Thursday, August 30, 2012

Stern Grove, August 1966

One of Guaraldi's most enthusiastic performance quotes came after his trio shared the stage with Turk Murphy's Jazz Band, the Rudy Salvini Big Band and the John Handy Quintet, on August 7, 1966, at the outdoor Stern Grove amphitheater. The concert was something special: After many years as a primarily classical music entity, the Stern Grove Festival decided to mount its first "Jazz in Stern Grove" event. As I note in my book, "The concert was a smash success, with a reported attendance of 20,000 fans: the largest audience ever to invade the cool green amphitheater and surrounding steep hillside ringed by towering eucalyptus trees."

As a delighted Guaraldi later recalled, the audience was "...hanging from the trees. I mean, they were hanging from the trees!"

The event was covered in considerable detail by local newspapers, but they weren't the only media representatives on hand. Guaraldi fan Robert Kapkin was present in the audience; he recently got in touch to share some of his memories ... and a rather important piece of information. Take it away, Robert!


I was 17 years old and recently had become a fan of John Handy, later to become a teacher of mine at San Francisco State. I walked from my house, near the zoo, up Wawona Street to Stern Grove, to see my first live jazz performance. When I got there, the place was more crowded than I had ever seen it. Vince was correct, when he said people were sitting up in the trees. I could not find a place to sit, even up on the hill north of the stage. I worked my way down toward the stage and sat on the grass next to the benches, where people must have been waiting for hours ahead of time. The benches were to the right of me, and to the left was a huge television camera. In those days, they were monstrous. I remember on the side of the camera, it said "The Bell Telephone Hour, in Color." 

I had been to several Stern Grove programs in the past; these events always were well attended, but I had never seen anything like the crowds at this concert. Jimmy Lyons gave the introduction, but I don't think he ever returned. After that, Al "Jazzbo" Collins came out between acts, and was his usual droll self. He was great. He kept the audience laughing every time he opened his mouth, and he kept the proceeding moving beautifully.

While I remember being impressed with everything I heard, I was really there to see John Handy. I recently had bought his LP recorded live at the 1965 Monterey Jazz Festival, and I was totally amazed at hearing something completely new and unbelievably exciting. Handy went on last, so I was getting a little antsy by the time Guaraldi started to play. His playing was excellent, and I remember being very pleased with it. After Handy played, all the ensemble leaders came out for a final jam: Rudy Salvini, John Handy, Turk Murphy and Guaraldi with his trio. What I recall about that finale was Murphy. I had only heard him on recordings, and was totally blown away by his solo. He sounded like J.J. Johnson! It was a total change from his New Orleans style, with his own band. It really raised my respect for Turk Murphy.

In those days, only special programs were telecast in color. The entire concert — which I consider one of the finest I've ever seen — was filmed for that fall's television season. 

I waited impatiently for months. When it was broadcast, they showed only a few minutes of the Stern Grove concert, and the show never was seen again.

I think about that concert a great deal, because when I returned home afterward, I put the program in my dresser drawer and forgot about it until I moved out of my parent's house.
I probably kept it because, when I looked at the names on the program for the Rudy Salvini Band, I had, at that point, played in several rehearsal bands with many of those players. If my memory is correct, Mark Teel was in charge of one of those bands, and Tom Hart played in it as well. Anyway, I still have the program.

I've hoped, through the years, that that concert would be released for VCRs or later DVD players, as has been the case with most of the classical productions from the Bell Telephone Hour. I'm sure Guaraldi's entire set is on that film ... if it still exists. Maybe you can find out who is in possession of the many years of Bell Telephone Hour films, and bring that fabulous day back to life. 

Thanks again for a wonderful job of keeping Vince Guaraldi's joyous music alive. I truly believe, in the years to come, that he will be considered not just a fine composer and player, but one of the giants of jazz.



I don't know about you, but I know a challenge when I see one.

After a bit of digging, I learned that the Bell Telephone Hour episode in question, "The Sounds and Sights of San Francisco," aired at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, January 29, 1967. As Kapkin correctly suggested, the episode does not seem to have been made available on either videotape or DVD. More frustrating, it also isn't among the scores of Bell Telephone Hour episodes archived by the Library of Congress, in Washington, D.C. (Phooey!)

It does, however, appear to be among the items stored at the Paley Center for Media, either (or both?) in Los Angeles or New York. The listing is remarkably short of descriptive information, but the important notation is the catalogue ID number: B19413. Sadly, neither city could be considered a quick trip for me, but perhaps one of these days...

But it may not matter. According to the TV Guide preview, the one-hour program focused on all sorts of music-laden attractions:

This San Francisco music tour swings from jazz to opera. Cameras view musicians against a backdrop of Bay City landmarks. John Handy, top alto saxophonist in the Downbeat Jazz Critics' Poll, plays at Stern Grove before an audience of 22,000; Sylvia Davis and the San Francisco Opera Company rehearse and perform Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro; and Zola Dishong dances to the electronically composed Le tombe de Edgar Allan Poe. Also seen and heard: the folk-rockin' Jefferson Airplane group, in a psychedelic-light environment; young pianist Patricia Michaelian, appearing with the San Francisco Symphony; husband-and-wife pianists Milton and Peggy Salkind; and the San Francisco Ballet. Highlights: "Spanish Lady," "Scheme No. 1" — Handy; Schumann's Piano Concerto in A Minor — Michaelian; Chopin's Variations in D Major, Gravities; "Polka" — the Salkinds; "It's No Secret" — Jefferson Airplane.

A January 22 description of the show in the Modesto (California) Bee confirmed this information, while indicating that another segment is spent at the Mills College Tape Music Center. The Bee further clarified that Jefferson Airplane was filmed at the Fillmore Auditorium, with the band playing "It's No Secret" and "Runaround." 

No mention of Guaraldi at all.

This was echoed in a much shorter mention in the January 29 Oakland Tribune, when the Jazz Notes column promised that "The John Handy Quintet's performance last August at San Francisco's Stern Grove will be telecast tonight as part of a Bell Telephone Hour special on Channel 4 at 6:30 p.m." Again, no mention of Guaraldi ... and he was famous enough, in early 1967, that he most certainly would have been mentioned, had he been part of the broadcast.

Which is not to say, of course, that he wasn't caught on camera at all. Guaraldi easily could have been standing to one side of the stage, perhaps with that day's other performers, while they all watched Handy's combo play. Until I'm somehow able to see the program and settle the issue one way or the other, I won't completely dismiss this possibility of another filmed Guaraldi sighting.

Even more tantalizing, of course, is the notion that somebody, somewhere, might have saved a copy of the entire day's footage. True, the videotape more likely was erased and re-used after the John Handy segment was extracted ... but one cannot be sure.

After all, if footage from a presumed lost 1923 Alfred Hitchcock silent film, The White Shadow, can be identified in a New Zealand film archive in the summer of 2011 — after having been donated in 1989 by the family of a New Zealand projectionist and film collector — then who knows what waits to be found, in some San Francisco attic?


On a personal note, 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 today. (I love it when folks cite my "meticulous research." Makes all those dark hours spent at the library's newspaper microfilm readers seem worthwhile!)

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