Thursday, March 7, 2013

Another view of the Annex

I continue to marvel at the manner in which the Internet allows access to — and contact with — other historians and fans who pursue the same subjects from slightly different angles. If the blogosphere is any indication, quite a few music buffs have become absorbed by the San Francisco scene from the 1950s through the '70s, and some are devoted enough to seek out and interview Those Who Were There, occasionally with radio broadcasts or podcasts in mind. I love to learn about such efforts; there's always the possibility of fresh nuggets to be mined, even from musicians I've interviewed (exhaustively!) myself. You never know when a familiar question, perhaps worded in a slightly different manner, might trigger a long-buried, previously unshared memory.

My colleague Corry Arnold — who writes the marvelous Grateful Dead blog, Lost Live Dead — called my attention to Jake Feinberg, an unabashed music fan on a mission to immerse himself in the aforementioned music scene to the best of his ability, at this decades-long remove. I appreciate Jake's enthusiasm and dedication; I also share his devotion to vinyl ... although I fear that's a battle we're destined to lose.

Jake has interviewed all sorts of musicians, with the resulting hour-length installments of KJLL's The Jake Feinberg Show archived at his website. (KJLL is an AM station out of South Tucson, Arizona.) The impressive roster includes several of Guaraldi's former sidemen, each of whom discusses Vince at least in passing, and in some cases in considerable detail.

I also enjoy the archive photos that Jake has managed to dig up, granting us a glimpse of what these cats looked like, back in the day.

Vince Lateano
Drummer Vince Lateano was interviewed on September 24, 2011. He mentions working with Guaraldi on some of the later Peanuts soundtracks, and also spending six to eight months — alongside bassist Seward McCain — as part of Guaraldi's regular trio at Butterfield's. 

Nothing new there, but I was intrigued to learn that Lateano recalled first hearing Guaraldi perform in the late 1950s, while the latter was a member of Cal Tjader's Quintet, alongside Al McKibbon (bass), Willie Bobo (drums and percussion) and Mongo Santamaria (congas). Lateano was in his mid-20s when he moved to San Francisco from Sacramento in the mid-'60s, so he would have been a teenager during that initial exposure to Guaraldi, perhaps during a jazz-laden night in the City.

(Wouldn't it have been nice to tag along!)

Jerry Granelli (foreground)
Drummer Jerry Granelli, interviewed on November 26, 2012, discusses his gig with Guaraldi at some length. Granelli gives Guaraldi credit for introducing him to the bossa nova and samba sound that inspired the jazz pianist so strongly in the late 1950s. Granelli also recalls how quickly guitarist Bola Sete was added to their trio, which included bassist Fred Marshall: "We rehearsed a couple of tunes with Bola," Granelli explains, "and then just started playing!"

Albums were knocked out quickly at Fantasy, Granelli recalls, because the studio time would be booked — and paid for — in three-hour blocks. That corresponds to what I've heard from many of Guaraldi's former sidemen, who explained that arrangements and solos would be perfected during the nightly club gigs; no surprise then, when it came time to make a record, that the tracks could be laid down in just a few takes.

I remember, during my own numerous chats with Granelli, how much he praised Guaraldi's serious work ethic. He repeats that here: "Vince came to play every night." Granelli also throws a bouquet to San Francisco jazz (and, later, rock and pop) columnist Ralph Gleason, noting the degree to which the syndicated writer could elevate a musician's career among readers from California to New York. "He helped a lot of us," Granelli insists, and that's absolutely true.

Mike Clark
Feinberg obviously admires drummer Mike Clark, and has interviewed him a few times; these sessions generated several details that are new to me. During the first round, in September 2011, Clark recalls how he began to pay attention to Guaraldi after hearing "Cast Your Fate to the Wind," because that song demonstrated the pianist's way with the blues. A few more years would pass before Clark began to work with Guaraldi, but — prior to that point — the drummer also remembers being part of a band that occasionally opened for the Guaraldi/Sete Quartet. And that's when Clark truly fell in love with Guaraldi's feel for the keyboard.

"This cat could play jazz New York-style," Clark remembers thinking. "He had a great 4/4 feel."

The pivotal meeting, however, took place when Clark went to the Pierce Street Annex (a "hippie bar," he calls it now) to hear Denny Zeitlin (piano), Jerry Hahn (guitar) and George Marsh (drums). Clark was invited to sit in, and Guaraldi happened to be in the audience. "He hired me on the spot," Clark recalls.

(I must note, at this point, that this differs significantly from the way Clark told me he met and was hired by Guaraldi, which involved a brief audition at the pianist's house, in the company of tenor saxman Vince Denham. But hey: It was a long time ago, and both stories could be true ... Clark might have landed the personal audition at Guaraldi's house after the pianist heard him at the Annex.)

The Pierce Street Annex is significant as a second-tier San Francisco music venue, although its origins are modest. One newspaper squib suggests that the club "reportedly went into action in 1962," while another notes that it shared ownership with another club, The Camelot. A long-ago matchbook cover confirms that information, and places both clubs at Fillmore Street, between Lombard and Greenwich.

Feinberg caught up with Clark again in April 2012, and a portion of this interview is gold for Guaraldi fans, thanks to the additional detail added to the period when the jazz pianist's orbit intersected that of Jerry Garcia ... which, of course, explains my colleague Corry Arnold's interest.

And the story also concerns the Pierce Street Annex ... although likely not quite the same Pierce Street Annex. You need to know that this took place after Clark had become a regular member of Guaraldi's band, an "off and on" gig that lasted quite a few years during the late 1960s and early '70s, and mostly involved acoustic sets ... with a few notable exceptions. Here's how Clark explains one of the latter:

At one point, Vince said, I'm gonna to try some electric stuff, so bring a bigger drum set. I said okay. We went to a place on Fillmore Street called the Pierce Street Annex. It was a place where people tried new, experimental stuff. It was Seward McCain on bass, Guaraldi on piano, a tenor player named Vince Denham, myself on drums, and Jerry Garcia played with us a couple of times.

We played music that sort of sounded like Bitches Brew; I don't think he meant it to go in that direction, that's just how it came out. We didn't have any tunes; we just jammed on different grooves.

We did about six months' worth of those gigs, then Guaraldi went back to playing straight-ahead jazz.

Up to this point, all available information had suggested that Guaraldi's occasional gigs with Garcia took place exclusively at the Matrix; the Pierce Street Annex connection seems a new detail. As it turns out, though, it really isn't. 

The Matrix was located at 3138 Fillmore, where as of August 13, 1965, a former pizza shop became a nightclub that initially showcased Jefferson Airplane and quickly became the club for the emerging rock scene. When the Matrix flamed out and closed in May of 1971, the nearby Pierce Street Annex took over the space. In a sense, then, the two clubs were one and the same ... at least, this was true during the summer of 1972, when (according to McCain) the Guaraldi/Garcia band is known to have performed. That date always was a bit troublesome, because McCain also insisted that this collaboration took place at the Matrix, which by then had been closed for more than a year. 

But if we simply accept that the band played at the former Matrix space — now the new home of the Pierce Street Annex — then McCain's version of these events makes complete sense, and dovetails neatly with Clark's anecdote.

All of which Corry discusses at much greater length, in his new blog entry.

Speaking of the original Matrix, the San Francisco Bay Area Television Archive just posted (as of February 13) a KRON-TV news segment that originally aired February 3, 1967, and features some interview and performance footage with the band The Only Alternative & His Other Possibilities. The interview, filmed at the Matrix, focuses on songwriter Tor Olson, who chats while his band rehearses in the background. There's a Guaraldi connection here as well, because Guaraldi's band shared the bill with The Only Alternative during Stern Grove's 1967 "Jazz in the Grove" extravaganza.

Lots of cross-pollinating back then, in the 1960s San Francisco music scene.

(And in today's blogger scene!)


Speaking of clubs, I have a challenge for the Internet's Group Mind.

I've spent countless hours tracking down when various San Francisco jazz clubs opened and closed, particularly those that were significant to Guaraldi's career. Opening dates generally have been easy to find, since they usually were accompanied by splashy mentions in newspapers — often Ralph Gleason's San Francisco Chronicle columns, or Russ Wilson's Oakland Tribune columns — but closing dates are harder to specify.

In three key cases, I know no more than the year of closure ... and it would be nice to narrow that window further, at least to a particular month. I'd be grateful for any fresh information on these three venues:

• Jimbo's Bop City (known to have closed in 1965)

• The Both/And (believed to have closed in 1972)

• The Trident (known to have closed in 1976)

1 comment:

  1. I am taking up the challenge of the closing dates of the three clubs, but I have nothing to report yet. I will say, however, that for anyone interested in Jimbo's Bop City, they should look at a fantastic book called "Harlem Of The West: The San Francisco Fillmore Jazz Era" by Elizabeth Pepin and Lewis Watts (Chronicle Books 2006).

    The book has a 20-page chapter on Jimbo's Bop City, including numerous fantastically reproduced photographs. Indeed, the cover photo for the book shows John Handy, Pony Poindexter and John Coltrane jamming at Bop City, probably at about 3am.

    Jimbo's Bop City was at 1690 Post (at Buchanan), and while the book is not more specific than to say that the club closed in 1965, it does say that the wooden Victorian that housed the club was moved around the corner to 1712 Fillmore.

    The book is full of amazing artifacts, like a picture of the Fillmore Auditorium in 1914 (then called the Majestic Hall), and ads from Jack's and it's successor, Jack's on Sutter.


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