Friday, October 18, 2019

The Eagle has landed

As promoted in an earlier post, Vince Guaraldi was one of three recipients of this year’s National Music Council (NMC) American Eagle Awards, which were presented July 18 as a highlight of the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) summer activities in Nashville, Tennessee. Guaraldi was honored alongside famed funk musician George Clinton, and the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

I’d been invited by NMC Director David Sanders to give a brief tribute to Guaraldi, but — alas — family responsibilities precluded my participation. But Vince nonetheless was fêted well by famed solo pianist George Winston, also a longtime Guaraldi fan; and Andy Thomas, director and co-producer of the 2009 documentary, The Anatomy of Vince Guaraldi.

I recently had an opportunity to enjoy the ceremony via a recording, and therefore can offer a full report on the portion that concerns Guaraldi.

David Sanders and Gary Ingle
The event began with a short presentation by Sanders and NMC President Gary Ingle, who briefly explained the Council’s mission statement. “We believe that every student in our nation should have an education in music and the arts,” they emphasize, adding that “All creators should be fairly compensated for their work.” Both statements prompted vigorous applause.

The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum was honored first, in a segment introduced by Grammy Award-winning Nashville singer-songwriter Liz Rose. The segment concluded with a vibrant performance by young musicians, after which the podium was taken by NMC board member Charlie Sanders, outside counsel for the Songwriters Guild of America.

He noted that the NMC board has been increasingly troubled by the fact that, for the most part, the American Eagle Award hasn’t been granted posthumously to “giants in our community who were denied the gift of long life.

“Tonight,” he continued, “we’re here to try to correct that record a little bit, by singling out one creator whose contributions are of such magnitude — as a songwriter, composer and artist, and as an influencer on behalf of American music — that his career cries out for recognition. And the fact that it hasn’t been recognized, to this point, by the number of people who have truly benefited from his work, is not fair.

“And we’re going to correct that.

“There’s no place on the planet that the music of Vince Guaraldi has not reached. It would be easier for me to ask, Who hasn’t been affected by the music of Peanuts and Charlie Brown, than those who have. Successive generations of children, in the tens of millions, have been introduced to American jazz as a result of his genius; and equally importantly, by the joy and warmth of his incredibly distinctive artistic touch, and the touch that WWII veteran Charles Schulz and the entire Peanuts team brought to their craft and their art.

“Vince Guaraldi left us prematurely, in 1976. But his music not only remains; its legion of devotees, young and old, continues to grow year by year. 

“But please: Don’t take my word for it. It’s my absolute privilege and honor to introduce one of our great music instrumentalists and composers. He has inspired fans and musicians alike with his singular solo acoustic piano touch for more than 40 years, while selling an astonishing 15 million records as a solo pianist. His impressionistic style of what he calls ‘folk piano’ came to define the famous Windham Hill sound. He’s one of the great fans and interpreters of Vince Guaraldi’s music.

“Please join me in welcoming Montana’s own George Winston.”

Monday, July 22, 2019

A little of this, a little of that: Summer 2019

Guaraldi's pop-culture relevance continues to shine...

The Marvel TV series Legion featured two of his Peanuts tracks on the current third (and final) season's second episode, simply titled "Chapter 21." (Mind you, given the show's deliberately outré weirdness, it's impossible to know why the tunes were used.)

Toward the beginning, the soundtrack featured the seldom-heard vocal version of "Oh, Good Grief." Later into the episode, the Shadow King is shown at the piano, playing "Christmas Time Is Here" ... although the backing combo was nowhere to be seen. (As Guaraldi fan Rob pointed out, the lighting was quite moody, so maybe they were hidden behind a pillar somewhere.)

Given this show's target audience, I can't help wondering if most viewers even recognized one or both tunes...


********

Following last autumn's CD debut of Guaraldi's score for It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown -- details available in this earlier post -- Concord's Craft Recordings division has announced the upcoming release of vinyl versions. Note that -- as has become custom these days -- various retailers will have uniquely different versions.

According to Concord's press release...

On the eve of Vince Guaraldi being honored with the National Music Council's American Eagle Award -- details here -- Craft Recordings celebrates his 91st birthday by announcing the vinyl edition of his music for It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, scheduled for release on August 30. The disc will include the iconic pumpkin as an etching on side B. The package also includes an introduction from the TV special’s executive producer, Lee Mendelson, and insightful liner notes by Derrick Bang, Peanuts historian and author of Vince Guaraldi at the Piano.


A special limited edition (500 copies only) -- pressed on a glow-in-the-dark vinyl -- will be available exclusively at the Craft Recordings Store.

It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown: Music from the Soundtrack features some of the most iconic tracks in pop culture, including the instantly recognizable “Linus and Lucy,” as well as the languid, lyrical “Great Pumpkin Waltz.” The music was recorded on October 4, 1966, at Desilu’s Gower Street Studio in Hollywood, California, by Guaraldi (piano) and his longtime friends and trio sidemen -- bassist Monty Budwig and drummer Colin Bailey -- joined by Emanuel Klein (trumpet), John Gray (guitar) and Ronald Lang (woodwinds). 

“This is the quintessential Vince Guaraldi for our Peanuts specials ... some of his best atmospheric jazz,” Mendelson notes. “Vince’s score carries the gang with the autumn leaves, through the scary and cold Halloween night. This music comforts the indomitable faith of Linus, still waiting for his hero since 1966: forever in our ears, hearts and memories.”

“Guaraldi had a strong sense of how music could -- and should -- be employed to maximize the viewing audience’s emotional response,” writes Bang. “[He] emphatically established the Peanuts ‘musical personality’ with this third outing, and all subsequent prime-time specials owed much to the groovin’ atmosphere that is so prevalent in Great Pumpkin. Guaraldi had a gig for life ... and his legacy lives on, expand[ing] by the year, thanks in great part to the jazz swagger given to an insecure blockhead and his lovably crazy beagle.”

This announcement comes on the anniversary of Guaraldi’s birthday (born July 17, 1928). We honor a real-life Schroeder, who through his music introduced generation after generation to the beauty of the distinctly American artform of jazz.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Los Gatos memories

I live for letters like this one.

It actually came to my 5CP blog partner Scott, who forwarded it to me; I immediately got in touch with the writer, Mark, who (alas!) wasn't able to offer any additional details. But he readily granted permission to publish both his note and the photo he had sent with it.

I'll turn the rest of this post over to him.

*********

In December 2017, I had just finished my annual viewing of A Charlie Brown Christmas on a new Blu-Ray set I picked up at Costco, and saw Scott on the bonus feature "making of" documentary. That led me to a quick Internet search, and then your pages on Peanuts and Vince Guaraldi. Both were fun to look through, and are obviously labors of love. 

Mom brought home his Black Orpheus LP after hearing "Cast Your Fate To The Wind" somewhere on the radio — perhaps from the public television special about making the record — and we were both big Peanuts fans. My husband isn't, but he does appreciate the music, so I cut him some slack. (Some.)

In October 1967, my folks took me to the Old Town Theater in Los Gatos — we lived just a short ways away in San Jose, at the time — to see Guaraldi and his combo. For some reason we got there early, and ended up in the front row. Being 15, I was waiting for two songs: "Cast Your Fate To The Wind" and "Linus and Lucy." 

During the intermission, I asked someone on the stage if I could get him to autograph my program; they signed first, and then said Guaraldi was outside the theater, downstairs in a place called The Cellar. It was uncharacteristically bold for me, but — Instamatic in hand — I went looking for him. Found him, too ... and took a couple of snapshots, as he signed my program, which I still have, somewhere. Mom and Dad were both surprised that I'd gone off and done that, and so was I. I even asked if he was going to play "Linus and Lucy," and he said he would. When they launched into it after intermission, he looked down at me in the front row and smiled just a bit. It's a fond memory I'll never forget.

I found the snapshots a couple of years ago, and scanned them. Mom passed in January 2017, but I think of her a lot, naturally ... certainly that day, while watching the special for the first time without her.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Loss of Faith

Sad news from San Francisco.

Faith Winthrop played a major role in Guaraldi's early career, working at his side for much of 1955 at the famed hungry i nightclub. She continued to perform during a long and successful career, and her memory was remarkably vivid when she graciously provided a lengthy interview during my book's research phase.

The San Francisco Chronicle honored her with a generous obituary, reprinted here in full:

***********

Faith Winthrop, jazz singer who founded Glide community choir, dies at 87

by Aidin Vaziri
July 10, 2019


Faith Winthrop, the jazz vocalist who founded Glide Memorial Church’s community gospel choir and mentored Bay Area luminaries such as Ledisi, Lavay Smith and Paula West, died on July 1 in San Francisco. She was 87.

Her death was confirmed by Erika Lenkert, her daughter, who said the cause was complications from what was expected to be a simple surgery.

Winthrop moved in the mid-1950s from her native Massachusetts to San Francisco, where the classically trained singer established herself on the city’s vibrant club scene. She worked as the house singer at the hungry i in North Beach, where she warmed up audiences for up-and-coming stars like Woody Allen, Barbra Streisand and Mort Sahl. Her backing band included pianist Vince Guaraldi, guitarist Eddie Duran and bassist Dean Reilly.

Known for her silky voice and dramatic vocal interpretations of the standards, Winthrop was dubbed “San Francisco’s grand dame of song” by Philip Elwood, the music critic for the Examiner. She performed at venerable jazz institutions like the London House and Mister Kelly’s in Chicago, and the Blue Angel and Village Vanguard in New York. She made her television debut on the Today Show, before deciding to settle down in San Francisco to start a family with Hans Lenkert, with whom she had a brief relationship.

Winthrop worked as a faculty member in the music department at Mills College in Oakland, the Jazz School in Berkeley and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. She also taught private lessons out of her homes in the Haight and Cole Valley, tutoring everyone from pop singers like Al Jarreau and Romeo Void’s Debora Iyall to screen stars like Divine and Keanu Reeves.

In 1966, Winthrop became the founding director of the Glide Ensemble, the community choir at the Rev. Cecil Williams’ Glide Memorial Church in the Tenderloin.

In the 1970s, Winthrop joined the Sometime Sondheim Singers performance group. Erika Lenkert, an author and former writer for The Chronicle, recalled sitting under the piano at their Cannery performance space and singing along to her songs.

“My mother was a very spiritual person who lived in gratitude and wonder,” Lenkert said. “She had an incredible ability to help people find and embrace themselves just as they are. She passed away the same way she lived life: surrounded by loved ones, music and song.”

Faith Winthrop was born in Boston on Nov. 18, 1931, to Russian immigrants Sarah Kaplan and Maurice Winthrop.

In the early 1950s, she moved to the West Coast, where she lived in a cottage in Malibu, owned by Mickey Rooney, and scored a record deal. She eventually made her way to San Francisco, living for a brief spell on a houseboat in Sausalito.

Winthrop released a pair of albums featuring standards and original material, 1993’s A Leap of Faith and 2007’s Havin’ Myself a Time!

Winthrop often recounted the tale of meeting Billie Holiday at George Wein’s Storyville Club in Boston in her early years as a performer.

“I was singing ‘Lover Man’ while they adjusted the mikes and lights, and in walked Billie holding her two Chihuahuas,” Winthrop said. “I saw her, stumbled through the song, and she came up and said, ‘Sing the song, girl, sing it!’ and I nearly collapsed, but I did finish it.”

In 2016, Winthrop moved to a retirement community in Mill Valley, where she taught voice lessons to fellow residents and her 13-year-old granddaughter, Viva Wertz.

Until her death, Winthrop performed twice monthly at Fior d’Italia restaurant in the city.

Lenkert is planning a celebration of life event for September. Details will follow and will be posted on her Facebook page.

Winthrop is survived by her daughter, Erika Lenkert, and granddaughter, Viva Wertz.

Friday, June 21, 2019

A fresh honor for Dr. Funk

Guaraldi may have left us more than 40 years ago, but his legacy remains as vibrant today, as it was during his lifetime … if not even more so.

The proof: The awards and acknowledgments keep coming.

The National Music Council (NMC) will honor beloved Peanuts composer and jazz piano giant Vince Guaraldi, iconic funk visionary George Clinton, and the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, at the organization’s 36th annual American Eagle Awards, on Thursday, July 18, as a highlight of the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) summer activities in Nashville. The honors are presented each year in recognition of long-term contributions to American musical culture, the ideal of music education for all children, and the need to protect creators’ rights both locally and internationally.

The musical works of Guaraldi, created as both a composer and recording artist, are among the most beloved in the world. Often cited as a major musical and stylistic influence by jazz legends including Dave Brubeck, Wynton Marsalis, David Benoit and George Winston, Guaraldi’s jazz masterpiece “Cast Your Fate To the Wind” has remained a standard in the American repertoire since its Grammy Award-winning debut in 1962. Guaraldi is truly globally revered, however, for the contribution of his musical genius to the works of cartoonist Charles M. Schulz, as an integral part of the Peanuts television specials. There are few places in the world that “Linus and Lucy,” “The Great Pumpkin Waltz,” “Christmastime Is Here” and many other songs — and recordings associated with those masterful programs — are not adoringly celebrated. Guaraldi’s resulting influence on the spread and appreciation of jazz as an international art form has been profound among generations of young listeners.

Recording under the banners of both Parliament and Funkadelic, George Clinton revolutionized R&B forever during the 1970s, morphing soul music into funk by adding influences from several of his late-’60s progressive rock music heroes: Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa and Sly Stone. The Parliament/Funkadelic sound ruled urban music in the following years, capturing over 40 R&B hit singles, including three No. 1s, and resulting in three platinum albums for Clinton. Through his inspiration, dedication and determination, Clinton elevated funk to an art form, culminating in its full recognition as a distinct and distinguished musical genre throughout the world.

The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum will receive the American Eagle Award in honor of its commitment to the preservation of American musical heritage and culture, and for the organization’s music education programs, which serve both children and adults. In 2018, the museum welcomed more than 1.2 million guests, presented 12 exhibitions, and guided 1,241 educational programs that provided music-related instruction for nearly 100,000 people.


Famed pianist, recording artist and longtime Guaraldi fan George Winston will perform, and present the award honoring the famed jazz pianist. Country singer/songwriting sensation John Rich will present the award to George Clinton, and Nashville singer-songwriter Liz Rose will present the award to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum).

This year’s honorees will join a Who’s Who of cultural icons whose careers and works have been acknowledged with previous American Eagle Awards, including Stephen Sondheim, Quincy Jones, Herbie Hancock, Clive Davis, Benny Goodman, Lionel Hampton, Dizzy Gillespie, Morton Gould, Dave Brubeck, Marian Anderson, Max Roach, Lena Horne, Roy Clark, Crystal Gale, Ervin Drake, Theo Bikel, Roberta Peters, Odetta, Patti Smith and 2018’s honorees, Chick Corea and the Manhattan Transfer.


The evening ceremony will take place at Nashville’s Music City Center, which is open to industry members and Summer NAMM attendees. Tickets for this event also are available to the general public. Proceeds from the event support the National Music Council’s music education advocacy efforts.

For more information on schedule, location details, tickets, and sponsorship opportunities, visit www.musiccouncil.org.

********

The National Music Council is celebrating its 77th year as a forum for the free discussion of this country’s national music affairs and challenges. Founded in 1940 to act as a clearinghouse for the joint opinion and decision of its members, and to strengthen the importance of music in our lives and culture, the Council’s initial membership of 13 has grown to almost 50 national music organizations, encompassing every important form of professional and commercial musical activity. Through the cooperative work of its member organizations, the National Music Council promotes and supports music and music education as an integral part of the curricula in our nation’s schools, and in the lives of its citizens. The Council provides for the exchange of information and coordination of efforts among its member organizations, and speaks with one voice for the music community whenever an authoritative expression of opinion is desirable. 

Thursday, April 18, 2019

A heaping helping of Vince

It's worth mentioning that Amazon, iTunes and Google Play have made just about all of Guaraldi’s catalogue (as leader) available for streaming and purchase as digital downloads.

And I mean everything:

• All of his releases from Fantasy and Warner Bros., along with the 21st century anthology albums: The Definitive Vince Guaraldi, The Very Best of Vince Guaraldi, etc.

• The initial and much later releases on the resurrected D&D label: Vince Guaraldi and the San Francisco Boys Chorus, Oaxaca, etc.

• Most important, from the standpoint of hard-to-get material, is everything released by Vince’s son, David: Live on the Air, North Beach, both of the Peanuts Lost Cues albums, and so forth. Some of those have become quite difficult to find in CD format.

This list even includes a “digital single” of Guaraldi’s cover of “Do You Know the Way to San Jose,” featured as a bonus track within Omnivore’s anthology set of his three Warners albums. And, as you can see above, somebody even took the trouble to produce a faux 45 disc and sleeve. (I assure you: It doesn’t exist in real life.)

Oddly, though, the list does not include “The Sharecropper’s Daughter” or “Oh, Happy Day,” the other bonus tracks from the Omnivore set.

And this is important: I checked with ace sound and re-mastering engineer Michael Graves, and he assures me that these streaming versions of Oh, Good Grief, The Eclectic Vince Guaraldi and Alma-Ville are, respectively, from the Warner Bros. and Wounded Bird CDs … not the Omnivore package he worked on.

The only album missing from the list is the soundtrack to 1969’s big-screen movie, A Boy Named Charlie Brown, released on CD by Kritzerland in 2017.

This is a great chance to “fill in the gaps,” for folks who don’t mind not having physical copies. But I advise acting quickly: Digital services sometimes taketh away just as rapidly as they giveth!

Friday, April 5, 2019

The Peanuts Concerto debuts!

Composer Dick Tunney, left, holds his 70-page
score as pianist Jeffrey Biegel prepares to join the
members of Orchestra Kentucky for the afternoon
rehearsal of Tunney's Peanuts Concerto
It has been quite a journey.

We broke the news about Dick Tunney’s commissioned Peanuts Concerto-to-be back on January 30, 2018, and followed with updates as the project progressed. (Click on Peanuts Concerto, in the labels below this entry, to read all previous installments.)

By late summer, the premiere date had been set for March 23, 2019, with Orchestra Kentucky, under the baton of conductor/music director Jeff Reed, at the Southern Kentucky Performing Arts Center (SKyPAC) in Bowling Green, Kentucky. The keyboard soloist: newly minted Grammy Award-recognized pianist/composer Jeffrey Biegel (for having performed as a soloist on Kenneth Fuchs’ Spiritualist Piano Concerto, which took this year’s Grammy for Best Classical Compendium).

Tunney and his wife Melodie were on hand, of course: both for the evening performance, and the earlier afternoon rehearsal. Who could blame him? The Peanuts Concerto represented a year of his life, and now he had the opportunity to share this newborn child with the world at large.

First, though, he spent the afternoon helping the orchestra fine-tune the performance.

Tunney and conductor Jeff Reed, taking a break
prior to the evening performance.
“When I’m able to attend a ‘first’ rehearsal,” Tunney explained, “I’ll typically sit in the house with a pencil and some Post-it Notes, and make notations on the score, of corrections or other things that need to be addressed. There were a few things to fix, but — largely — what was on the page, was what I wanted.

“The bigger purpose for sitting through the rehearsal is to help with interpretation. During the first run-through, some tempos were a little quick, and the orchestra lost Guaraldi’s ‘groove.’ The bottom line for classical musicians playing jazz is that it must ‘feel’ right. Much of that can be accomplished by ensuring that the tempos are correct. There’s so much nuance to jazz, and when juxtaposed with the precision of performing classical music, the result can make for some interesting moments.”

All too quickly, it was time to don formal attire for the concerto’s world premiere.

“Jeff [Reed] asked me to introduce the piece,” Tunney continued. “I gave a short introduction to Peanuts and Charles Schulz, and then a few sentences about Guaraldi. I concluded by talking about the task of juxtaposing iconic jazz piano with the symphony orchestra.”

The performance was well attended. “SKyPAC seats 1,800, and I estimate it was 75 percent full. That’s a very respectable audience for Bowling Green.”

And it all comes together! Jeff Reed, standing in front of the orchestra and screen,
conducts the Peanuts Concerto while soloist Jeffrey Biegel performs at the piano.

Patrons — and Tunney — enjoyed an unexpected bonus. Thanks to some necessary behind-the-scenes permissions, Peanuts Worldwide allowed the use of still images of Schulz artwork, which were displayed at appropriate moments during each of the concerto’s three movements. “At least half a dozen times, when an image appeared with the appropriate song, you could hear the audience ooh and ahhh. It was quite touching.”

Indeed, everybody clearly enjoyed the performance.

“The evening went well,” Tunney enthused. “I was extremely pleased with the interpretation, and the entire performance. The Second Movement was absolutely breathtaking, and the Christmas Movement was charming beyond my hopes. Jeffrey [Biegel] played with such artistry and musicality, and the familiar melodies brought a smile to every face.

“The audience applauded between each of the movements … and you know, in some stuffy classical circles, there’s always the question of whether to do that. I choose to call this an enthusiastic response, along with an immediate standing ovation at the conclusion, with a curtain call for conductor and pianist.

“The legacy of Vince Guaraldi’s music was honored, and placed on the proper pedestal.”

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

It's almost concerto time!

At last, a proper press release! (You'd think one would have appeared long before now...)

Reprinted here, in its entirety:


********

Lee Mendelson Film Productions announces the world premiere of the first-ever Peanuts Concerto for Piano and Orchestra based on the legendary music of Vince Guaraldi, arranged by Grammy-winning composer, Dick Tunney, featuring pianist Jeffrey Biegel with Orchestra Kentucky, led by Music Director, Jeff Reed. 


This moving arrangement sets Guaraldi's classic music from the Peanuts specials, into a three-movement work for piano and orchestra. It will be a wonderful introduction for families to hear the jazz writings of the late Vince Guaraldi, in a 21st century symphonic landscape.

Vince Guaraldi wrote and performed the music for the first 15 animated Peanuts specials, until his untimely death in 1976. The album A Charlie Brown Christmas is the second most popular jazz album in history, with more than 4 million copies sold.  

Guaraldi started writing music for 1963's never-aired documentary A Boy Named Charlie Brown, which Lee Mendelson produced. When Mendelson, animator Bill Melendez and Charles Schulz created A Charlie Brown Christmas, they turned to their friend Guaraldi, to write the music for the special. A Charlie Brown Christmas has aired every Christmas season since 1965, and the music from that special has become a timeless part of our culture and the holiday season.

Guaraldi wrote the music for the next 14 animated specials, and some of those themes have been incorporated into this concerto.  

Lee Mendelson Film Productions has been producing television and films since 1964, winning 11 Emmys along with 45 nominations, 4 Peabody awards, and Oscar and Grammy nominations. Lee Mendelson Film Productions is the publisher of Guaraldi's musical works. 

The premiere takes place at 7:30 p.m. March 23, 2019, at the SKYPaC in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Biegel is one of the most respected pianists of our time, performing and recording classic repertoire and new works in contemporary classical, and works of all styles. His performance of Kenneth Fuchs' Piano Concerto: Spiritualist helped the recording win the 2019 Grammy Award for Best Classical Compendium, alongside the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by JoAnn Falletta, and produced by Tim Handley. Biegel is professor of piano at Brooklyn College, and has commissioned many composers to write new works for piano and orchestra.

Tunney and his wife, Melodie, have received 10 Dove Awards, and a Grammy Award for “How Excellent Is Thy Name,” recorded by Larnelle Harris. They have recorded eight albums together, and Dick has recorded five solo instrumental albums. The couple has penned more than 150 songs, many recorded by other Christian artists.  

Maestro Jeff Reed has conducted the orchestras of Alabama, Augusta, Charleston, Detroit, Knoxville, Louisville, Memphis, Nashville, Omaha, Phoenix, Portland (ME), Quad Cities (IA), Sacramento, South Bend and Winston-Salem. He has twice appeared with the Royal Philharmonic at London's Royal Albert Hall, at the specific request of Neil Sedaka.

Visit these websites for further information:

Jeffrey Biegel: www.jeffreybiegel.com

Jeffrey Reed: www.jeffreyreed.info

Dick Tunney: www.tunneymusic.com

Orchestra Kentucky: www.orchestrakentucky.com

Lee Mendelson Film Productions, Inc.: www.mendelsonproductions.com

Monday, February 11, 2019

Concerto-izing, Episode 4

The all-important manuscript, in its completed glory!
We’re rapidly approaching the world premiere of Nashville-based musician, composer and arranger Dick Tunney’s commissioned Peanuts Concerto. It’ll debut Saturday, March 23, with Orchestra Kentucky; the performance will take place in Bowling Green, Kentucky, under the baton of conductor/music director Jeff Reed, with Jeffrey Biegel at the piano.

Dick has been kind enough to keep me apprised of the concerto’s evolution, from its genesis a little more than a year ago. You can read more in previous blog entries, here, here and here.

I’ll turn the rest of this post over to Dick, who — understandably — is delighted to have completed this project, and is extremely pleased over how it has turned out.

********

The final decisions on song selection, sequence of songs — and the like — changed considerably during this yearlong process. The obvious hero in this was Vince Guaraldi, and his creative fingerprints are (hopefully) all over this work. Weaving the jazz harmonies into a classical orchestral setting was challenging, but there are plenty of “fragments” that really did lend themselves nicely to the symphony. 

The songs included in some fashion are: “Linus and Lucy,” which actually appears in some form in all three movements; “Thanksgiving Theme”; “Red Baron”; “Oh, Good Grief!”; Beethoven’s Sonata Pathetique (tipping our cap to Schroeder); “Happiness Is”; “Rain, Rain Go Away”; “Skating”; “Christmas Time Is Here”; and “O Tannenbaum.” Some songs were chosen for their popularity and visibility; others were selected for their musical content, as juxtaposed with the orchestra in a classical setting. (A prime example is “Rain, Rain Go Away.”). I researched all of this pretty thoroughly, watched several television specials, and scoured the landscape for Guaraldi recordings of everything we could get our hands on.

The office studio where the magic takes place: Nary a quill or inkpot to be seen!
One of my original thoughts was to make the middle movement — historically the slower movement, in a piano concerto — the Christmas movement. However, when all was said and done, the Christmas movement became the third and final movement: the “finale,” if you will. This third movement also has been constructed so that an orchestra with pianist can perform it as a stand-alone piece.  

I teased “Linus and Lucy” in three or four different places, before finally concluding the entire work with that most iconic of Peanuts music.

This has been more than a year in the making, and to be at this point seems surreal. Last Thursday, I sent the final score and individual parts to the orchestra office in Kentucky, and was in contact with the Peanuts folks — and Jeffrey — about delivery of the final files. I walked downstairs from my studio around 3:00 p.m. that day, looked at my wife, and thrust both fists into the air. 

She knew.  

The final piece of the puzzle is inserting piano fingerings into the main score. Jeffrey has been practicing on this for a couple of months, and has sent me hand-written fingerings, a few note changes and some phrasing and articulation edits. These final elements will come together this week.

My wife and I will attend the rehearsal (my score in hand) as well as the March 23 premiere.  

Hopefully, this 21-minute piece will bring smiles to the faces of those who are familiar with Guaraldi, and the Peanuts television specials, and — better still! — will introduce some fantastic music to audiences of a generation likely removed from the Peanuts comic strips. 

********

One last quick note from the site-master. As of Sunday, Jeffrey Biegel has become a Grammy-recognized pianist/composer. He performed on the Grammy Award-winning recording for Best Classical Compendium, as a soloist on Kenneth Fuchs’ Spiritualist Piano Concerto, on the Naxos label. Biegel commissioned the concerto, which resulted in several performances and this recording, with the London Symphony Orchestra. The actual Grammy Awards were presented to conductor JoAnn Falletta and producer Tim Handley; Biegel received a certificate as an artist on the recording.

Ergo, Jeffrey will be sliding directly from a classical Grammy triumph to an exciting new work honoring Guaraldi’s Peanuts compositions. Quite a heady way to start the year!

Sunday, December 23, 2018

End-of-the-year tidbits

A few items that have been idling in the to-do pile...

Guaraldi's good friend and champion Charles "Chuck" Gompertz died October 2, at the generous age of 83. Vince's fans know Gompertz as the Episcopal priest who chose the pianist to compose and perform the Jazz Mass that honored the completion of San Francisco's Grace Cathedral in the spring of 1965. I knew Chuck from the many generous interviews he gave during the research phase of my biography of Vince, and from the warm and friendly correspondence — and occasional visits — that resulted from our initial chats, and continued until he died.

The Marin Independent Journal published an informative obituary, which can be read here.

I wish I had a photo of Vince and Chuck together, but — if such an image existed — the latter never was able to find one for me. So I'll settle for the photo here, which certainly conveys Chuck's friendly warmth. I'll miss him dearly.

********

On a lighter note, fellow Guaraldi fan Jim Ford called my attention to a delightful, long-ago anecdote involving Vince and bassist Chubby Jackson, which is detailed in this November 2008 post in Bill Crow's Band Room. You'll find it toward the top, in the second paragraph. It's a definite smile.

May your holidays be jolly and backed by numerous re-plays of Guaraldi's Charlie Brown Christmas album, and may the New Year bring us ever more exciting developments regarding Dr. Funk.