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.


********


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!”

Friday, January 22, 2016

Barbed comments

Slowly but surely, little by little, the Internet delivers newly archived treasures that represent impressive effort by dedicated researchers and historians.

My newest find, discovered entirely by accident, is Independent Voices, a searchable open-access collection of alternative press publications from the 1960s, '70s and '80s. To quote their own web site, "Independent Voices provides more than 1,000 titles from the special collections of dozens of libraries ... providing easy access to the powerful voices of feminists, dissident GIs, campus radicals, Native Americans, anti-war activists, Black Power advocates, Latinos, gays, lesbians and more."

For my purposes, the site provides almost the entire run of the Berkeley Barb, from its debut issue on August 13, 1965, through April 24, 1980. (The newspaper actually ceased publication on July 30, 1980, and the archive also misses a few issues along the way: no doubt issues that Independent Voices couldn't locate.)

This is terrific, because the Barb ran an ambitious entertainment calendar in each issue, along with numerous club ads. As a result, my quick search on "Guaraldi" yielded 39 results: mostly gig dates — quite a few that were new to me — and the occasional display ad.

It's easy to get lost in the Wayback Machine, paging through random issues of the Barb, which was quite the font of campus radical thought ... not to mention eyebrow-raising ads and photos for massage parlors, X-rated films and other sources of, ah, prurient matters. (The easily offended, or those with conservative tastes, therefore are advised to proceed with caution.)

Discovering Independent Voices encouraged a return visit to ChickenonaUnicycle, an even more impressive archive of greater San Francisco-area club calendars, gig posters and informative essays, all lovingly maintained by Ross Hannan and Corry Arnold. They're good about updating, and I hadn't caught up with recent developments; my reward was a June 1972 calendar poster for the Inn of the Beginning, which includes an appearance by our favorite jazz pianist.

Fair warning, though: You can get lost in this site for years. Anybody who came of age in the 1960s and '70s will have all sorts of memories revived ... or fabricated. (You know what they say: If you remember the '60s, you weren't there!)

Saturday, December 19, 2015

A little of this, a little of that ... Take 5

Aside from their savvy filmmaking skills, the folks at Blue Sky are equally adept when it comes to marketing and promotion. It would have been very difficult to miss hearing about The Peanuts Movie; we were reminded by everything from freeway billboards and YouTube videos, to the usual assortment of product tie-ins. By far the best gimmick, however, is the website that allows visitors to "Peanutize" themselves. It takes a bit of skill to get it right; I had far better results when my younger sister, a talented artist, took charge of the rendering. If you'd like to give it a shot, check it out here.

Concord Records, recognizing the value of such a clever marketing tool, has created a similar site that allows visitors to apply Guaraldi's signature mustache to themselves (or anybody else). It's quite a hoot, although you need just the right photo, taken at the proper angle, for the effect to work properly. So go ahead: Give yourself a Guaraldi 'stache!


********

I love corresponding with fellow Guaraldi fans; aside from the enjoyment that springs from sharing our mutual enthusiasm, such exchanges can be fun and enlightening. A recent note from a helpful fellow named Jim called my attention to an interesting fact: Whether by accident or design, the release of jazz pianist David Benoit's new album, Believe, makes it possible to assemble a complete Benoit cover of Guaraldi's Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack album. Jim even provided a handy guide for doing so:


1. "Oh Tannenbaum" (Christmastime, 1983)
2. "What Child is This" (Christmastime, 1983)
3. "My Little Drum" (Believe, 2015)
4. "Linus and Lucy" (Here's to You, Charlie Brown, 2000)
5. "Christmas Time is Here" - Instrumental (Christmastime, 1983)
6. "Christmas Time is Here" - Vocal (Believe, 2015)
7. "Skating" (Remembering Christmas, 1996)
8. "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" (Remembering Christmas, 1996)
9. "Christmas is Coming" (Remembering Christmas, 1996)
10. "Fur Elise" (40 Years: A Charlie Brown Christmas, 2005)
11. "The Christmas Song" (Remembering Christmas, 1996)

12. Bonus Track: "Surfin' Snoopy/Air Music," from the "Guaraldi Medley" (Believe, 2015)

"Interestingly," Jim notes, "this set flows nicely, even though the songs were recorded over the course of 32 years. I had to adjust the volume on some tunes to keep it consistent, but otherwise it's difficult to discern the vintage of each track."

Many thanks, Jim; I suspect several folks are about to compose a new playlist!

********

As I mentioned in a previous post, Concord didn't miss the opportunity to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Guaraldi's Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack; the label tantalized us with a CD anniversary gift pack and three retailer-exclusive LPs on colored vinyl, along with a CD re-release of the album itself. In late November, a Concord publicist asked if I'd be willing to do some radio spots, to help promote all of these goodies, and just chat about Guaraldi in general. Sure, I said; sounds like fun.

Clearly, I should have requested clarification of the word "some."

(Not that it would have changed my answer, but I'd have been spared the sticker-shock.)

I subsequently received two packed schedules: 11 interviews at 15-minute intervals between 6 and 9 a.m. December 1, with a longer piece at 2 p.m. that afternoon; and 11 more between 6 and 10 a.m. December 3.

It was a scramble, although not quite as frantic as I feared. Most of the spots were on news and talk stations, and therefore only about 5-7 minutes; I usually had time to catch my breath before the next one. I definitely gained additional respect for film actors who get stuffed into a hotel room during a promotional tour, and must endure an entire day of interviews booked at 20-minute intervals.

Some of the DJs and hosts weren't at all prepared, despite Concord having sent along plenty of background information; in those cases, some of the questions and comments were inane. Happily, several of the DJs were quite prepared, one to a degree that I'm certain extended beyond what Concord had provided. I love folks who do their research!

If you're curious, these are two of the better spots:

KFOR, in Lincoln, Nebraska (in two parts; scroll down to get the links in order)

Overnight America, which is syndicated to roughly 90 markets

I also did a podcast for American Standard Time.

From left, David Willat, Beth Ruyak, your blog host and Jim Martinez

Finally, I marked the actual anniversary — December 9 — with a live chat on Sacramento's Capital Public Radio, on the public affairs show Insight, hosted by Beth Ruyak. I shared the microphone with jazz pianist and fellow Guaraldi fan Jim Martinez, and former St. Paul's Church Choir member David Willat, who as a young lad was one of the kids singing during the actual Charlie Brown Christmas TV special.

It has been quite a year for Guaraldi; 2016 likely will seem very quiet, by comparison!


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A Jolly Guaraldi Holiday 2015

Good heavens; the holiday season approaches yet again! That means it's 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 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 2015 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. He's touring this time with jazz chanteuse Jane Monheit, with whom he recorded their new holiday album, Believe. Their schedule kicks off November 28 at New York's Rockville Center, and concludes December 20 at the Blackhawk Museum in Danville, California, with stops along the way in Illinois, Kentucky, Texas, Virginia, North Carolina and several other venues across the United States. We caught Benoit's 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.


Benoit once again is 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 performances of the music from A Charlie Brown Christmas with his own trio. They'll perform nine times, starting November 28 at Calgary's Central United Church; and concluding December 18, at the Arts & Culture Center in Corner Brook, Newfoundland. Granelli first presented this show a few times 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.

I must — of course! — mention my good buddy Bill Carter. Followers of this blog know that Guaraldi's Grace Cathedral Jazz Mass recently was revived at Carter's First Presbyterian Church of Clark's Summit, Pennsylvania. Well, Carter has a few more choice events up his sleeve. He and his Presbybop Christmas Eve Band will present an afternoon concert titled A Charlie Brown Jazz Christmas Sunday, December 13, at the First Presbyterian Church of Hawley, also in Pennsylvania. This will be followed by Presbybop's annual Jazz Christmas Eve concert at Carter's First Presbyterian Church, which I'm told also will focus on Guaraldi's music from A Charlie Brown Christmas. Details.

The Heather Pierson Quartet — Pierson on piano, Joe Aliperti on sax, Shawn Nadeau on bass, and Craig Bryan on drums — has scheduled a mini-tour of (thus far) six shows devoted to A Charlie Brown Christmas. They kick off December 4 in Eaton, New Hampshire, and conclude December 17 in Laconia, New Hampshire, with stops in Massachusetts and Maine. Check her website for details.

The Cartoon Christmas Trio doesn't concentrate solely on music from A Charlie Brown Christmas; they also pepper their performances with tunes from other animated holiday shows, such as Frosty the Snowman and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. (Their album is a kick; give it a listen.) They have seven shows scheduled thus far, starting December 5 in Newark, Delaware; and concluding December 20 in Wilmington, Delaware; with other shows in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Check their website for details.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Contest time!

The Peanuts comic strip celebrated its 65th anniversary on October 2, and A Charlie Brown Christmas will mark its 50th anniversary on December 9. On top of which, we've got this modest big-screen movie debuting November 6.

Add the impending proximity of the holiday season, and you know what that means: plenty of new and "freshened" merchandise, in a variety of formats.


Guaraldi fans whose taste crosses over to pianist David Benoit — and it absolutely should — won't want to miss Believe, his new album collaboration with jazz chanteuse Jane Monheit. It includes plenty of material from A Charlie Brown Christmas, and the instrumental highlight is a lengthy trio medley — with bassist David Hughes and drummer Jamey Tate — that features "Surfin' Snoopy" (aka "Air Music"), "Christmas Is Coming," "Greensleeves" and "O Christmas Tree." On the gentler side, Monheit's poignant handling of "Christmas Time Is Here" is backed by the All-American Boys Chorus (standing in for the young members of the St. Paul's Church Choir, who supplied Charlie Brown and the gang's singing voices in the TV special). The arrangement is pure Guaraldi, as is the case with an equally charming cover of "My Little Drum." The album also features Monheit's touching reading of "Just Like Me," the 2005 Benoit/Lee Mendelson original that serves as an emotional bookend to "Christmas Time Is Here."


Speaking of the aforementioned new 3D film from the talented folks at Blue Sky (the geniuses behind the Ice Age franchise and several other CGI hits), its soundtrack hit retail shelves on October 23. Although most of the original underscore comes from veteran film composer Christoph Beck, the album also includes three classic Vince Guaraldi Trio recordings: "Linus and Lucy," "Skating" and "Christmas Time Is Here."

Moving to the pure Guaraldi front, today (November 1) marks the debut of Concord Records' Charlie Brown Christmas 50th Anniversary Gift Pack, which includes the following:

• The original 11-track Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack
Peanuts Portraits
• A reproduction of the children's book version of A Charlie Brown Christmas
• Four double-sided postcards featuring various members of the Peanuts gang

This item is a Walmart exclusive.



(Sharp-eyed fans will recognize the postcard images as smaller versions of the mini-posters originally packaged with Fantasy Records' first-run LP pressings of Jazz Impressions of A Boy Named Charlie Brown.)

But wait; there's more! Today also marks the debut of three colored vinyl, retailer-exclusive editions of the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack:

• Red and green vinyl, available only at F.Y.E. stores
• Red vinyl, available only at Urban Outfitters
• Red and white vinyl, available only at Newbury Comics

And, of course, the existing green vinyl version remains available to all via Amazon.

So ... how many of those LPs will you scramble to find?


Looking a little further forward, November 20 is the release date of Concord's four-LP box set version of The Definitive Vince Guaraldi. The 31 songs from 2009's double-CD have been pressed onto four LPs, each housed in a different art sleeve. The package also includes a 12-by-24-inch poster of Guaraldi, original liner notes by noted jazz historian Doug Ramsey, a reproduction of the promotional cardboard "Vince mustache" that was handed out to patrons of his 1960s club gigs, and a 16-page booklet laden with vintage photos, club ads, newspaper articles and other ephemera from back in the day. (Many of the latter items come from the extensive library of archival materials I assembled, while researching my Guaraldi bio.) Not to be missed!

But wait, I hear you cry ... isn't this post headlined Contest Time?

Indeed yes, and I have not one, but two contests for you. 

Concord Records and JazzTimes magazine are running a sweepstakes that gives everybody a chance to win the four-LP Definitive Vince Guaraldi box set. That's right, just one winner ... so the question is, Are ya feelin' lucky? Check it out here.

Be advised: You'll need to establish a free JazzTimes user account, and then log into that account, in order to enter online. (All other forms of entry are void.)

This sweepstakes ended November 15, 2015.

But hey: You don't need to do anything special to enter our exclusive Impressions of Vince contest. Two lucky winners will be sent copies of Concord's Charlie Brown Christmas 50th Anniversary Gift Pack.

(This contest also concluded on November 15, and the answers now have been supplied below.)

All you need to is correctly answer the following questions:

1. Because A Charlie Brown Christmas debuted in 1965, it featured many characters who soon faded into obscurity and then weren't seen for decades thereafter. Name one. [Many possible answers here: Violet, the original Patty, 5 and his twin sisters 3 and 4]

2. Similarly, Charles M. Schulz hadn't yet introduced some of the strip's most popular characters when this show was made. Name one popular Peanuts character not seen in A Charlie Brown Christmas. [Again, several possible answers: Marcie, Peppermint Patty, Franklin, Woodstock and Rerun, among others]

3. Lucy never eats December snowflakes, even though Linus insists "They look ripe to me." Lucy tells us that she waits until which month? [January]

4. What will Linus do with his blanket when he grows up? [Make it into a sport coat]

5. What does Lucy want for Christmas? [Real estate]

6. In the school stage dance scene, what instrument does Pig-Pen play? [Bass]

7. Snoopy is called upon to imitate several animals for the school play. Which of the following is not one of them? a) sheep; b) goat; c) penguin; d) cow. [Goat]

8. How many tufts of green growth does the little tree have when Charlie Brown and Linus first spot it? [Three]

9. How many different ways does Schroeder play "Jingle Bells" for Lucy? [Three]

10. What color is the one ornament that Charlie Brown puts on his tree, which causes it to flop over? [Red]

Email your entries to derrickbang@gmail.com. Please, one entry per person. Winners will be selected randomly from entries with perfect scores. In the event nobody gets 100%, winners will be selected from entries with the most correct answers. 

Congratulations to our two winners: Doug and Bill. You know who you are...!

Friday, September 18, 2015

A little of this, a little of that ... Take 4

With the flurry of activity leading up to the twin 50th anniversary events commemorating Guaraldi’s Grace Cathedral Jazz Mass, a few items were set aside for commentary at a later date. I guess this is that later date...

A view from the rear at the Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church, during the CD release party
for Jim Martinez's newest album. That's quite a crowd!
First and foremost, I’ve been exchanging some great notes with Louis Judson, who as a teen was a member of the trio — which included pianist Brian Mann and drummer John Terwilliger — that presented the Tamalpais High School “concert version” of Guaraldi’s Jazz Mass on December 13, 1966. Louis finally came across the lengthy blog post I devoted to that performance; when researching that essay, I’d only been able to reach Brian and John. Louis was able to add some details, most significant of which is the fact that he’s the one who recorded the event. His comments have been incorporated into the original post, albeit invisibly ... so you’ll just have to read the whole thing again. (Hey, it’s a great excuse, right?)

Speaking of the Guaraldi Mass, an enterprising fellow named Steve recorded the entire August 15 Grace Cathedral concert, and has posted his efforts. The concert is divided into two YouTube files — Part 1 and Part 2 — divided at the point Rev. Bill Carter gives his short sermon. Unfortunately, a portion of his talk is missing (no doubt when Steve had to switch to a second memory card). The video is reasonably stable — very little shaking — and the audio quality is quite good, given the camera placement. For those unable to attend in person, this will give a solid sense of the event.

Jim Martinez led the combo that performed at Grace on August 15, and he followed that with a combination CD release party — for his new album, Good Grief, It’s Still Martinez! — and post-Jazz Mass commemoration, which took place August 30 at the Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church (home of the choir that performed at Grace on August 15). It turned out to be quite a party, drawing roughly 800 (!) attendees. My wife and I weren’t able to make it, as we were traveling back east that day, but Jim assures me that A Great Time Was Had By All. He tells me the entire event was recorded, but thus far he has posted only one video clip: this performance of “Theme to Grace.” If it’s any indication, I can’t wait to see and hear more ... so get a move on, Jim!

We couldn't help noticing that Jim was placed next to a display case filled with vintage
Barbie dolls. What would Snoopy say?
We may have missed Jim on August 30, but we were able to catch his solo act Thursday evening, September 10, when he performed at Sacramento's California Museum during the grand opening of "Pigskin Peanuts," a traveling exhibit from the Charles M. Schulz Museum. The folks at the California Museum did a sensational job with the exhibit, which features football-themed Peanuts strips and memorabilia. Children can keep occupied at several interactive stations, and a few cute photo ops also are present. (My favorite gives everybody an opportunity to become a lifesize Peanuts-themed football trading card.) Jim played for two hours, blending tunes from his new album with classics from Guaraldi's Peanuts canon.

The final item comes courtesy of Keith Mason, who teaches world languages and culture at New Jersey’s Providence High School. He has written an ambitious article about Charles Schulz, Peanuts and Guaraldi, mostly themed around the upcoming 50th anniversary of the debut TV broadcast of A Charlie Brown Christmas. Mason has a strong interest in immersing grade-school children to the arts, and — in addition to giving some history and background on the three topics above — he offers numerous clever ways in which Guaraldi’s music for A Charlie Brown Christmas, and other Peanuts TV specials, can be integrated into interactive lesson plans. (Hey, Keith; where were you when I was in high school?) I applaud the imaginative effort here, and I hope teachers across the country adopt at least some of his suggestions.

And th-th-that’s all for now, folks!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

East Coast Grace

September 6 dawned sunny and bright in Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania, with an early warmth that anticipated the day’s eventual climb to a humid 88 degrees. The sticky Sunday morning surroundings notwithstanding, things were cool and inviting in the city’s First Presbyterian Church — “The Church on the Hill” — when we entered at 8:30 a.m.

Indeed, as cool and inviting as Rev. Bill Carter’s welcoming smile.

We were an hour early for the morning’s events, knowing that some prep time was necessary. I was accompanied by what came to be known as my entourage: Constant Companion Gayna, our Boston-based friend Scott, and our D.C.-based friend Doug. The four of us unpacked the enlarged photos, facsimile 1965 Grace Cathedral programs and other vintage materials — recently used for Jim Martinez’s tribute concert (see previous post) — that I had shipped to Carter’s office. 

Armed with easels and other display materials, we set up a tableau in the church foyer, designed to give parishioners a sense of what it had been like for Guaraldi and his band, half a century ago.

This actually was my second visit to the church, following a brief appearance the previous morning, during a final rehearsal involving Carter (on piano), Al Hamme (sax and flute), Tyler Dempsey (drums), cantors Susan Kelly and Alan Baker, and members of the First Presbyterian Church choir. I hovered for roughly an hour, mostly checking sound levels and balance by sitting in different parts of the worship hall. The trio initially overwhelmed the choir a bit, so I encouraged Bill to enhance the gain on their microphones (which earned an appreciative smile from the singers). Jon Tichenor, affiliated with the local NPR station WVIA, spent that same time setting up recording microphones in front of all instrumentalists and vocalists.

No, we didn't plan it: Bill and I were amused to discover, at the Saturday morning rehearsal,
that we had worn the same Peanuts shirt: Schroeder at the piano, sporting dark specs,
beneath the phrase "It's okay, I'm with the band!"
(My understanding is that, at some point, portions of the Sunday morning service will be broadcast on WVIA as part of a new “Music from First Presbyterian” radio series; details will follow, as they’re verified.)

During my casual sound check, the band and choir ran through a couple of the hymns that Guaraldi had arranged for his Jazz Mass — “Come With Us, O Blessed Jesus” and the “Nicene Creed” — along with his original composition, “Theme to Grace.” Everything sounded excellent, reflecting the dedicated practice that had taken place during numerous earlier rehearsal sessions. Individual singers queried a couple of fine points, but otherwise Carter seemed quite pleased by the results, as well he should have been. I certainly was.

But back to Sunday morning:

At about 9:15, my little group took their appointed seats in the second row, while I followed Carter into the “ready room” behind the worship hall. We were joined by Hamme, Dempsey and bassist Tony Marino, the latter sharing the eye-watering details of some particularly volcanic salsa/marinara sauce that he had concocted, with hot peppers from his own garden. Carter smiled at the shared memory; I simply shuddered.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Mass appeal: Chapter 5

We’re approaching the final countdown on the second of this summer’s double-scoop celebration of Guaraldi’s Jazz Mass, with the second 50th anniversary event taking place Sunday morning, September 6, at the First Presbyterian Church of Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania. The jazz elements will be handled by Rev. Bill Carter and his Presbybop combo; during the past several months, Bill quite generously has shared the lengthy listening/transcription process that has been necessary, to replicate the original experience as closely as possible.

In case you’ve missed previous installments, you’ll find them here, here, here and here.

Meanwhile, I’ll once again turn this blog over to Bill, for his final analysis of How Vince Did It ... and how his mass’ rich legacy even extended to other projects!

********

Reflections on transcribing the Guaraldi Mass: The Instrumental Music


I had a revelation when I heard the Guaraldi Mass tunes in a different sequence. While preparing a reference CD for my quartet, I put “Sanctus” and “Agnus Dei” adjacent to one another, just as they’d be sequenced in an actual mass. I shouldn’t have been surprised to discover that they’re in the same key, with the same tempo and rhythmic feel. They belong together.

Similarly, “In Remembrance of Me” and “Holy Communion Blues” begin in nearly identical fashion. A repeated C in the melody is accompanied by a descending line in the left hand, before each tune develops in a different manner.

Both tunes were part of a long interlude, as the mass participants received the sacrament of communion. Rev. Chuck Gompertz recalls it took 30 minutes for everyone to be served, so Vince did what scores of church musicians have always done: He filled the time. And why not? If you’ve invited a jazz trio into your cathedral to lead a worship service, it’s best to let them play.

Only about half of that music is included on Fantasy’s recording of the event. Chuck spent a lot of time with the recording engineers, carving up identifiable segments into “tunes,” and even providing titles on Vince’s behalf. Sadly, the rest of that music has been lost to us.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

An afternoon of Grace

“Mother never said there might be a day like this.”

First words out of my mouth. Couldn’t help it.

I had just been introduced — and quite warmly — by Grace Cathedral’s Rev. Canon Elizabeth Grundy, and all I could do was look out across the assembled multitude (officially 611 patrons!), and then up-up-up at the way-high ceiling, almost out of view.

Apparently everybody understood, though, because my awe-struck remark drew plenty of sympathetic chuckles.

But I’m getting ahead of things. Let’s start at the beginning.

Constant Companion and I arrived at Grace at about 10:30 Saturday morning; we had left home quite early, not wanting to take any chances with the San Francisco area’s notorious traffic (which, yes, can be ghastly even on weekends). As a result, we were first to arrive, and so killed some time by browsing through the cathedral’s gift shop. I couldn’t help noticing a counter-top rack of CDs that included several copies of Duke Ellington’s Concert of Sacred Music at Grace, recorded live September 16, 1965 ... but no sign of Fantasy’s recording of Guaraldi’s Mass, which had preceded Ellington by four months.

So I wanna know: What’s up with that?

(Ahem.)

We soon were joined by Marcia and Nancy Goodrich, two of the long-ago St. Paul’s Church choir members who, as children, had rehearsed with Guaraldi for roughly 18 months, while his Jazz Mass came together. They were excited, to say the least: positively bubbling with anticipation.