Thursday, April 18, 2019

A heaping helping of Vince

It's worth mentioning that Amazon, iTunes and Google Play have made just about all of Guaraldi’s catalogue (as leader) available for streaming and purchase as digital downloads.

And I mean everything:

• All of his releases from Fantasy and Warner Bros., along with the 21st century anthology albums: The Definitive Vince Guaraldi, The Very Best of Vince Guaraldi, etc.

• The initial and much later releases on the resurrected D&D label: Vince Guaraldi and the San Francisco Boys Chorus, Oaxaca, etc.

• Most important, from the standpoint of hard-to-get material, is everything released by Vince’s son, David: Live on the Air, North Beach, both of the Peanuts Lost Cues albums, and so forth. Some of those have become quite difficult to find in CD format.

This list even includes a “digital single” of Guaraldi’s cover of “Do You Know the Way to San Jose,” featured as a bonus track within Omnivore’s anthology set of his three Warners albums. And, as you can see above, somebody even took the trouble to produce a faux 45 disc and sleeve. (I assure you: It doesn’t exist in real life.)

Oddly, though, the list does not include “The Sharecropper’s Daughter” or “Oh, Happy Day,” the other bonus tracks from the Omnivore set.

And this is important: I checked with ace sound and re-mastering engineer Michael Graves, and he assures me that these streaming versions of Oh, Good Grief, The Eclectic Vince Guaraldi and Alma-Ville are, respectively, from the Warner Bros. and Wounded Bird CDs … not the Omnivore package he worked on.

The only album missing from the list is the soundtrack to 1969’s big-screen movie, A Boy Named Charlie Brown, released on CD by Kritzerland in 2017.

This is a great chance to “fill in the gaps,” for folks who don’t mind not having physical copies. But I advise acting quickly: Digital services sometimes taketh away just as rapidly as they giveth!

Friday, April 5, 2019

The Peanuts Concerto debuts!

Composer Dick Tunney, left, holds his 70-page
score as pianist Jeffrey Biegel prepares to join the
members of Orchestra Kentucky for the afternoon
rehearsal of Tunney's Peanuts Concerto
It has been quite a journey.

We broke the news about Dick Tunney’s commissioned Peanuts Concerto-to-be back on January 30, 2018, and followed with updates as the project progressed. (Click on Peanuts Concerto, in the labels below this entry, to read all previous installments.)

By late summer, the premiere date had been set for March 23, 2019, with Orchestra Kentucky, under the baton of conductor/music director Jeff Reed, at the Southern Kentucky Performing Arts Center (SKyPAC) in Bowling Green, Kentucky. The keyboard soloist: newly minted Grammy Award-recognized pianist/composer Jeffrey Biegel (for having performed as a soloist on Kenneth Fuchs’ Spiritualist Piano Concerto, which took this year’s Grammy for Best Classical Compendium).

Tunney and his wife Melodie were on hand, of course: both for the evening performance, and the earlier afternoon rehearsal. Who could blame him? The Peanuts Concerto represented a year of his life, and now he had the opportunity to share this newborn child with the world at large.

First, though, he spent the afternoon helping the orchestra fine-tune the performance.

Tunney and conductor Jeff Reed, taking a break
prior to the evening performance.
“When I’m able to attend a ‘first’ rehearsal,” Tunney explained, “I’ll typically sit in the house with a pencil and some Post-it Notes, and make notations on the score, of corrections or other things that need to be addressed. There were a few things to fix, but — largely — what was on the page, was what I wanted.

“The bigger purpose for sitting through the rehearsal is to help with interpretation. During the first run-through, some tempos were a little quick, and the orchestra lost Guaraldi’s ‘groove.’ The bottom line for classical musicians playing jazz is that it must ‘feel’ right. Much of that can be accomplished by ensuring that the tempos are correct. There’s so much nuance to jazz, and when juxtaposed with the precision of performing classical music, the result can make for some interesting moments.”

All too quickly, it was time to don formal attire for the concerto’s world premiere.

“Jeff [Reed] asked me to introduce the piece,” Tunney continued. “I gave a short introduction to Peanuts and Charles Schulz, and then a few sentences about Guaraldi. I concluded by talking about the task of juxtaposing iconic jazz piano with the symphony orchestra.”

The performance was well attended. “SKyPAC seats 1,800, and I estimate it was 75 percent full. That’s a very respectable audience for Bowling Green.”

And it all comes together! Jeff Reed, standing in front of the orchestra and screen,
conducts the Peanuts Concerto while soloist Jeffrey Biegel performs at the piano.

Patrons — and Tunney — enjoyed an unexpected bonus. Thanks to some necessary behind-the-scenes permissions, Peanuts Worldwide allowed the use of still images of Schulz artwork, which were displayed at appropriate moments during each of the concerto’s three movements. “At least half a dozen times, when an image appeared with the appropriate song, you could hear the audience ooh and ahhh. It was quite touching.”

Indeed, everybody clearly enjoyed the performance.

“The evening went well,” Tunney enthused. “I was extremely pleased with the interpretation, and the entire performance. The Second Movement was absolutely breathtaking, and the Christmas Movement was charming beyond my hopes. Jeffrey [Biegel] played with such artistry and musicality, and the familiar melodies brought a smile to every face.

“The audience applauded between each of the movements … and you know, in some stuffy classical circles, there’s always the question of whether to do that. I choose to call this an enthusiastic response, along with an immediate standing ovation at the conclusion, with a curtain call for conductor and pianist.

“The legacy of Vince Guaraldi’s music was honored, and placed on the proper pedestal.”

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

It's almost concerto time!

At last, a proper press release! (You'd think one would have appeared long before now...)

Reprinted here, in its entirety:


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Lee Mendelson Film Productions announces the world premiere of the first-ever Peanuts Concerto for Piano and Orchestra based on the legendary music of Vince Guaraldi, arranged by Grammy-winning composer, Dick Tunney, featuring pianist Jeffrey Biegel with Orchestra Kentucky, led by Music Director, Jeff Reed. 


This moving arrangement sets Guaraldi's classic music from the Peanuts specials, into a three-movement work for piano and orchestra. It will be a wonderful introduction for families to hear the jazz writings of the late Vince Guaraldi, in a 21st century symphonic landscape.

Vince Guaraldi wrote and performed the music for the first 15 animated Peanuts specials, until his untimely death in 1976. The album A Charlie Brown Christmas is the second most popular jazz album in history, with more than 4 million copies sold.  

Guaraldi started writing music for 1963's never-aired documentary A Boy Named Charlie Brown, which Lee Mendelson produced. When Mendelson, animator Bill Melendez and Charles Schulz created A Charlie Brown Christmas, they turned to their friend Guaraldi, to write the music for the special. A Charlie Brown Christmas has aired every Christmas season since 1965, and the music from that special has become a timeless part of our culture and the holiday season.

Guaraldi wrote the music for the next 14 animated specials, and some of those themes have been incorporated into this concerto.  

Lee Mendelson Film Productions has been producing television and films since 1964, winning 11 Emmys along with 45 nominations, 4 Peabody awards, and Oscar and Grammy nominations. Lee Mendelson Film Productions is the publisher of Guaraldi's musical works. 

The premiere takes place at 7:30 p.m. March 23, 2019, at the SKYPaC in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Biegel is one of the most respected pianists of our time, performing and recording classic repertoire and new works in contemporary classical, and works of all styles. His performance of Kenneth Fuchs' Piano Concerto: Spiritualist helped the recording win the 2019 Grammy Award for Best Classical Compendium, alongside the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by JoAnn Falletta, and produced by Tim Handley. Biegel is professor of piano at Brooklyn College, and has commissioned many composers to write new works for piano and orchestra.

Tunney and his wife, Melodie, have received 10 Dove Awards, and a Grammy Award for “How Excellent Is Thy Name,” recorded by Larnelle Harris. They have recorded eight albums together, and Dick has recorded five solo instrumental albums. The couple has penned more than 150 songs, many recorded by other Christian artists.  

Maestro Jeff Reed has conducted the orchestras of Alabama, Augusta, Charleston, Detroit, Knoxville, Louisville, Memphis, Nashville, Omaha, Phoenix, Portland (ME), Quad Cities (IA), Sacramento, South Bend and Winston-Salem. He has twice appeared with the Royal Philharmonic at London's Royal Albert Hall, at the specific request of Neil Sedaka.

Visit these websites for further information:

Jeffrey Biegel: www.jeffreybiegel.com

Jeffrey Reed: www.jeffreyreed.info

Dick Tunney: www.tunneymusic.com

Orchestra Kentucky: www.orchestrakentucky.com

Lee Mendelson Film Productions, Inc.: www.mendelsonproductions.com

Monday, February 11, 2019

Concerto-izing, Episode 4

The all-important manuscript, in its completed glory!
We’re rapidly approaching the world premiere of Nashville-based musician, composer and arranger Dick Tunney’s commissioned Peanuts Concerto. It’ll debut Saturday, March 23, with Orchestra Kentucky; the performance will take place in Bowling Green, Kentucky, under the baton of conductor/music director Jeff Reed, with Jeffrey Biegel at the piano.

Dick has been kind enough to keep me apprised of the concerto’s evolution, from its genesis a little more than a year ago. You can read more in previous blog entries, here, here and here.

I’ll turn the rest of this post over to Dick, who — understandably — is delighted to have completed this project, and is extremely pleased over how it has turned out.

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The final decisions on song selection, sequence of songs — and the like — changed considerably during this yearlong process. The obvious hero in this was Vince Guaraldi, and his creative fingerprints are (hopefully) all over this work. Weaving the jazz harmonies into a classical orchestral setting was challenging, but there are plenty of “fragments” that really did lend themselves nicely to the symphony. 

The songs included in some fashion are: “Linus and Lucy,” which actually appears in some form in all three movements; “Thanksgiving Theme”; “Red Baron”; “Oh, Good Grief!”; Beethoven’s Sonata Pathetique (tipping our cap to Schroeder); “Happiness Is”; “Rain, Rain Go Away”; “Skating”; “Christmas Time Is Here”; and “O Tannenbaum.” Some songs were chosen for their popularity and visibility; others were selected for their musical content, as juxtaposed with the orchestra in a classical setting. (A prime example is “Rain, Rain Go Away.”). I researched all of this pretty thoroughly, watched several television specials, and scoured the landscape for Guaraldi recordings of everything we could get our hands on.

The office studio where the magic takes place: Nary a quill or inkpot to be seen!
One of my original thoughts was to make the middle movement — historically the slower movement, in a piano concerto — the Christmas movement. However, when all was said and done, the Christmas movement became the third and final movement: the “finale,” if you will. This third movement also has been constructed so that an orchestra with pianist can perform it as a stand-alone piece.  

I teased “Linus and Lucy” in three or four different places, before finally concluding the entire work with that most iconic of Peanuts music.

This has been more than a year in the making, and to be at this point seems surreal. Last Thursday, I sent the final score and individual parts to the orchestra office in Kentucky, and was in contact with the Peanuts folks — and Jeffrey — about delivery of the final files. I walked downstairs from my studio around 3:00 p.m. that day, looked at my wife, and thrust both fists into the air. 

She knew.  

The final piece of the puzzle is inserting piano fingerings into the main score. Jeffrey has been practicing on this for a couple of months, and has sent me hand-written fingerings, a few note changes and some phrasing and articulation edits. These final elements will come together this week.

My wife and I will attend the rehearsal (my score in hand) as well as the March 23 premiere.  

Hopefully, this 21-minute piece will bring smiles to the faces of those who are familiar with Guaraldi, and the Peanuts television specials, and — better still! — will introduce some fantastic music to audiences of a generation likely removed from the Peanuts comic strips. 

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One last quick note from the site-master. As of Sunday, Jeffrey Biegel has become a Grammy-recognized pianist/composer. He performed on the Grammy Award-winning recording for Best Classical Compendium, as a soloist on Kenneth Fuchs’ Spiritualist Piano Concerto, on the Naxos label. Biegel commissioned the concerto, which resulted in several performances and this recording, with the London Symphony Orchestra. The actual Grammy Awards were presented to conductor JoAnn Falletta and producer Tim Handley; Biegel received a certificate as an artist on the recording.

Ergo, Jeffrey will be sliding directly from a classical Grammy triumph to an exciting new work honoring Guaraldi’s Peanuts compositions. Quite a heady way to start the year!