Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Jerry Granelli, drumming legend

Jerry Granelli, Fred Marshall and Vince Guaraldi caught on camera, for Ralph Gleason's
film Anatomy of a Hit, during their lengthy run at The Trident, in the summer of 1963.


“I wanted to be a gunslinger, when I was a kid,” Jerry Granelli admitted, during one of the long chats we shared 13 years ago. “The closest I could come was being a jazz musician. The [stand-up] comics and the jazz musicians hung out together. The jazz musicians loved the comics, and vice versa. We were outlaws; we lived in an underworld, at night.”

Jerry Granelli, the feisty hard-charging drummer who — with bassist Fred Marshall — formed Vince Guaraldi’s third “classic” trio, died Tuesday morning in his Halifax home.

 

As readers of this blog know, he’d been ill for months; indeed, he came very close to dying this past December, just before his 80th birthday. Recovery was slow, but that’s the frustrating part; he seemed to be beating it, and regaining his strength.

 

And then, suddenly, he left us yesterday morning.

 

There’s no shortage of laudatory coverage, and I won’t attempt to duplicate that ground here. The CBC has an excellent piece, as does JAZZ.FM91. Others are easy to find.

 

As I’ve said many times, during the past decade and change, nobody tells better stories than jazz musicians. (Nobody tells dirtier stories, either, but very few of those made it into my Guaraldi biography.) One of the most eye-opening came from Jerry, recalling an incident that took place in Southern California in early April 1963. The Guaraldi Trio was booked for a week at Los Angeles’ It Club; Miles Davis was headlining simultaneously nearby, at Shelly’s Manne Hole.

 

“Most people don’t know this,” Jerry told me, “but Miles Davis loved Vince; he even wanted Vince to come work with him. But Vince refused, saying, ‘Naaah … I already got a band, man.’

 

“Typical Vince. He had no fear of anyone, at that point.

 

“Anyway, Miles would come in every night, after his gig, and just sit there. He loved Vince’s tune, ‘Star Song.’ So Miles would have a drink and say, ‘Play that song, man.’ Every night! And it freaked me out, because it was Miles, man!”

 

All these years later, I still vividly remember the enthusiasm and awe in Jerry’s voice, as he concluded that anecdote.

 

Life changed for Guaraldi after A Charlie Brown Christmas, and — to this day — some snobbish critics continue to diminish Dr. Funk’s place in the jazz pantheon, as a result of that commercial success. I brought this up during a chat with Jerry this past March — our last, as it turned out — and his irritation was evident.

 

“The ‘jazz police’ thought that this happening to Vince — the success of A Charlie Brown Christmas, and the TV specials that followed — was some sort of sell-out. Yet when I’m standing around with some famous jazz musician, many of them, they say, ‘Man, I love that stuff; that made me want to play jazz.’ ”

 

Beginning in December 2013, and continuing each subsequent holiday season, Jerry and his trio toured Canada with annual presentations of his Tales of A Charlie Brown Christmas. The concerts blended the iconic music with his memories of working with Guaraldi, along with brief background on how that first TV special came to be. (He never brought his show to the States, more’s the pity.)

 

“A thousand people show up every night, at a different city in Canada,” Jerry told me. “We were playing somewhere, and after the show, this guy came up — obviously a biker, all decked out in leather — and he said, ‘Aw, that was great, man; that was fuckin’ great. I gotta go home and get my dad, because he fuckin’ loves this.’ And then, right after him, up comes a little kid from out west, who still writes to me.”

I mentioned that, in my own experience, I’ve encountered many, many people who remember where they were, how old they were, who they were with, when they saw A Charlie Brown Christmas the first time.

 

“Oh, I know they do,” Jerry agreed, “because they tell me about it.

 

“It’s like that show — that music — is alive; it changed a lot of things for a lot of people.”

 

And you changed a lot of things for a lot of us, Jerry.


The drum section in Heaven’s really big jazz band just got a lot stronger. 

1 comment:

Lone Wolf said...

Thanks for posting. It's musicians like this that unknowingly (at the time) weave so much into the public's consciousness that really deserve more attention. A consummate professional, he'll be missed.