Monday, May 14, 2012

The Johnny Mathis Connection

During the Guaraldi trio's lengthy 1955 run as the house band at San Francisco's hungry i -- as discussed in Chapter 3 of my book -- the combo was approached one day by Helen Noga, who with her husband John owned two other jazz clubs in the city: the Blackhawk and the Downbeat.

Helen Noga wanted a favor, as Guaraldi bassist Dean Reilly recounts, in my book. She had discovered a young, talented singer, and wanted Guaraldi's trio to back him for an audition tape. The trio members agreed -- guitarist Eddie Duran being the third member -- and spent an afternoon at the Blackhawk, laying down the tracks.

"The tapes were sent to Columbia Records," Reilly concludes, "and it wasn't long before most everyone knew the name of that 19-year-old singer: Johnny Mathis."

Drummer Al Torre, who worked alongside Guaraldi later that decade, when both were members of Cal Tjader's Quintet, just sent me a note, having reached that part of the book. I'll let him take over:


I'm about halfway through your book, and am really impressed with the work you have done. You've definitely captured Vince Guaraldi's personality, and I'm learning a lot of things about him that I didn't know.

On page 41, you describe Helen Noga introducing Vince and company to Johnny Mathis and they, in turn, producing an audition tape of Mathis' songs for Helen to take to New York. At that time, I was a member of the Virgil Gonsalves sextet: Clyde Pound, piano; Ed Coleman, bass; Mike Downs, trumpet; Danny Patiris, tenor sax; Gonsalves, baritone sax; and me on drums. We were playing the Blackhawk, and Mathis used to sit in with us. Helen asked us to do a demo tape for him, so Clyde, Ed and I spent an afternoon at the Blackhawk, recording Johnny's material. 

Knowing Helen and her aggressiveness, it's understandable that she would have had two different bands record for Johnny. This is the first that I've heard of Vince's involvement. At one point, while on the Cal Tjader band, we crossed paths with Mathis, but neither Vince nor I ever mentioned those tapes.

After Cal Tjader disbanded the group in the spring of 1958, I got a call from Mathis' manager to go on the road with them. I declined, because of my recent marriage and the fact that I was enrolled in college, working on my second career in engineering, before joining IBM in December 1958. Looking back and seeing the state of the jazz scene today, I made the right decision.

I love your book, and will try to get everyone I know to purchase a copy.


Needless to say, an endorsement from Al means the world to me ... and I got a new anecdote to add to this blog, in the bargain!

1 comment:

Stogie said...

Derrick, I bought the Kindle version of your book today and am anxious to read it. You have done a great thing for us fans of Vince Guaraldi.