Saturday, May 19, 2012

Charles Weckler: Behind the Camera

Since learning that Charles ("Chas") Adam Weckler Jr. photographed the cover of Guaraldi's Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus LP, I've done a spot of research; I've also exchanged several informative e-mails with his son, Chad, who has followed in his father's professional footsteps.

As we can read in the detailed essay posted by the Northern California branch of the American Society of Media Photographers, Chas Weckler (1924-2003) had quite an impressive and groundbreaking advertising career in the 1960s and '70s. He was the first to photograph the iconic image of the horse-drawn stagecoaches for Wells Fargo Bank, and he was the first to do "pictorial" images for the backgrounds of personal checks. He later started his own stock photography business, "Weckler's World," and in 1990 published the landmark book, Impressions of Giverney: Monet's World.

For our purposes, Weckler photographed four album covers for Fantasy jazz artist Vince Guaraldi.

Several dozen examples of Weckler's other work can be found in a photo gallery at his son Chad's website, and of course you'll also see Chad's pictures, as well.

"Vince was a fantastic artist, and a family friend," Chad tells me. "I met him many times. We would often go to the Trident, to hear him play. Vince's son David is a little younger than I am; we both attended Tamalpais High School.

"My Mom attended Vince's funeral, as my father was out of the country at the time.

"My father did many of his covers, many in our family house/studio in Sausalito. I was there for the Latin Side cover shoot."

I asked if unused photos might remain from any of those shoots, and the answer won't surprise anybody familiar with Fantasy's iron grip of control, back in the day.

"Those were the days of ... get paid by Fantasy, and hand over all of the film," Chad replied, with regret that radiated from his note. "So no, there are no out-takes."

But Chad is able to share a few delightful images. Longtime Guaraldi fans may recall Fantasy's genius promotional tool, used back in the early 1960s, which capitalized on Vince's signature mustache. Fantasy printed up thousands of these cardboard mustaches and made them available to patrons in the San Francisco jazz clubs where Guaraldi performed. Unfortunately, I've not yet found a club "group photo" of folks wearing these mustaches, akin to those famous 1950s pictures of movie theater patrons donning 3D glasses (but I'm still looking!).

As it happens, Chas Weckler also sported an impressive mustache.

"My father liked the Vince mustache give-away," Chad explains, "and replicated this for his own promo give-away. His real mustache was similar, but pointed."

And you can see the proof here!

A bit of investigation reveals that — in addition to the aforementioned Black Orpheus and Latin Side — Chas Weckler also shot the cover photo for Guaraldi's early anthology album, Jazz Impressions, along with guitarist Bola Sete's Fantasy album, Tour de Force. Guaraldi's first Fantasy album, Vince Guaraldi Trio, doesn't credit a photographer; neither do any of his three albums with Sete. Intriguingly, Guaraldi's In Person album does include a credit, but the photographer listed is Jim Weckler. A quick check with Chad confirmed my suspicion that Fantasy erred with this credit (as often happened, with Fantasy credits); Chad verified that his father shot Black Orpheus, Latin Side, Jazz Impressions, In Person and Sete's Tour de Force.

Additionally, Chas also did some promotional shots for Guaraldi, such as the 1967 D&D Associates advertising image that kicks off this blog entry.

"The blond girl with the paper mustache is my sister, Krissy," Chad added.

So, now we have more items on the to-do list: Identifying the LP cover photographer for Guaraldi's remaining Fantasy albums. Research never ends...


Chad Weckler said...

I have a copy of the D&D tearsheet, it's from Billboard magazine of May 6, 1967.

My father did these album covers: Bola Sete's "tour de force", "The Incomparable" Bola Sete, Vince Guaraldi/Bola Sete/and friends, Vince Guaraldi and Bola Sete "From All Sides", Jazz Impressions Vince Guaraldi, Vince Guaraldi "in person", the latin side of Vince Guaraldi, Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus Vince Guaraldi Trio.

Chad Weckler said...

others artists' album covers: Groove Time Paul Bryant, "Something's Happening" with Paul Bryant, The Magic Flute of Herbie Mann, and Al Viola Guitars Volume Two.

Derrick Bang said...

Chad: Many thanks for the update! That takes care of two more Guaraldi LP cover credits. Do get back to us, if you recall any other Guaraldi-esque memories!

Ludlow Joes said...

Weckler's early 1960's portraits of Vince complete one part, but the life of music and culture would be missing a major key without mentioning the renowned Jim Marshall who shot the images for "San Francisco Boys Chorus" in 1967 (as well as that sprawling Grateful Dead group photo from "Aoxomoxoa"), and that the brooding live image of Vince at the grand piano, against a stark noir backdrop, for the posthumous 1980 Fantasy LP "Greatest Hits". I enjoy Weckler's cheeky cinematic setups, but the later Bay Area-based Marshall who became the godfather documentarian of Dylan, Rolling Stones and a whole slew of others has a fascinating background having started with jazz: Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis etc. In 2009, Marshall came to do publicity for retro of his work at a SoHo gallery in New York City. I happened to be there, being a photographer and videographer myself, and found Marshall, surrounded in throngs of spectators, and media hounds. He was complaining to his companion about being tired, and got whisked away in a cab after about an hour. He was gone just several months later. The Brooklyn Museum had just done a huge exhibit: Who Shot Rock And Roll that same year. His bio, from various obits includes his work doing documentary photography in rural poor Appalachia, as well as capturing The San Francisco Sound, as it exploded.