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.

Carel enrolled in a summer session at UC Berkeley. As soon as she and her new roommate completed dorm registration, they drove across the Bay Bridge and into San Francisco, seeking North Beach's blue-domed Columbus Tower. Frank Werber, managing the incredibly successful Kingston Trio, had his offices there; Carel had been led to believe that she could reach Edmonson through Werber's professional contacts.

As Carel related the tale, she ran into the office, mentioned Edmonson, left her name and address, and dashed back out to enjoy some time in the city. By the time she and her roomie returned to their Berkeley dorm, the entire place was buzzing: The Kingston Trio had dropped by, leaving signed LPs for fans. Carel had fared better: She received three dozen roses and a note from Werber, who had been enchanted by her brief appearance in his office. And thus began the aforementioned whirlwind courtship.

On their very first date, Frank took Carel to the Yacht Dock, in nearby Sausalito, where she met Guaraldi: "a gnome-like character with a walrus mustache and a big grin," she recalled.

"I first heard 'Cast Your Fate to the Wind' on that first date with Frank," Carel continued. "It was like a scene in Casablanca: Frank sauntered into the club, introduced me to Vince and said, 'Okay, Vince, play it for her.' It was just Vince that day, with no band. It was a remarkable experience, to hear that song."

[Blogmaster's note: During her radio interview, Carel slid back and forth between identifying this venue as the Yacht Dock and the Trident ... no surprise, really, since the former became the latter. If Werber brought her there in June of 1961, it still would have been the Yacht Dock, where Guaraldi was booked for at least part of that month. Then he and his trio were at the Jazz Workshop in nearby San Francisco, in July; when Guaraldi returned to the Sausalito venue, on August 8, it was to celebrate the club's re-opening as the Trident. The Kingston Trio had purchased the place, and Werber ran it. So Carel either met Guaraldi at the Yacht Dock in June, or at the Trident in August.]

But back to the song.

" 'Cast Your Fate to the Wind' was a gorgeous jazz melody," Carel continued, "and I loved it right away. But Vince said, 'Well, it needs words.' Frank suggested that I write some, so I said I would. And I did.

"It was easy for me to provide the words, because the tune was so strong. I wrote the lyrics as I was whizzing back and forth over the Golden Gate Bridge [to and from Sausalito]. Every time I took a trip across the bridge, I added more lyrics to Vince's melody.

"But nobody knew, except me, that it was a ballad about Travis Edmonson."

[Blogmaster's note: And doesn't that make you want to drag out an old LP an listen to those lyrics again!]

Despite the great time she had with Werber, Carel returned home to Arizona at the end of the summer, to go back to school. But Frank followed her, asked her parents for her hand in marriage, and the deal was sealed. And that's how Carel went, in the space of a single summer, "from cheerleader to trophy wife" (in her own words).

And that was pretty much the end of Carel's "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" memories. Burns played snatches of three versions during the course of his hour-long show: Guaraldi's original recording and covers by Mel Torme and the We Five (the latter a "Trident Production" that was recorded at Werber's Trident Recording Studios).

Now, some facts and a few open-ended questions:

Guaraldi's version of "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" was released — on his Fantasy LP, Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus — on April 18, 1962. He has sole composer credit for the song, which would not have been the case if Carel had registered her lyrics in 1961. (She didn't. A search of the U.S. Copyright Office archives reveals that her copyright for the lyrics was issued on January 2, 1963 ... which is much more consistent with the song's established timeline.)

Ralph Gleason's 90-minute documentary about the song, Anatomy of a Hit, was made in 1963 and released in early 1964. In a film that goes into exhaustive detail about "Cast Your Fate to the Wind," no mention is made of Carel Werber or lyrics. Frank Werber is interviewed several times during the film; even he never says a word about lyrics (or his wife).

Guaraldi's 1963 Grammy Award went to him alone; he didn't share the honor with anybody.

So while I certainly credit Carel for the song's lyrics, if she did write them during the summer of 1961, she sure kept a low profile!

It's interesting to note, as well, that Guaraldi and Werber were both friends and business partners when the two signed a contract on August 27, 1961 — calling themselves Friendship Music — to co-produce the songs "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" and "Alma-Ville," both recorded on Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus. Interesting, that is, because Friendship Music never produced another Guaraldi song; indeed, although the pianist continued to perform at the Trident throughout the 1960s, he rarely mentioned Werber after 1964. I've often wondered about that: How could both a friendship and a professional relationship have gone off the radar so quickly?

The questions: Might Frank Werber have encouraged his wife to copyright and register her lyrics after Guaraldi had an instrumental hit with his song, so that fresh money could be made by licensing its use to eager vocalists? And, if so, might this have been done without Guaraldi's approval?

Back to hard data: Jazz singer Mel Torme apparently was first out of the gate, when he released a vocal cover of "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" on the Atlantic label, in the spring of 1963 ... right around the time Guaraldi's instrumental single was completing its 19-week run on Billboard's Hot 100 Chart. Although Torme's version made no particular impression in this country, it was a hit in Australia, where it climbed to No. 4 on May 25, 1963. The single credits "Guaraldi-Werber" for the song.

Oddly, I find no evidence of other vocalists covering the song in 1963 or '64. But the floodgates opened the following year, starting (I believe) with Steve Alaimo, in the spring. In short order, other vocal renditions arrived from Johnny Rivers, the Anita Kerr Singers, Shelby Flint, the Sandpipers and the We Five. In each case, the LP credits both Guaraldi and (usually) "C. Werber" for the song.

Numerous instrumental covers of "Fate" also were released in 1965 and '66, but they'll be the subject of another post. And in these cases — at least on the LPs I own, or have seen — Guaraldi receives sole credit. It therefore appears that BMI regarded the song as two different entities, when it came to defining composer royalties and assigning credit: Guaraldi alone, on the instrumental original and all subsequent instrumental covers; and Guaraldi and Werber together, on vocal covers.

Although "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" has continued to enjoy an active life over the years, in the hands of other musicians, almost all subsequent versions have been instrumental covers. One very recent exception comes from Herb Alpert and Lani Hall, who released a lovely vocal arrangement on their 2011 album I Feel You.

And that's the saga of Carel Werber's involvement with "Cast Your Fate to the Wind," as it can be pieced together thus far. Perhaps one day additional information will come to light, granting a more detailed explanation of the intriguing two-year delay between the lyrics' creation and their performance debut.


Unknown said...

Thanks for this informative and interesting post (I'm now even gladder I sent you that link!). A few quick thoughts:

As I recall from the interview, Carel didn't know Vince particularly well. (During the interview, she pronounced his surname "jur-aldi," rather than with a hard G sound. In your experience, have any of his family or sidemen ever pronounced it that way?)

I agree with your telling observation about the lack of any mention of Carel or lyrics in Frank Werber's circa-1963 "Anatomy of a Hit" interviews. To my mind that indicates a later date for the lyrics, and underscores their role as, at best, a compositional afterthought. (I confess to not thinking too much of the lyrics and, consequently, am not a big fan of any of the vocal versions of "Fate" that I've heard. In my book, nothing compares to the instrumental original.)

The thing I remember most about Frank Werber's "Anatomy" interviews was how pointedly he suggested that Vince was being mismanaged and having his commercial potential thwarted (a thesis all but confirmed by the relentless buffoonery and amateur patter in the Max Weiss/Saul Zaentz scenes in the film).

Derrick Bang said...

To answer the one question, no, I've never heard the name pronounced Jurr-awl-dee. It's always Guh-rawl-dee, accent on the first syllable.

And while I agree that the instrumental versions of "Fate" are the recordings of choice, I do like some of the vocals; the recent Herb Alpert/Lani Hall cover is quite nice.

Unknown said...

To be fair, I haven't yet heard the Alpert/Hall cover, which (being a big fan of Herb's 1960s work) I'm definitely going to track down. And I'm not sure why my posts are showing up as posted by "Unknown" (the problem is the Google Account interface at my end, I think). I think you can guess who this is, but for the moment, I'm going to savor the minor air of mystery that I'm adding to these enjoyable blog posts...

Derrick Bang said...

Well, I know who it is, but nobody else does... :-)

Doug said...

Just ran across another "Jur-awl-dee" mispronunciation on a Vince Guaraldi release: During his meandering introduction on "Vince Guaraldi at Grace Cathedral," Episcopal Bishop Pike refers to "Mister Jur-awl-dee."

Of course, the definitive evidence of proper pronunciation is on track 1 of the Navy Swings CD available from, where Vince himself announces: "This is Vince Guaraldi on deck with Bola Sete, as the Navy swings!"

Brian Lord said...

Does anyone know how I would get in contact with Carel Werber. I am doing research on a book that I am writing.

ChrisStevens said...

I badly want the lyrics written by Vince Guaradi for Cast Your Fate to the Wind published clearly and plainly on this or any website. Am I barking up the wrong tree? Am I out of luck? It is a favorite song and signifies starting anew with independence with full expectation of a happy ending, unlike Ms. Werber's lyrics.

Derrick Bang said...

Chris, you've not spent enough time searching elsewhere in this blog. The 9/25/12 entry — The Fickle Fingers of "Fate" — includes a photo of the original document Guaraldi sent to validate his copyright of the song, complete with typed lyrics that are about as clear and plain as one could hope for. I hope that satisfies! :-)

Mr. L said...

If you haven't heard a version with lyrics you like, you have to hear the haunting version by Karin Plato! Now that I have found and read the story about Carel Werber's lyrics, I'm willing to be that no one else has captured the feelings and intentions as well!