Saturday, August 25, 2012

"Star Song" — A melody tender

I've long fancied myself a thorough, creative and persistent (stubborn?) researcher, and I became even better during the three years spent "in the tank" while accumulating information for my book, before I wrote a single word. Later, once the actual writing began, I'd often get distracted by a desire to chase down stray bits of data. Many were found; many others were not. Quite a few anecdotes and possible details had to be removed from the first draft, when absolute verification couldn't be obtained. But the pursuit continues, and I'm confident that some of those stories will — one day — wind up here, in a blog entry.


One of my more vexing chases concerned Guaraldi's original composition, "Star Song," which he debuted on the album Vince Guaraldi, Bola Sete and Friends. In my book, as the tune is discussed, I call it "...a charming little ballad with an intriguing backstory: The pianist composed the melody to the words of a poem that was sent to him by William Siden, a Pacific Gas & Electric employee."

You probably know where this is going.

I moved Heaven and Earth to find that poem, with absolutely no luck. I did track down a few other poems by Siden, which had been published in the late 1950s in various women's magazines — McCall's and the like — but no trace of anything called "Star Song." I finally had to concede defeat, with considerable reluctance.

Like I said, I'm a savvy researcher ... but I cheerfully tip my hat to others who are just as good, if not better. Indeed, I'm deeply grateful to them.

One such fellow is Doug Anderson, whom I have yet to meet in person, but who has become a treasured correspondent, valued contributor and — without question — good friend. He first got in touch via e-mail, like numerous other Guaraldi fans with whom I have exchanged notes over the years. Unlike most such folks, though, this bond deepened quickly; Doug's interest clearly wasn't casual. Once he found out that I was working on a book, he immediately offered to help in any way possible. His research skills proved beneficial on many occasions, to say the least; he helped locate numerous things that had eluded me, and he well deserves the acknowledgment he received in the book.

Like me, as well, he recognizes that some searches never end ... until they're successful.

I'll turn the rest of this post over to Doug:


************


With a lilting melody that lingers in the memory, "Star Song" is one of Vince Guaraldi's most charming compositions. Although it didn't see action as a commercial hit, the song was a signature Guaraldi tune in the early 1960s, and a favorite of no less than jazz great Miles Davis.  (See page 118 of Vince Guaraldi at the Piano for drummer Jerry Granelli’s recollections about the Prince of Darkness being a fan.)

The song, which made its first commercial appearance on the 1964 LP Vince Guaraldi/Bola Sete and Friends, was credited to "Guaraldi-Siden," the only such entry in the Guaraldi corpus.

The Siden of that pairing was William "Bill" Siden, who described himself as "a public relations man for Pacific Gas & Electric."  In addition to his PG&E gig, he was active in the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and a founding member of the Steering Committee for San Francisco Beautification. Siden was a committed participant in the greening of San Francisco, and he promoted tree-planting in developing areas throughout California, as a community development consultant. He also was described in the early '60s as a "Bay Area writer with a growing national reputation," and he co-authored a book on the art of writing business letters.

He was, as well, a poet.  And it was in that role that Bill Siden sent Vince Guaraldi the verse that inspired “Star Song.”

In the liner notes to Vince Guaraldi/Bola Sete and Friends, Guaraldi explained: "I got the melody from the lyrics.... I didn't change anything. I wrote music right to what he had there in the poem, and it fit all the way down."  San Francisco Chronicle jazz columnist Ralph Gleason also emphasized the lyric-driven composition in his liner notes for the song's second appearance, on The Latin Side of Vince Guaraldi, describing it as "another Vince original, a hauntingly beautiful melody which he wrote to fit the words!"

But, while Guaraldi and Gleason both credit the words with catalyzing the song, the words themselves were nowhere to be found: They didn't appear in any liner notes, and a vocal version of the song never was recorded.  As recently as early 2012, Guaraldi biographer (and blog host) Derrick Bang lamented that "Siden's poem, alas, has been lost in the mists of time."

But what was lost has been found.

After persistent archival digging and a number of dead-ends, I finally located Siden's original poem in a 1963 manuscript.  And so, ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to present William Siden's lyrics for Vince Guaraldi's "Star Song" (punctuated as in the original):

STAR-SONG

Oh, sing me the star-song,
The wonderful star-song
The stars sang the moment we met.

We knew that 'twas for us
The stars sang in chorus
A song we would never forget--

A melody tender,
And filled with such splendor
That time has not faded the glow:

The stars still burn brightly
And sing for us nightly
The star-song they sang long ago.

While shorter and perhaps more generic than I had expected, the poem is a very cool find.  The lyrics do indeed fall easily into place over Vince's lovely melody line, and they constitute the equivalent of a single verse that is repeated at the beginning and end of the song, bookending a delightful stretch of improvisation.

Vince Guaraldi and Bola Sete perform "Star Song" while featured on
an episode of Ralph Gleason's Jazz Casual series, made for
KQED-TV Channel 9 in San Francisco.

To date, four different Guaraldi recordings of "Star Song" have seen commercial release:


·         The August 1963 studio recording with Bola Sete, contained on the Vince Guaraldi/Bola Sete and Friends LP (later re-released on the Vince & Bola CD);

·         The version recorded with Bola Sete in the KQED-TV studio in the summer of 1963, and released in 2001 on the (sadly out-of-print) Jazz Casual: Paul Winter/Bola Sete and Vince Guaraldi CD;

·         The 1963 studio version recorded without Bola, but with an interesting-but-dated string arrangement, and released on The Latin Side of Vince Guaraldi; and

·         A mid-‘60s version recorded with Bola Sete for The Navy Swings recruitment program, released on CD by Vince’s son David (and available at http://www.vinceguaraldi.com).

All four versions are worth tracking down for their variant performances. Give any of them a listen and you, too, will find the stars still burning brightly, still singing nightly the same star-song that they sang long ago.

(Or, in the words of Miles Davis, “Play that song, man!”)

1 comment:

  1. My love affair with Vince's music began with the Peanuts' specials. Then in the late 80's, I discovered the rest. His music means so much to me that I brought a CD player with me into the delivery room to keep me calm. My daughter came into the world to the strains of "A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing". To read about the origins of one of my favorite of Vince's compositions was great!

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