Friday, September 22, 2017

Vince Guaraldi Day (locally)

The opening line of a brief announcement published in Wednesday's Napa Valley Register couldn't help catching my eye:

Mill Valley Mayor Jessica Sloan has proclaimed Sunday, Sept. 24, as "Vince Guaraldi Day."


Indeed yes. And the official proclamation is pretty fancy:

It seems an oddly random choice of day. Guaraldi was born on July 17, and died on February 6. Near as I can determine, nothing of consequence ever happened to him on a September 24 (although Shelby Flint's vocal cover of "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" did peak at No. 11 on Billboard's Top 40 Easy Listening Chart, on September 24, 1966).

So, I had to wonder ... what will take place, on Vince Guaraldi Day?

A speech by Mayor Sloan? A parade? A screening of the recent Toby Gleason/Andy Thomas documentary, The Anatomy of Vince Guaraldi? All-day screenings of the many Peanuts TV specials he scored, including A Charlie Brown Christmas and A Boy Named Charlie Brown, for which he "may be most known"?

Apparently not.

Near as I can tell, the only event scheduled is a Guaraldi-themed concert by the Larry Vuckovich Quintet, taking place at 3 p.m. at Mill Valley's Throckmorton Theatre. (Ticket information is available here.)

Which makes it seem as though Mayor Sloan's proclamation mostly is a well-timed boost for Larry's concert. I guess it's great to have friends in high places!

And I look forward to ever-more-ambitious programs, when Mill Valley celebrates each Vince Guaraldi Day, in years to come...

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Setting the record straight ... again!

The argument was driving me into sputtering incoherence.

Many fans and I were overjoyed, back in late summer 1998, with the unexpected arrival of Fantasy’s Charlie Brown’s Holiday Hits: the first collection of (mostly) new Vince Guaraldi Peanuts themes in 30 years. And, like many of those same fans, I was puzzled by the CD’s first track: a cue titled “Joe Cool,” which most assuredly was not the iconic tune that boasted Vince’s richly expressive vocal. This new disc’s so-called “Joe Cool” wasn’t even close to the actual item: clearly, a mistake. One of two unfortunate things had happened: Either somebody had put the wrong track on the disc, intending to lead off with the actual “Joe Cool,” or the existing track had been mis-labeled. The former seemed unlikely, because the disc’s entire purpose was to present previously unreleased tracks (aside from the final three, lifted from A Charlie Brown Christmas). But the latter hypothesis also didn’t feel right, because the mysterious Track #1 didn’t sound like Guaraldi. A close approximation, perhaps, but not the real deal.

But that was 1998, years before I even considered writing Guaraldi’s biography, and therefore years before I established contacts, colleagues and friends at Fantasy/Concord. I filed the matter as a vexing conundrum, and forgot about it.

Now, however, it was early 2010; I had just been hired by Fantasy/Concord to write liner notes for the impending release of a new Guaraldi anthology, the character-themed Peanuts Portraits. A few days earlier, I had been sent the track list and corresponding music files. There were ... issues.

Three biggies, to be precise:

1) One Guaraldi track, “Jennie L,” was lifted from the 1975 prime-time special Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown. It’s a lovely little tune, but the Peanuts neighborhood never featured a character named Jennie, with or without the “L.” Guaraldi frequently gave his cues unusual, whimsical and even puzzling names, and I’ve never been able to source the reason behind this particular title.

2) Charlie Brown’s sister Sally was represented by a track titled “Sally’s Blues” ... but the corresponding music file was not the cue of that title found within the 1974 prime-time special It’s a Mystery, Charlie Brown. Frankly, the track didn’t even sound like Guaraldi.

3) To my horror, they also lifted the same bogus “Joe Cool” track from Charlie Brown’s Holiday Hits.

Additionally, I spotted some lesser issues concerning the cue titles “Charlie’s Blues” and “Blue Charlie Brown,” but Guaraldi himself bears some of the blame there, because of the numerous variant cues he delivered with different combinations of the words “Charlie” and “Blue” in the title. (For a more detailed explanation of those two tracks, see my Guaraldi discography.)

Friday, March 17, 2017

You're finally a film score, Charlie Brown!

If you’ve glanced at the album cover alongside these words, you already know the happy news.

And yes: It’s amazing.

The specialty soundtrack label Kritzerland, known for its prestige handling of expanded, long unavailable and/or previously unreleased scores, has produced a full-score album of the Academy Award-nominated music from the 1969 film A Boy Named Charlie Brown.

And it features lots of previously unavailable Guaraldi tracks, along with all the clever Rod McKuen songs, and John Scott Trotter’s supplemental orchestral cues, as heard in the film, and in gloriously clear stereo sound. But wait, there’s more: The disc also includes a bunch of nifty bonus tracks!

(It should be noted — for archivists who pay attention to such things — that this now is the third album with this title, and is distinct from Guaraldi’s 1964 Fantasy album, and Rod McKuen’s 1970 Stanyan Records album.)

Additional information about this new release can be found at Kritzerland’s web site. (No, it won’t be available via Amazon, nor will it ever pop up in a brick-and-mortar store.) Bear in mind, as well, that this is a limited-issue release of 1,000 copies. Some previous releases have sold out in a matter of weeks or even days, so don’t delay. [Update on March 24, 2017: It sold out in a week!]

Honestly, I never thought this moment would come.

In Chapter 13 of my book, I briefly discuss the Columbia soundtrack LP produced to accompany the film upon release — actually a “storybook” album that clutters all of its music with dialogue — and I conclude with this paragraph:

Unfortunately, the soundtrack album went out of print rather quickly and never was re-issued on CD. To this day, it remains one of the great Holy Grails for Guaraldi fans. In the early 21st century, an ambitious attempt was made to produce a music-only CD of the soundtrack, which would have allowed some of Guaraldi’s best work to shine, notably with extended versions of “Skating” and “Blue Charlie Brown.” But the rights issues had grown labyrinthine with the passage of so many decades. Despite a heroic four-year struggle, the project was abandoned.

That final sentence understates the agonized frustration of those who tried so hard to get that CD released. I watched from the sidelines.

Years passed. Occasional updates arrived, but the prognosis began to look grim. Cinema Center Films had ceased to exist as a production entity decades earlier, and Columbia Records had been swallowed up by Sony. Numerous other entities also were involved.

Ultimately, it appeared that everybody on our team had surrendered.

More time passed.

And then, suddenly, a flow of fresh correspondence erupted toward the end of last year. Contrary to what I had assumed, a few key people hadn’t given up (and boy, more power to them, for patience and perseverance). Messages flew back and forth during the past few months, and you can see the happy result above.

I wrote fresh liner notes for the Kritzerland release; that essay is supplemented by a track-by-track discussion that you can find here. It was a lot of writing and editing in a very short period of time, because — after so many years of inactivity — everything now happened quickly. Not that I minded, because ...

... the long wait is over!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Peanuts Connection: Down to the last note!

I first "met" Rob Kirby when he was one of several hundred individuals who submitted an essay for 2009's Security Blankets: How Peanuts Touched Our Lives, the book I co-edited with Don Fraser. Rob's essay was charming, warm and droll: precisely the sort of "personal touch" that we were seeking. He easily made the cut, and his contribution — and a similarly droll photo — can be found on Page 75.

Rob's essay also acknowledged his fondness for Guaraldi, and recognition of the major impact that Vince's music had on the early Peanuts TV specials. Our shared interest kept us in touch, exchanging notes every so often, with Rob occasionally hinting at a "big project" that he kept meaning to tackle.

Typical British understatement.

Rob has completed his labor of love, and it's astonishing. Starting with the Music Use Sheets that I had posted on one of my many Guaraldi web pages, and armed with DVDs of every Guaraldi-scored Peanuts TV special — and the big-screen film A Boy Named Charlie Brown — along with all the albums of Guaraldi's music available to the mainstream public, Rob meticulously analyzed every second of music in each film, cross-checking against the titles indicated by the Music Use Sheets, and in many cases filling in additional data and correcting mistakes. (As I explain, in that page's introduction, Music Use Sheets are "dynamic" documents that undergo changes en route to a finished product, much the way scripts can change during filming. Initial intentions notwithstanding, when it came time to edit a given scene, a last-minute decision might be made to drop a planned cue, or add one where music hadn't originally been requested. The Use Sheets kindly shared by Lee Mendelson, many years ago, gave no indication of what part of production they represented. A few dovetailed very neatly to an animated special as aired; others did not.)

Rob's efforts allowed me, at long last, to amend that page so that the Music Use Sheet list for each film now accurately reflects the finished product; the results can be viewed here.

But that's only the tip of Rob's research. He also carefully analyzed every cue, from the shortest snippet to a full-length melody, to determine uniqueness. Many of Guaraldi's most popular Peanuts themes appear multiple times in a given TV special, in some cases in different arrangements or different "takes" (as is the nature of jazz). That distinction wasn't mentioned in the original Music Use Sheets; thanks to Rob, we now know — as just one example — that several different versions of the "Baseball Theme" are used in 1966's Charlie Brown's All-Stars, only one of which matches the version included on Guaraldi's album, Jazz Impressions of A Boy Named Charlie Brown.

And that's the other great feature of Rob's work: He also identified where specific cues — which is to say, a precise arrangement — can be found, among Guaraldi's various albums.

Along the way, he uncovered a few surprises, and made some savvy observations.

He realized, for example, that the delightfully upbeat version of "Peppermint Patty," heard midway through 1967's You're in Love Charlie Brown, is a bonus track on the CD re-release of Vince Guaraldi with the San Francisco Boys Chorus. Along a similar line, the terrific, brass-heavy arrangement of "Linus and Lucy," heard midway through 1973's A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, can be found on the CD The Charlie Brown Suite and Other Favorites, where it's titled "Linus and Lucy with the Band."

Rob also has a keen ear, having recognized something that I'm ashamed to admit I've missed, all these years: The cue "Bon Voyage," heard early in 1968's He's Your Dog, Charlie Brown, clearly is adapted from the song "Monterey," one of the other tracks on Vince Guaraldi with the San Francisco Boys Chorus.

On a more sobering note — literally — Rob noticed that most of the cues written for 1976's It's Arbor Day, Charlie Brown sound suspiciously similar to earlier tunes such as "Christmas Time Is Here," "Joe Cool" and the aforementioned "Baseball Theme." An overly hasty assumption might suggest that Guaraldi was running out of creative juice, but I strongly doubt that; it seems much more likely that Guaraldi's very poor health affected his work on this special. Remember, he died right after finishing the studio recordings for this show.

My Music Use web page doesn't begin to cover all of Rob's thorough research, which must be appreciated in its entirety, at his blog. (You'll also want to read his detailed account of what prompted this project, and how he approached it.) As he explains, in his key, bold entries refer to specific arrangements of cues that can be found on various Guaraldi albums. Green entries address disputed existing information, and blue entries refer to cues that were rearranged and re-recorded on albums by Guaraldi or George Winston.

Granted, Rob's efforts represent a degree of "geeking out" that'll likely be appreciated — to the proper degree — by only a small handful of people. But as somebody who shares Rob's obsessive research tendencies, I regard his work as an invaluable document, and a resource of historic proportion.

On top of which, it's a lot of fun to read!