Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Immortality for 'A Charlie Brown Christmas'

Guaraldi fans already know that immortality is assured for his groundbreaking score for A Charlie Brown Christmas, first heard nationally when the CBS-TV special debuted on December 9, 1965. After all, the album hasn't ever been out of print, and it continues to sell impressively well each year. But it's always nice to get official recognition, and in this country, "official" doesn't get better than the Library of Congress.

Under the terms of the National Recording Preservation Act of 2000, the Librarian of Congress, with advice from the Library’s National Recording Preservation Board (NRPB), is tasked every year with selecting 25 recordings that are "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant," and are at least 10 years old.

The recordings are housed in the Library's state-of-the-art Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation in Culpeper, Virginia. Nominations are gathered through online submissions from the public and from the NRPB, which comprises leaders in the fields of music, recorded sound and preservation.

"America's recorded-sound heritage has in many ways transformed the soundscape of the modern world, resonating and flowing through our cultural memory," said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. "Audio recordings have documented our lives and allowed us to share artistic expressions and entertainment. Songs, words and the natural sounds of the world that we live in have been captured on one of the most perishable of all of our art media. The salient question is not whether we should preserve these artifacts, but how best collectively to save this indispensable part of our history."

The selections for the 2011 registry — announced today — bring the total number of recordings to 350. This year's choices feature a diverse array of spoken-word and musical recordings, representing almost every musical category and spanning nearly a century, from 1888 to 1984. They cover a wide variety of sounds and music, ranging from CBS Radio newsman Edward R. Murrow's I Can Hear It Now, a curated collection of speech excerpts and news reports from 1933 to 1945; to the only known surviving recording of turn-of-the-20th century musical stage star Lillian Russell; to the 1943 New York Philharmonic debut of Leonard Bernstein and the innovative jazz of Stan Kenton.

And Vince Guaraldi's 1965 score for A Charlie Brown Christmas.

This is how the Library of Congress describes Guaraldi's album:

A Charlie Brown Christmas introduced jazz to millions of listeners. The television soundtrack album includes expanded themes from the animated “Peanuts” special of the same name, as well as jazz versions of both traditional and popular Christmas music, performed primarily by the Vince Guaraldi Trio. The original music is credited to pianist Guaraldi and television producer Lee Mendelson. Best remembered is the “Linus and Lucy” theme, originally composed by Guaraldi for an earlier “Peanuts” project, which remains beloved by fans of the popular television specials, those devoted to the daily newspaper comic strip, and music lovers alike.

Indeed. And how could I argue with that?

(Bonus points to the Library of Congress, as well, for recognizing that "Linus and Lucy" and some of the other themes used in A Charlie Brown Christmas first were composed for the never-aired 30-minute documentary, A Boy Named Charlie Brown.)

The entire list is fascinating, with a spread that jumps from Donna Summer, Prince and the Grateful Dead, to the Dixie Hummingbirds, Patsy Montana and Ruth Etting. By far the most fascinating item (sorry, Vince!) is an 1888 recording made by the short-lived Thomas Edison Company, speficially designed to be inserted into dolls, so that they would sing (!). This recording of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star," on a tiny tin cylinder, is the earliest known commercial sound recording in existence. Due to its poor condition, the recording was considered unplayable until 2011, when its surface was scanned in three dimensions using digital mapping tools created at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and developed in collaboration with the Library of Congress.

And it was considered time-consuming, back in the day, to press an LP from a master tape?

I have only one minor nit to pick. Each entry on the list is accompanied by an LP jacket (where appropriate) or some other suitable image. But the image used for A Charlie Brown Christmas comes from a much later CD cover, rather than the original Fantasy Records LP (reproduced above). 

A small detail, one might argue, but hey: It's important to get these things right!


Update on August 26, 2012:

Every wonder precisely what the Library of Congress physically archives, in such cases? Check Thomas G. Dennehy's blog to find out how his original LP copy of A Charlie Brown Christmas came to be selected for this honor.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Guaraldi in Bayou Country?

For a few overlapping years, both Vince Guaraldi and Creedence Clearwater Revival were housed at Fantasy Records; the rock band signed with the label toward the conclusion of Guaraldi's decade-long relationship with the company.

Nothing special about that, of course; Fantasy represented all sorts of acts, starting with Chinese opera (!) and jazz artists in the early 1950s, and progressing to folk, blues and rock as the musical landscape changed in the '60s.

But the "association" between Guaraldi and Creedence is intriguing for two reasons.

In the first place, the band eventually to be known as Creedence signed with Fantasy specifically because of Guaraldi. As discussed in this historical essay at the band's official web site, John Fogerty, Doug Clifford and Stu Cook -- billing themselves as the Blue Velvets -- started playing small-potatoes gigs and backing up San Francisco-area artists in 1959. John's older brother Tom came on board in 1960, at which point the band became known as Tommy Fogerty and the Blue Velvets. Despite cutting several singles on the Orchestra label, the boys didn't see any action during the first few years of this new decade.

Quoting now from the relevant paragraphs:

In 1963, a jazz artist named Vince Guaraldi put out a single called "Cast Your Fate To The Wind." It became that rarest of entities, a jazz instrumental hit. PBS did a special on the "Anatomy of a Hit." Watching this special, the band got excited when they discovered the label was Fantasy, across the bay in San Francisco. The fact that a local record company was breaking music on a national scale impressed the band. In March of 1964, John and Tom took some Blue Velvet original instrumentals to Fantasy, hoping to sell the tunes to Guaraldi.

The band's energy and audacity impressed Fantasy records co-founder Max Weiss. He signed them as a rock group rather than just for their instrumentals. He also suggested they change their name; the Blue Velvets sounding so passé and '50s. They chose The Visions. Between the time they recorded "Little Girl (Does Your Mama Know)" backed with "Don't Tell Me No Lies," and the release of the 45, Beatlemania happened. Hoping to capitalize on this, without having to go to England and sign a Merseybeat band, Weiss released the record as "The Golliwogs," a sobriquet the band would live with for the next three and a half years.

The assumption, then, is that if Guaraldi's "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" hadn't hit, the brothers Fogerty might never have approached Fantasy ... and who knows? Given the butterfly effect, they also might never have achieved their eventual fame.

As for the second reason the Guaraldi/Creedence pairing is interesting ... well, both ended up deeply unhappy with Fantasy. In early 1966, Guaraldi sued to be released from the label; the resulting legal skirmish took awhile to settle down, but in the end the pianist won his freedom ... and started earning a lot more money, since he no longer was bound by the hideous Fantasy contracts.

While Guaraldi and Fantasy were sparring, the Weiss brothers sold the label to Saul Zaentz, who had worked with the company for years. Zaentz championed the Fogerty brothers, encouraged the band to change its name, and the rest is rock history. Unfortunately, the relationship between the band and Zaentz became famously rocky, first as a result of an investment scheme that soured and prompted years' worth of lawsuits; and later when John Fogerty left Creedence and Fantasy, recorded a hit on another label ("The Old Man Down the Road") and was infamously sued by Zaentz ... for plagiarizing his own sound! Fogerty's eventual response — a song initially called "Zanz Kant Danz" — has become one of rock's best high-profile acts of revenge.

And there you have it: Guaraldi, Creedence and Fantasy Records. Who could have imagined it?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Charles Weckler: Behind the Camera

Since learning that Charles ("Chas") Adam Weckler Jr. photographed the cover of Guaraldi's Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus LP, I've done a spot of research; I've also exchanged several informative e-mails with his son, Chad, who has followed in his father's professional footsteps.

As we can read in the detailed essay posted by the Northern California branch of the American Society of Media Photographers, Chas Weckler (1924-2003) had quite an impressive and groundbreaking advertising career in the 1960s and '70s. He was the first to photograph the iconic image of the horse-drawn stagecoaches for Wells Fargo Bank, and he was the first to do "pictorial" images for the backgrounds of personal checks. He later started his own stock photography business, "Weckler's World," and in 1990 published the landmark book, Impressions of Giverney: Monet's World.

For our purposes, Weckler photographed four album covers for Fantasy jazz artist Vince Guaraldi.

Several dozen examples of Weckler's other work can be found in a photo gallery at his son Chad's website, and of course you'll also see Chad's pictures, as well.

"Vince was a fantastic artist, and a family friend," Chad tells me. "I met him many times. We would often go to the Trident, to hear him play. Vince's son David is a little younger than I am; we both attended Tamalpais High School.

"My Mom attended Vince's funeral, as my father was out of the country at the time.

"My father did many of his covers, many in our family house/studio in Sausalito. I was there for the Latin Side cover shoot."

I asked if unused photos might remain from any of those shoots, and the answer won't surprise anybody familiar with Fantasy's iron grip of control, back in the day.

"Those were the days of ... get paid by Fantasy, and hand over all of the film," Chad replied, with regret that radiated from his note. "So no, there are no out-takes."

But Chad is able to share a few delightful images. Longtime Guaraldi fans may recall Fantasy's genius promotional tool, used back in the early 1960s, which capitalized on Vince's signature mustache. Fantasy printed up thousands of these cardboard mustaches and made them available to patrons in the San Francisco jazz clubs where Guaraldi performed. Unfortunately, I've not yet found a club "group photo" of folks wearing these mustaches, akin to those famous 1950s pictures of movie theater patrons donning 3D glasses (but I'm still looking!).

As it happens, Chas Weckler also sported an impressive mustache.

"My father liked the Vince mustache give-away," Chad explains, "and replicated this for his own promo give-away. His real mustache was similar, but pointed."

And you can see the proof here!

A bit of investigation reveals that — in addition to the aforementioned Black Orpheus and Latin Side — Chas Weckler also shot the cover photo for Guaraldi's early anthology album, Jazz Impressions, along with guitarist Bola Sete's Fantasy album, Tour de Force. Guaraldi's first Fantasy album, Vince Guaraldi Trio, doesn't credit a photographer; neither do any of his three albums with Sete. Intriguingly, Guaraldi's In Person album does include a credit, but the photographer listed is Jim Weckler. A quick check with Chad confirmed my suspicion that Fantasy erred with this credit (as often happened, with Fantasy credits); Chad verified that his father shot Black Orpheus, Latin Side, Jazz Impressions, In Person and Sete's Tour de Force.

Additionally, Chas also did some promotional shots for Guaraldi, such as the 1967 D&D Associates advertising image that kicks off this blog entry.

"The blond girl with the paper mustache is my sister, Krissy," Chad added.

So, now we have more items on the to-do list: Identifying the LP cover photographer for Guaraldi's remaining Fantasy albums. Research never ends...

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Carel Werber speaks (although not to me)

Casual Guaraldi fans may have raised an eyebrow at the implications in the previous post, which discussed Shelby Flint's charting version of "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" ... and, thanks to the informative comment added by Chris Lee, the additional information about the very brief chart appearance male vocalist Steve Alaimo enjoyed with the same song.

But wait, I hear you cry. Isn't "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" an instrumental composition?

Indeed yes, as recorded by Guaraldi in 1962, and later covered — as the decades passed — by other jazz artists ranging from Quincy Jones and George Benson to Dave Brubeck and Guaraldi's protégé, Larry Vuckovich.

But as a purchase of the song's sheet music reveals, "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" also has lyrics that are credited to Carel (sometimes spelled Carol) Werber. And those lyrics allowed cover versions by vocalists such as Flint, Alaimo and other famous folks including Johnny Rivers and Mel Torme.

Fair enough. But why, then, didn't I mention the lyrics — or Carel — in my book?

Very simple: I never was able to get a line on her, regardless of how her first name was spelled. She's vexingly MIA on the Web, never mentioned at all in any of Ralph Gleason's San Francisco Chronicle jazz columns — or in any other vintage interviews with, or articles about, Guaraldi — and journalistic caution precluded commentary without at least some first-person input.

Imagine the mixed feelings that emerged, then, when my buddy Doug in D.C. sent a link to an interview Carel Rowe (her maiden name) granted KRTS 93.5 FM a few months back, on February 13. Host Ross Burns invited Rowe on his program, "Talk at Ten," to reminisce about her time with the Kingston Trio and the group's manager, Frank Werber, who married Carel after a whirlwind courtship in the summer of 1961. My feelings were mixed because it was great to hear a first-person account of her activities back in the day, but frustrating because it would have been far better to have that information before my book went to press. But that's the way it often goes (as I've lamented elsewhere in this blog).

Although booked to chat about the Kingston Trio, Carel spent far more time discussing how she met and married Werber, and how she subsequently met Guaraldi, and how she came to write the lyrics for "Cast Your Fate to the Wind." Indeed, Kingston Trio fans let their displeasure be known in the blogosphere, particularly since Carel (to put it as kindly as possible) damned the famed trio with very faint praise. But that really isn't our concern here.

The scoop, then, as recounted on Burns' radio show:

Carel began her college career while living at home and commuting to the University of Arizona, Tucson, where she became a cheerleader. The folk scene was a big deal in Tucson in the early 1960s, just as it was everywhere else, and she spent a lot of after-class hours hanging out with various musicians. One of these troubadours was Travis Edmonson, a rising folksinger soon to achieve fame as a member of the Gateway Singers, and also with his own duo, Bud (Dashiell) and Travis. Carel dated Edmonson and viewed the budding relationship as serious: serious enough that, when he left Arizona for San Francisco as the 1961 summer break started, she followed.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Shelby Flint's 'Fate'

Research is an endless task akin to cleaning a house: No matter how meticulous the approach, no matter how much time and effort are put into the work, there's always another overlooked corner waiting to be scoured. At some point, though, one must call it a day and get on with life.

So it was, toward the end of the roughly three years I spent actively gathering data, conducting interviews, preparing outlines and then actually writing what became my book, Vince Guaraldi at the Piano. The writing too frequently was interrupted by a fresh quest prompted by a nugget of information in a newspaper article, or a casual aside in the transcription of an interview with one of Guaraldi's former sidemen. I love investigative research; it suits both my scrupulous nature and romantic notions of being a private detective. Writing is hard; sifting data is fun. No surprise, then, that I frequently postponed the former in order to indulge in more of the latter.

Too frequently, as it turned out. And each new bit of discovered information made the manuscript longer by a sentence, a paragraph or a page. A writer who yields too often to such impulses will a) wind up with a manuscript that's much too long; or b) never finish the book at all. Or both.

I finally had to stop, submit the final, polished edit to my publisher, and walk away ... knowing, with certainty, that the moment the contents of the book became set in stone (well, on paper), I'd think of something else that should have been included.

I therefore wasn't surprised, a few weeks ago — which was a few weeks after the book was released — when I woke one morning, having recalled something that hadn't properly registered when I first came across it. Something I read, something somebody said ... I didn't know which. A simple statement to the effect that the song "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" had "charted" three times, referring to landings on the Billboard pop chart. And that statement, freshly remembered, brought me up short.

Three times?

Only two leaped to mind: the 19 weeks that Guaraldi's own version of his song had spent on the charts, in late 1962 and 1963; and the 13 weeks of chart action enjoyed in 1965 by the cover version delivered by the British group Sounds Orchestral. I could not recall having come across a third artist or band that also had a hit single with the song.

So I went looking.

Mercifully, the hunt was short. California-born singer Shelby Flint enjoyed an eight-week run with "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" in 1966, from August 13 through October 4: six weeks on the Top 100 chart, and a slightly overlapping seven weeks on the Top 40 Easy Listening chart. It was Flint's second and final Top 100 single, after 1961's "Angel on My Shoulder." She enjoyed a modest but noteworthy pop career in the 1960s, releasing a handful of albums, one of them prompted by her success with Guaraldi's hit song. She was praised by jazz critic Leonard Feather, and cited as a role model by Joni Mitchell. Flint went on to work in film and television; she eventually gravitated more toward jazz, and her 1992 album Providence remains a high point of her later career. Like Guaraldi, she also enjoyed a Peanuts connection, albeit a brief one; she sang Lila's theme — "Do You Remember Me?" — in the second big-screen Peanuts film, 1972's Snoopy Come Home.

Obviously, she should have been mentioned in my book; neglecting her chart action with "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" was an unfortunate oversight.

An oversight which, happily, can be set right here.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Johnny Mathis Connection

During the Guaraldi trio's lengthy 1955 run as the house band at San Francisco's hungry i -- as discussed in Chapter 3 of my book -- the combo was approached one day by Helen Noga, who with her husband John owned two other jazz clubs in the city: the Blackhawk and the Downbeat.

Helen Noga wanted a favor, as Guaraldi bassist Dean Reilly recounts, in my book. She had discovered a young, talented singer, and wanted Guaraldi's trio to back him for an audition tape. The trio members agreed -- guitarist Eddie Duran being the third member -- and spent an afternoon at the Blackhawk, laying down the tracks.

"The tapes were sent to Columbia Records," Reilly concludes, "and it wasn't long before most everyone knew the name of that 19-year-old singer: Johnny Mathis."

Drummer Al Torre, who worked alongside Guaraldi later that decade, when both were members of Cal Tjader's Quintet, just sent me a note, having reached that part of the book. I'll let him take over:


I'm about halfway through your book, and am really impressed with the work you have done. You've definitely captured Vince Guaraldi's personality, and I'm learning a lot of things about him that I didn't know.

On page 41, you describe Helen Noga introducing Vince and company to Johnny Mathis and they, in turn, producing an audition tape of Mathis' songs for Helen to take to New York. At that time, I was a member of the Virgil Gonsalves sextet: Clyde Pound, piano; Ed Coleman, bass; Mike Downs, trumpet; Danny Patiris, tenor sax; Gonsalves, baritone sax; and me on drums. We were playing the Blackhawk, and Mathis used to sit in with us. Helen asked us to do a demo tape for him, so Clyde, Ed and I spent an afternoon at the Blackhawk, recording Johnny's material. 

Knowing Helen and her aggressiveness, it's understandable that she would have had two different bands record for Johnny. This is the first that I've heard of Vince's involvement. At one point, while on the Cal Tjader band, we crossed paths with Mathis, but neither Vince nor I ever mentioned those tapes.

After Cal Tjader disbanded the group in the spring of 1958, I got a call from Mathis' manager to go on the road with them. I declined, because of my recent marriage and the fact that I was enrolled in college, working on my second career in engineering, before joining IBM in December 1958. Looking back and seeing the state of the jazz scene today, I made the right decision.

I love your book, and will try to get everyone I know to purchase a copy.


Needless to say, an endorsement from Al means the world to me ... and I got a new anecdote to add to this blog, in the bargain!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Guaraldi's career: Nailing down every event

The third disc of Stan Getz's four-CD set, The Bossa Nova Years, is playing as these words are typed: a languid, lovely reminder of the film Black Orpheus; the subsequent explosion of sensual, Latin-hued music in the U.S. pop world of the early 1960s; and the impact both had on Guaraldi's career. I'd love to have been in the adjacent seat, the first time he saw that film in a San Francisco movie theater. Ralph Gleason got the pianist to reflect on that seminal moment in the charming 1963 film, Anatomy of a Hit, but of course hindsight isn't the same as being present in the moment.

Guaraldi's life was filled with such moments, many of them taking place during otherwise ordinary gigs at greater Bay Area jazz clubs such as the Blackhawk, the hungry i, Outside at the Inside, the Trident and El Matador. One of my many "getting ready" exercises, while preparing the outline and itinerary that prefaced my plunge into the actual writing of my book, was an attempt to identify where he performed, and when, for as much of his life as possible. This began as a useful chronology; it quickly blossomed into an obsession. If I knew where he was for the first few weeks of, say, November 1968, I had to clock his movements for the rest of that month (which I was unable to do, alas).

I got lucky at times. Guaraldi's mother saved many things, such as the three-page itinerary of his 1956 winter and spring tour with Woody Herman's Third Herd; it wasn't complete, but ads in newspapers across the country helped fill many of the holes. Herman was a very popular draw; most of his band's performances were publicized.

The San Francisco Chronicle's entertainment section also was a blessing, as it listed who was appearing at every greater Bay Area club during the upcoming week. I had to be careful, though; I discovered that those bookings sometimes changed after the paper had gone to press, and that -- at other times -- careless reporters occasionally made mistakes. At times, a listing would claim one thing, but the given club's display ad -- on the same page! -- contained entirely different information. 

That phase of the research would have been much easier if the Chronicle -- and its companion paper, the San Francisco Examiner -- had entered the 21st century and made its archives available online. Alas, it seems the Chronicle and Examiner are destined to be the last big-city U.S. papers to make that transition (and they still haven't). The only option? The painful study, day by day, of the four or five pages of entertainment news via a microfilm reader. (My eyes are still crossed.)

The effort was worthwhile, though, because a portrait of Guaraldi's career began to take shape, which helped immensely during the subsequent construction of the book's narrative. But this was only the Bay Area: just part of the picture. Guaraldi toured a lot during the first 15 years of his career, whether on his own or as a member of units fronted by Woody Herman or Cal Tjader. I'd get occasional hits with respect to specific stops in larger markets, thanks to papers such as the Chicago Tribune, the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times (all of which do have online archives). Daily Variety, Variety and Billboard also were great help, and here's something I was delighted to discover: Google Books has made every single issue of Billboard available online, at no charge. What a Godsend!

The resulting timeline blossomed to a size and scope that outgrew the eventual destination for its data. Much of the information wound up between the covers of my book, but I didn't want the reader -- particularly the casual reader -- to drown in minutia. Ergo, much got left behind. But I also didn't want the information -- and the effort required to compile it -- to go to waste. Enter the Vince Guaraldi Timeline, a companion web page designed to complement Vince Guaraldi at the Piano. This web chronology contains everything I learned about Guaraldi's movements, along with who played at his side, when known. It's a "living" document; new information continues to surface all the time. 

Which leads to the obvious request: If you remember seeing Guaraldi perform at a particular venue, on a particular date, please get in touch. If you're one of Guaraldi's former sidemen, and you recall being with him at a particular gig -- note all the timeline entires with "sidemen unspecified" -- please get in touch. If you know of a gig I left out, absolutely get in touch. If you saved a poster from one of the many "group gigs" Guaraldi joined during his latter-career appearances at Bay Area rock and folk clubs, please get in touch. If you took pictures -- even ill-focused snapshots -- please get in touch. If you saved a souvenir program, or a newspaper ad such as the one at the top of this post, please get in touch. 

Despite the wealth of information in this document, many, many gaps remain ... all waiting to be filled.

Think of it as your contribution to history!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Vince Guaraldi at the Piano: The publicity machine sputters into life

Writing a book, and then getting it published, is only half the battle these days. Absent the sort of name-brand recognition granted a William Shakespeare, an Agatha Christie, a Leo Tolstoy or a J.K. Rowling, today's authors are pretty much left to fend for themselves, when it comes to marketing and promotion. And since all authors are in the same boat, attempting to row faster toward salvation at the hands of the same radio, television or Web outlets, it can be hard to rise above the tide (he said, beating the metaphor to death).

I'm luckier than some; Vince Guaraldi has become a popular topic once again, and his life is filled with the sort of engaging narrative material that generates good sound bites. I've therefore secured some nice publicity already, with (one hopes) more to come. Such appearances will be archived in this post, mostly so I have all of them in a single place, and also so that my parents can find them easily. And I dearly hope that the links here will increase in number, at least for a little while.

Yes, this is self-serving; my apologies, and I'll try not to stoop this low too often. But -- in my defense -- I've always wondered, when reading or hearing other interviews, how much "prep time" interviewers allow themselves. Do the questions suggest a level of familiarity that bespeaks having actually cracked the covers of the book? Or are we simply getting the obvious talking points?

Again, I've been fortunate; jazz radio hosts want to read the book, and I've even fared well with National Public Radio folks. The burden has been on me, then, not to recycle the same anecdotes with each interviewer. I'm working on that...

If you're curious, then, I'll try to hold your interest during these pieces...

• My first radio interview, airing April 24, 2012, on Davis, California's homegrown radio station, KDRT 95.7, "where the grass roots grow." Host Bill Buchanan prepped extensively for our half-hour chat, having made notes as he read the book: a level of dedication for which I was grateful.

• Jazz buff Kevin Kniestedt, who hosts Jazz on the Grooveyard on Seattle/Tacoma's KPLU 88.5, chatted with me for about half an hour; he deftly edited the results into this engaging podcast, which he posted on May 2, 2012.

• KXJZ 90.9, one of Sacramento's NPR stations, very generously offered me a spot on their morning public affairs show, Insight, on May 7, 2012. Emmy Award-winning Beth Ruyak, in the host's chair, led me through several good questions, concluding with one that still gives me pause: What words would I use, to describe Guaraldi to somebody who didn't know his music? That's a challenge, and I tried to do it justice.

• The following day, May 8, 2012, our local newspaper -- The Davis Enterprise -- granted me a very nice spread on Page 3: right-hand side of the page, where the story couldn't be missed by readers. Reporter Jeff Hudson clearly spent some time with the book, before walking me through an intense 40 minutes of questions; he skillfully distilled the responses into a solid story that blends personal anecdotes (mine) with plenty of good, hard information and "bullet points" about Guaraldi's career.

• All About Jazz, the Web's premiere information source for all things jazz, surprised me with an offer to post an excerpt from the book. I was pleased to comply, and on May 8, 2012, they kindly published my book's prologue, as a "teaser" designed to whet reader appetite.

FoundSF, an historical web site devoted to sharing essays, memoirs, oral histories, personal anecdotes, photos, videos and book extracts about the life, times and history of San Francisco, California, graciously included a short excerpt from my book, which I titled "Vince Guaraldi at the hungry i." This debuted May 22, 2012.

• That same evening, May 22, 2012, the Davis radio station KDRT delighted me with another slice of publicity. Don Shor, host of the weekly show "Jazz After Dark," devoted his entire program to Guaraldi: selections by the San Francisco pianist himself, and covers by later "keepers of the flame" such as Dave Brubeck, David Benoit and George Benson. Don also mentioned my book: darn decent of him!

• Guaraldi spent his final decade living in Marin, California, where his activities were followed by the region's daily newspaper, the Independent Journal. I'm therefore quite pleased by this article/interview that ran May 25, 2012, in what once was Guaraldi's "paper of record." Longtime IJ reporter Paul Liberatore did a very nice job (and I'm pleased that he enjoyed the book so much!).

• Short but very sweet: Chris Smith, a longtime reporter and columnist for the Press Democrat in Santa Rosa, California, gave me a nice plug on June 28 for my reading and multi-media presentation that was scheduled for the following day (June 29) at the Charles M. Schulz Museum. Chris has been a kind and generous friend and colleague over the years, and I'm always grateful for the attention he pays to my various appearances in his home city. 

• A few months back, I had a lengthy and very enjoyable chat with Jon Norton, music director of Illinois State University's Jazz Radio WGLT. This resulted in three short podcasts, the first of which went live Saturday, July 7; the second followed on July 17, and the third on July 23. You can find them here, at WGLT's Jazz Next site. You also can sign up for it as an iTunes podcast here.

• Jazz journalist and historican Doug Ramsey gave the book a nice shout-out on July 15, on his Rifftides blog. If this is your first visit, be sure to poke around; you'll find a lot of great reportage.

• I spent a delightful hour chatting with DJ Alan Rock, at WUCF in Orlando, Florida, on the morning of July 17: what would have been Guaraldi's 84th birthday. Sadly, this hasn't been archived at WUCF, and could only be heard live that day.

• That same day — also by way of celebrating Guaraldi's birthday — WJSU in Jackson, Mississippi, aired a nicely edited piece from an interview I had with Larissa Hale a few weeks earlier. This piece has been posted at WJSU; scroll down to the "Take 5" button, and look for my name.

• Jeff Dayton-Johnson's lengthy, thoughtful and quite complimentary review of my book debuted July 31 at the indispensable allaboutjazz web site. I spent a lot of time at allaboutjazz, referencing biographical information about many of the music giants whose paths crossed Guaraldi's. Jeff defends his points well, and obviously knows whereof he speaks, with respect to so many other aspects of jazz in general, and Guaraldi's career in particular. I'm very grateful for the review, and I'm equally sure that it'll be the most scholarly commentary I'm likely to receive.

• Jazz journalist, author and broadcaster Bob Bernotas gave my book a nice plug in the September issue of his e-newsletter, Just Jazz, which hit subscriber e-mailboxes on August 30. (I love it when folks cite my "meticulous research." Makes all those dark hours spent at the library's newspaper microfilm readers seem worthwhile!)

• On July 16, I spent close to 90 minutes taping a session with DJ Alisa Clancy at KCSM in San Mateo, California. Alisa also interviewed Colin Bailey, Eddie Duran, Dean Reilly and other individuals who once worked with Guaraldi; the result — Vince Guaraldi: The Story of Dr. Funk, an impressive feature running close to two hours — aired at 7 a.m. (PST) Friday, September 7, as part of KCSM's pledge drive. Copies of my book were offered during the breaks, as pledge gifts. The program was so well received that it repeated at 10 a.m. (PST) Sunday, September 16. Unfortunately, the show doesn't seemed to be archived at KCSM, which is really a shame; Alisa did a superb job, and I wish more people could hear the results.

• I gave a reading and audio/visual presentation at 7 p.m. Thursday, September 13, at the St. Helena (California) Public Library; this was very much like the program I delivered to a full house at the Charles M. Schulz Museum theater, on June 29, in Santa Rosa, California. Alas, the St. Helena event was sparsely attended, although the few folks present were polite and attentive.

• I got up early on Friday, October 26, for a nice chat with Derrick Lucas, one of the DJs on WGMC, out of Rochester, New York. He got a kick out of the fact that "two Derricks" were chatting on the air (and so did I, particularly since he spells his name the same way!). The chat ran about 25 minutes, with some Guaraldi tunes sprinkled throughout, and was one of the "special events" taking place during the station's pledge break. Sadly, the interview isn't archived on the station's Web site, so I can't point you to a link.

I returned to the Charles M. Schulz Museum at 4 p.m. Saturday, November 3. This was a truly special event; I supported pianist David Benoit, who performed a selection of Guaraldi's signature tunes. The music was blended with information and anecdotes about Guaraldi, which I supplied between songs: a bit of history, leading to a particular tune, which Benoit then performed, repeat a dozen or so times. We filled the Museum's Great Hall, and a marvelous time was had by all. I wish we could take that show on the road!

• Way back in early June, I spent a very enjoyable 90 minutes in the studio at Portland, Oregon's KMHD, chatting with operations manager Raoul van Hall. He's clearly an avid Guaraldi fan, and often plays at least one Guaraldi track during his weekly show; we covered all sorts of territory during an interview that lasted so long, that the engineer finally placed a hand-scribbled sign against the studio glass, which read "Do you really plan to use all this?" That might have been nice, but no; of course not. Raoul worked hard and edited our talk down to just shy of half an hour, and it finally aired Saturday afternoon, November 24. It was archived in the "Blog" section of KMHD's web site, and can be found here.

• Publicity went international on November 26, when I was included in a brief discussion of A Charlie Brown Christmas on Germany's Deutschlandfunk. The result is rather trippy; each time I began to talk, the first words are at regular volume, and then my voice dials back for a radio station voice-over in German. You can hear the 5-minute spot here, and read the transcript here ... assuming you read German, of course!

• Producer Simone Wienstroer was able to place a longer version of that same feature on a second German radio network, WDR5, where it aired Monday, January 28, on the program Neugier Genügt. Alas, this version wasn't posted on the Web.

That'll probably be it for the "immediately after publication" wave; things have pretty much stopped at this point. But I'm not complaining; I got a lot of publicity from quite a few sources during most of 2012. Now we'll see if the book has "legs," as they say in Hollywood. Fingers crossed!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Guaraldi and the Grateful Dead: Yes, no, maybe?

One of the most enduring and tantalizing mysteries regarding Guaraldi's career is whether he performed with the Grateful Dead: an actual concert, at a public venue.

Plenty of folks insist that yes, it happened; a few photographs suggest as much ... but the person in question cannot positively be identified as Guaraldi. It's known that Guaraldi occasionally played with Jerry Garcia at the Matrix's Monday night jam sessions during the late 1960s; Guaraldi and Garcia also fronted a quartet -- with bassist Seward McCain and drummer Mike Clark -- during the summer of 1972 (venue unknown, alas!). But those were gigs with Garcia, not the Dead ... and despite all the tapes available, and all the archive material carefully saved by Deadheads, smoking-gun proof of Guaraldi's participation with the Dead has yet to be found.

All of which makes the ongoing debate even more enticing. I'll turn the rest of this post over to my colleage and Dead historian Corey, who runs his own blog, which you'll want to investigate.


Congratulations on the new book. What's a better place than a blog to speculate on the unknown? Let me pose a question, and anyone who has any information, insights or recovered memories (real or imagined) is encouraged to respond.

Any idea what Vince Guaraldi was doing on New Year's Eve 1968-69? Because jamming with the Grateful Dead fits a number of timelines. Various parties--Jerry Garcia, Dead road manager Bill Belmont and Dead keyboardist Tom Constanten, among others--all agree that Vince sat in on stage with the Dead, but no one can recall exactly when. So let me take a stab at proposing that at least one of those times was New Year's Eve 68'/69 at Winterland.

Some points:

1) During this period, the Dead were booked by Bill Graham's Millard Agency. The band had borrowed $12000 from Graham, and they paid it back by making Graham (Millard) their booking agent. Bill Belmont went on tour with them to collect Graham's money (to be fair, he was a friend and ally, but he was on tour at Graham's behest). The Millard period for the Dead was roughly Fall '68 to Summer '69, so that brackets Belmont's time as an eyewitness to a Guaraldi/Dead jam.

2) NYE '68 at Winterland featured 3 Millard bands (GD, Santana, Its A Beautiful Day, along with Quicksilver), and it must have been a staff party as well as an event. Gretchen (Vince's girlfriend, and BGP employee) would have been there, right, regardless of which Graham entity she worked for at the time? So that makes Vince's presence plausible. Also, the show went on until dawn, so Vince could have done something with his family, put them to bed, drove over to Winterland and still had 5 hours left to hang out.

3) No one remembers a thing about this show except that it was "legendary." I have a blog post about this subject:

Interestingly, a few commenters dredge up a flashback or two--Quicksilver seems to have played at midnight, not the Dead, for example. So the Dead's second set would have been at 3 am or something. If Vince played with the Dead on their second set on New Year's Eve, sometime between 3 and 6am, this would explain a few things. Jerry Garcia, Tom Constanten and Bill Belmont are sure that Vince played with the Dead, but can't remember when, there were no eyewitness accounts because all witnesses auto-deleted (the person who comments on my blog concedes that he remembers nothing after midnight). 

Belmont is confident that Vince jammed, but can't remember when. Since Belmon't job was to collect money for Graham, he wasn't going to get wrecked in Chicago or Texas, but at what was in effect a BGP house party in San Francisco? Batter up.

If Constanten suffered "electrical damage" in the wee hours, whose to say that Vince didn't sit down and let it fly? As I said, I had been under the impression that Vince would have played melodic jazz on a Fender Rhodes. Now I realize he wanted to hammer down the organ stops so he could hear it through a Leslie magnified by a dozen souped up MacIntosh amps. New Year's Eve as dawn approached would be a fine opportunity for Vince to have some fun with the Dead, apparently fondly but fuzzily remembered by anyone there. Much of the audience would have had no idea who Vince was--for that matter, they wouldnt have known who Constanten was either.

Just a thought. Don't know who's around who would still know, and of course if they were there they forgot. Still, maybe someone remembers something, and it would be nice to nail down the mysterious Dead/Guaraldi jams for certain.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Cast Your Fate to the Wind: Album photo credit

I constantly marvel at the degree to which the Internet permits instant communication between like-minded individuals, often from different parts of the world. Such conversations do much (in this particular case) to help keep a book alive, and shed additional light on details that remained undiscovered at the point of publication.

Uwe, an avid Guaraldi fan from Germany, recently purchased my book; during the customary riffling of pages that often prefaces the act of sitting down and reading, he noticed that the credit for the image of the LP jacket cover to Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus (page 117) reads "photographer not indentified." This tweaked Uwe's memory, and he immediately sent me a note and directed me to this page on the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, which discusses the album cover and includes commentary by photographer Chas Weckler, who took the picture in question. Weckler even discusses what went into designing and obtaining the photo.

What a great coup! Another piece of information nailed down, and an engaging anecdote to go with it.

It should be noted, however, that Weckler is mistaken when he mentions that this LP cover -- aside from the Peanuts albums -- was the only one not to include a photo of Guaraldi himself. In the interests of generating some replies, props to the first person who correctly identifies the other Guaraldi albums -- released during his lifetime, on either the Fantasy or Warners label -- that don't feature Vince on the cover. I'll further specify that I mean albums starring Guaraldi as the leader of his own combo, as opposed to the many on which he performed as a sideman in somebody else's group.

I'm much obliged, Uwe. Do visit us again!

Monday, May 7, 2012

A global welcome

Toby Gleason — son of former San Francisco Chronicle music critic Ralph Gleason, who in the 1960s became both Guaraldi's good friend and ad-hoc publicist — once perceptively referred to Vince Guaraldi as "the most famous jazz musician whose name nobody knows."

If fame is equated with artistic recognition, that statement speaks truth. People all over the world are familiar with Guaraldi's most frequently heard compositions for the early (1960s and '70s) Peanuts TV specials; many of the folks who don't know — or don't know how to pronounce — Guaraldi's name also mis-identify the most famous of those tunes. It's "Linus and Lucy," not "The Peanuts Theme."

But Guaraldi deserves recognition for much more than that, which led to my transition from avid fan to official biographer. My book, Vince Guaraldi at the Piano, was published last month by McFarland Press ... although, perhaps somewhat stubbornly, I've actually resisted the term "biography." I prefer to call this book a "career study," since it focuses primarily on Guaraldi's artistic output, and charts his life not by personal milestones, but by his many noteworthy musical accomplishments: his apprenticeship as a member of several Cal Tjader combos, and of big bands fronted by Woody Herman; his entry to Top 40 fame with "Cast Your Fate to the Wind," a song that might never have cracked the pop charts at all, absent the involvement of a radio DJ in Sacramento, California; his attraction to the emerging bossa nova sound of the late 1950s, and the perfect stylistic collaboration that resulted, a few years later, with Brazilian guitarist Bola Sete; and — last, but certainly not least — Guaraldi's development and performance of the Grace Cathedral Jazz Mass, the first such jazz mass performed during a religious service in the United States. (We take such musical events for granted in the 21st century; in the mid-'60s, it was nothing short of revolutionary.)

The latter accomplishment alone is arguably more significant than the rich portfolio of tunes that put the swing in Charlie Brown's step, and yet when folks think "Grace Cathedral" and "jazz," they're more likely to remember Duke Ellington ... whose September 16 Sacred Music concert came months after Guaraldi paved the way, on May 21, 1965.

My book was prompted by a desire to grant Guaraldi better recognition for this, and many other artistic accomplishments. Projects of this nature, though, are an endless task like housework: There's always something else to be discovered in some tucked-away corner. My rapidly expanding word count, as I revised draft after draft, finally demanded closure at just shy of 400 pages (and I'm grateful to my McFarland editor, for tolerating a final draft that clocked in at 50,000 words longer than we originally discussed!). I do believe that the finished book stands well on its own, as a testament to Guaraldi's career ... but (of course!) there's always more information to be ferreted out, more former sidemen to contact and interview, more rumored recordings to seek.

This blog, then, will be the home of such an ongoing conversation. Dry, dusty facts can be found on a companion document — the Vince Guaraldi Timeline — where you can look up where he played when, and with whom. But this is the place for more convivial chatter, and I look forward to reading anecdotes and memories from folks who recall seeing Guaraldi perform. For that matter, I'm always curious to hear about your favorite Guaraldi tunes; he may not have lived his four score and ten, but he left us a rich catalogue of music ... both original compositions and "cover" arrangements of jazz standards and 1960s pop tunes. No matter what he played, though, he was always unmistakably Vince. You simply can't hear a Guaraldi performance without knowing it's him.

So ... let the conversation begin!