Thursday, July 30, 2020

The Trident: Then and now

Technology marches on, and I’m delighted by the increasing number of newspapers that have migrated their archives into public Internet search engines … often at no cost. (Having said that, I still await this service from the San Francisco Chronicle, merely the most important newspaper in Guaraldi’s career. I cannot imagine what the heck is taking them so long!)

Recent online newcomers include the Sausalito News, a weekly newspaper based (as you’d expect) in Sausalito, California, and published from 1885 to 1966; for a few years prior to its demise, it was re-branded the Marin News, but returned to its former self shortly before the final issue was published on November 2, 1966.

The newspaper still was vibrant in 1961, when the former Yacht Dock — a dilapidated venue that had hosted Guaraldi’s trio on occasion, built on the site of the original 1898 home of the San Francisco Yacht Club — was transformed into the Trident, which became Guaraldi’s “home base” for the next several years. The paper provided more detail on this transition, which I’ve woven into the following narrative, augmented by some interview quotes that didn’t make it into my book. (The News also provided the conclusive specific date of the Trident’s closure: a piece of information that eluded me for years.)

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The July 22, 1961, issue of the Sausalito News reported that “the clatter of hammers, the shouts of workmen and the rustle of blueprints prevail over the venerable wharf at 558 Bridgeway on the Sausalito waterfront.” The Trident-in-process, according to new manager Louis Ganopolar, would be dedicated to “casual imbibing in an atmosphere of elegance.” Ganopolar had been “poached” from his former position as manager at Greenwich Village’s famed jazz nightclub, the Village Vanguard. The then-popular Kingston Trio were booked there for a weeklong engagement; they arrived in the company of manager Frank Werber. The latter mentioned that the clean-cut young men had purchased the Yacht Dock as a tax write-off, intending to transform it into “something special.” Werber invited Ganopolar to Sausalito, to check out the place and (hopefully) suggest somebody who’d make a good manager. Ganopolar volunteered himself, and moved his family from New York to Northern California, the week this Sausalito News story saw print.

Brad McNutt, one of the remodelers, hoped for an “early August” re-opening. He explained that the new venue’s seating alcoves would be “dramatically lighted and arranged on several levels, to take advantage of the superb view of the Bay, the bridges and the city, while retaining an atmosphere of intimacy.” The article concluded by citing other features: “complete yacht docking facilities, music by the Vince Guaraldi Trio, and a select bill of fare of international hors d’oeuvres, sandwiches and snacks.”


Two weeks later — the paper published on Saturdays — the August 5 issue promised that the new venue would open the following Tuesday. The chef hired to provide “elegant New York steak entrees, escargot platters and a variety of soups, stews, fishes dishes and sides to order fresh from the menus” was Pierre Flaubert, formerly of Paris’ Palmear de Longchamp, and founder of San Rafael’s La Petite Auberge. Hours were announced as 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily, with entertainment six nights a week (!) by Guaraldi’s trio. Monday evenings, absent music, would present “feature-length motion pictures which have won prizes at international film festivals.” (I’m willing to be that Black Orpheus was screened more than once.)

For the first several years after this unveiling, the atmosphere was refined and formal; that included the musicians, who wore coats and ties. “I never worked with anybody who didn’t dress formally,” recalled bassist Eddie Coleman. “Jazz musicians weren’t all that casual then, except maybe at jam sessions. It really disappoints me, the way a lot of professional musicians dress these days. I’m from the old school; I like the way the Modern Jazz Quartet dressed. It elevates your profession.”1

“The first meeting that Vince and I had was at the Trident,” recalled the Rev. Charles Gompertz, who later invited Guaraldi to collaborate on the iconic Grace Cathedral Mass. “So I show up, and what was amazing to me, while we were sitting there having lunch on the outside deck, was that people would go by in boats and shout a hello to him: ‘Hi, Vince; how’s it going?’ Everybody on the deck came over to talk to him, as well; it was like a great big giant family of people who really appreciated him and his music.”2

Of course, not everybody was so warm and friendly; the Trident still was a restaurant that just happened to have music. “A part of Vince loved that,” Toby Gleason explained. “He was not particularly outgoing a lot of the time. When he was working out new music in public, with his trio, he kind of appreciated that people weren’t paying that close attention. And he felt comfortable there, because it was his home turf. The Trident sets were generally his softer stuff: the stuff he was working out. I don’t think he tried to challenge the Trident customers very much.”3

Regardless of that, Guaraldi certainly felt comfortable enough in the Trident to deliver one of his rare live albums. In Person was recorded there December 4, 1962, and released the following summer; Guaraldi was joined by Eddie Duran (guitar), Fred Marshall (bass), Colin Bailey (drums) and Benny Velarde (scratcher).

The upscale atmosphere extended to the way Werber treated the talent. When the musicians arrived, they’d first set up on the stage — Guaraldi would make sure the piano was tuned — and then they’d wait in back, in Frank’s office. “It was very nice,” recalled Anne Sete, Bola Sete’s widow. “There’d be water for them, and a plate of food, with snacks and crackers and cheese. They were very well taken care of, like you were visiting a rich friend, who wanted you to feel welcome. Frank had worked with the Kingston Trio, and he knew about the ‘back room sitting on liquor boxes’ thing, and he knew the Trident could do better than that.

“The Trident was the place to be on weekends, in Sausalito. It probably held about 300 people, and had a small stage, but it was different than playing in a nightclub. A lot of artists had been hired to paint murals on the walls. The food was fabulous, and the people who went there wouldn’t have gone to North Beach. There was a dock right on the water, so people would bring their boats up, get out and climb up the stairs and see the show.

“The Trident is where [Fantasy Records co-founder] Max Weiss came up with his ‘grand idea.’ Vince had that handlebar mustache, which he often played with. So Max had these cardboard handlebar mustaches printed up, and he gave them out; they had little wooden handles so people could hold them up in front of their faces. So that was part of the fun: You’d look out into the audience and see all these Vince Guaraldi mustaches!”4

Alas, the refined atmosphere that Lou Ganopolar cultivated — he invariably was seen in a white shirt, black suit and tie — couldn’t last. As San Francisco’s jazz clubs began to vanish, the Trident clientele changed. “People would come in wearing outfits that were really far out,” laughed Joan Beeson, wife of bassist Tom Beeson. “They were artistic people, free-thinkers. It was fun; everybody had a good time. They weren’t really ‘club people,’ they were outside the box. It was a mix: very wealthy people and artists.”5

By 1966, the transformation was complete. The previously formal venue had adapted to embrace rock ‘n’ roll acts, psychedelic artwork — which extended to risqué menus — and “strikingly braless servers.”6 The latter are quite visible in a short film that was shot around this time. Guaraldi still appeared occasionally; he played a four-week session in the spring of 1967, and — moving with the times — brought his Electric Umbrella Quartet for some gigs in the summer of 1968.

Portions of Woody Allen’s 1972 comedy, Play It Again, Sam, were filmed at the Trident. (Alas, Guaraldi was not present.)

Robin Williams spent the summers of 1974 through ’76 working as a Trident busser.

It’s perhaps fitting that the Trident closed on November 21, 1976 — not in 1980, as numerous sources incorrectly claim — just nine months and change after Guaraldi died. The building remained empty for several years, and then in 1980 re-invented itself as a tourist attraction dubbed Horizons; it closed in 2012. The owners of San Francisco’s Buena Vista Café bought the property and gave it a total remodel and menu overhaul, with the specific goal of reviving the Trident. The “new” Trident opened in October 2012, and is with us to this day.

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1. Eddie Coleman, interview with the author, March 31, 2010.

2. Charles Gompertz, interview with the author, February 8, 2010.

3. Toby Gleason, interview with the author, April 17, 2010.

4. Anne Sete, interview with the author, March 26, 2010.

5. Joan Beeson, interview with the author, February 24, 2010.

6. Anonymous, “The Sausalito Trident Restaurant Returns,” 2012.

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