Sharp-eyed folks also will notice that the new images, in some cases, omit just a touch of the artwork from the originals. In one litho, shown above, Linus stands in the ball field, next to a tree; the top of the tree extends out of the image, and the original has a little bit more "crown" than the new version. 

Mind you, these are all very minor distinctions, reported here simply for the sake of comparison. Nobody will care, and in fact I prefer the new paper stock because it's doesn't glare.

All in all, they're impressive packages — LP and CD — and, given the effort that went into both, I'm now quite curious to see what Concord will do next year, to similarly honor the 50th anniversary of the score for A Charlie Brown Christmas.


Friday, May 2, 2014

A rose by any other name ... is mis-identified

The Internet giveth, and it also taketh away.

I've previous ranted about Wikipedia's pernicious role in the publication and subsequent spread of misinformation, and the sad fact that such bogus data becomes, well, permanent. All those countless little Internet spiders race about the Web, scraping up and distributing facts and figures, with no means of separating the well-researched thesis of an Einstein from the rants of a Flat-Earther.

But I'm not here to grouse anew about Wikipedia; that topic has been covered.

No, this post concerns a highly disturbing incident that points to yet another means by which bad information is becoming eternal.


The story starts with the 2011 CD An Afternoon with the Vince Guaraldi Quartet, which cherry-picked some of the best tracks from numerous live recordings Guaraldi made himself, during a two-week gig in October 1967, at the Old Town Mall in Los Gatos, California. I was consulted briefly about the various options, which included a "mystery track" that I've never been able to identify; it sounds familiar, like a pop tune from the day, but that nagging sense of possible recognition could simply point to Guaraldi's facility for accessible original compositions: You think you've heard them before, even when you haven't.

Anyway, I advised against using that track, for obvious reasons; it would look a bit silly to label a song "We don't know what this cue is, but we included it anyway, because we really like it." No matter how good the track is.

Well, due to a production slip-up, the mystery track was mixed up with a dynamite cover of "Autumn Leaves," and the former wound up on the CD ... mis-identified as the latter.

Okay, so I initially rolled my eyes, but then realized that this error had an upside: Now it's easy to share this mystery track with avid Guaraldi fans and mainstream music buffs, in the hopes of one day identifying the silly thing.

Well, that was three years ago ... and I'm still sharing. Most recently, I gave the disc to journalist, music scholar and local radio host Bill Buchanan, who has interviewed me several times on KDRT; you can check out his weekly shows here. I supplied the usual explanation, and he promised to listen carefully and do his best.

I saw him again just last week, and he related what initially seemed an amusing little anecdote ... until its implications sank in. He had faithfully played the mystery track, repeatedly, with much the reaction I've had; the tune sounded familiar to him, but not familiar enough that he could place it. During this process, his daughter wandered into the room; she asked what he was doing, and he explained. She whipped out her smart phone and, before he could stop her, found and activated the Shazam song ID app.

"That's easy," she told him, after just a few seconds. "It's 'Autumn Leaves.' "

Bill paused, awaiting my reaction. I must confess, I initially smiled and shook my head ... but then the smile evaporated.

"Oh, no," I said. 

Bill nodded, and he wasn't smiling either.

I came home, snatched up my wife's iPod Touch and repeated the experiment, also with Shazam. Same result. I switched over to Soundhound, another song ID app. After less than 15 seconds, I again had the same result: "Autumn Leaves."

Which isn't true, of course.

But how are the Shazam and Soundhound services to know? Or any other, similar, apps that spring up? Their aggregate data is supplied by CD producers and distributors, who are responsible for such mistakes in the first place. And even if we assume that such tasks fall to interns or other lower-echelon employees, such citizens can't be blamed for passing along bad data; in many cases, they likely wouldn't know the music well enough to perceive the error in the first place.

But you can see the result: Every new generation, moving forward from this early 21st century moment, will have access to "authoritative" sources that claim "Autumn Leaves" is something that it isn't. At best, their numbers will equal the music buffs who know darn well what the actual jazz standard sounds like.


It gets worse, because this situation isn't confined to this one CD. Liner notes errors aren't common, thank goodness, but they do occur. Indeed, other examples can be found in Guaraldi's own discography. The 1998 Fantasy release, Charlie Brown's Holiday Hits, opens with a track that is identified as "Joe Cool" ... but it isn't. Peanuts fans and the Guaraldi faithful are very familiar with Dr. Funk's growling vocal on the song written for Snoopy's sunglass-wearing alter ego, and it absolutely ain't the first track on this album.

But both Shazam and Soundhound immediately identify it as "Joe Cool." Ye gods...

(For the record, the track in question is something else I've yet to identify; my latest working theory is that it may not even be Guaraldi's work, but instead an underscore track from an episode of The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show, produced several years after he died. I've yet to test that possibility by carefully listening to all 18 episodes.)

Even if subsequent re-issues of these two CDs correct the liner notes info, it's highly unlikely that the updated information will make it to these Internet-based song ID apps. No, these errors are forever, along with similar errors resulting from incorrect liner note information on who knows how many other albums Out There, and the misinformation will continue to spread. Long after I'm gone, and no longer able to make these woefully inadequate attempts to set the record straight, people will wonder why Guaraldi quite oddly assigned the same song title to two entirely different tunes.

And jazz fans will find themselves in frustrating arguments with less-informed friends and colleagues, who'll hold up their gadget of the moment, saying, "But of course this is 'Autumn Leaves' ... I just identified it as such!"

Good grief!


Friday, April 11, 2014

The other Ella

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

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

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

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

Wrong, wrong, wrong.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 6, 2014

A visit with the Doc

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

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

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

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

Thanks again, Doc. It was great fun.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

When did Vince become Guaraldi?

Public records are amazing.

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


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

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

Anyway...

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

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

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

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

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

• The date Vince was adopted.

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Orange is the New Gold

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes.

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

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

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

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