Saturday, November 30, 2019

Eddie Duran: Guitar maestro

My fondest personal memory of jazz guitarist Eddie Duran came early in the summer of 2012. The Gods smiled upon me; I was able to hire him, drummer Colin Bailey, bassist Dean Reilly and pianist Jim Martinez for a performance at that year’s Beaglefest (an annual convention for fans of Charles M. Schulz and Peanuts).

Eddie Duran, "in the moment" during a private concert
June 30, 2012. (The arm at upper left belongs to
drummer Colin Bailey.)
It was a reunion of Vince Guaraldi’s former sidemen, from his “classic” early trios: Eddie and Dean, at Vince’s side for a lengthy gig at San Francisco’s hungry i nightclub, and while recording his first two Fantasy Records albums; and Colin, who with bassist Monty Budwig put Vince on the map with the release of 1962’s Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus and its breakout single, “Cast Your Fate to the Wind.” Jim, the (comparatively) young pianist who stood in for Vince that evening, likely couldn’t believe his good fortune. The appreciative audience definitely couldn’t believe it, as this quartet — never before having performed together, or even rehearsed — breezily powered through a couple hours of Guaraldi jazz classics. (Including, of course, plenty of Peanuts melodies.)

The three Guaraldi veterans were the epitome of graciousness. They joined us earlier in the evening for a banquet dinner, sitting at different tables in order to interact with as many attendees as possible. Once they started playing, a few hours later, they were wholly in the groove. As one would expect, distinct personalities emerged; Colin and Dean, all smiles, were quick with an occasional quip between — and sometimes even during — numbers. But Eddie was all business. his gaze was wholly absorbed by his guitar, particularly during his positively magical solos.

Several years earlier, he’d been one of my favorite interview subjects, while assembling the wealth of material for my Guaraldi biography. Eddie had a terrific memory for detail, and he vividly painted “word picture” descriptions of the hungry i environment, and the hilariously Spartan, spit-and-bailing-wire simplicity of the Fantasy recording sessions, circa mid-1950s. “[The first album] was recorded in the garage of a building south of Market. They didn’t do any extensive preparation for sound-proofing; it was just a bare garage … although they did spread some carpets on the floor.”

Eddie spun wonderful anecdotes about club gigs with Vince, several of which were much too coarse to have made it into my book. (I rapidly came to the conclusion that jazz musicians tell the best stories … and also the filthiest!) Eddie enjoyed a remarkably prolific career, with and beyond Vince, as this San Francisco Chronicle article recounts briefly. (Additional details, although still woefully incomplete, can be found at Wikipedia.)

Eddie was lucky enough to make a successful career out of doing what he loved, and he maintained a performance schedule right up to the very end. We lost him November 22, 94 years young. I like to think this was merely a change of venue, and that — somewhere, somehow — he has been reunited with Vince, and they’re both enjoying the most amazing jam sessions with all manner of other jazz cats.

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