Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The fickle fingers of 'Fate'

"Cast Your Fate to the Wind" isn't Guaraldi's most famous composition at this late date — that honor probably belongs to "Linus and Lucy," with "Christmas Time Is Here" coming up rapidly — but it was his first hit, and certainly the only one to win him a Grammy Award.

The song's generally accepted copyright dates back to 1961, when it was registered with the Friendship Music Corporation, a collaborative endeavor between Guaraldi and good friend Frank Werber, who at the time was well-regarded for having turned the Kingston Trio into touring and recording stars. But Guaraldi had been noodling around with "Fate" for several years before that; one former Daly City neighbor recalls hearing him working on it in the late 1950s, when she was a little girl whose mother pointed to Guaraldi as an example of the way somebody should faithfully practice the piano.

"I'll tell you when I wrote it," Guaraldi later recalled, during an interview with his longtime friend and advocate Ralph Gleason. "I think it was in '58, just about when I left Cal. In fact, I brought it to Cal, but I never played it until after I left Woody, when I was at Outside at the Inside, in Palo Alto."

Outside at the Inside — initially known as Caffe Court — opened August 7, 1959. Guaraldi backed singer Valerie Knight during the first week of business, and then he joined Herman's band for a week in Las Vegas. Next up was a long stint down in Southern California, with the Lighthouse All-Stars, after which Guaraldi returned north and began a yearlong residency at Outside at the Inside in the spring of 1960. So if Guaraldi remembered the details accurately during that chat with Gleason, we can assume this is when the pianist publicly unveiled "Cast Your Fate to the Wind."

Why, then, wasn't the song copyrighted sooner?

Ah, but it was ... and therein lies a tale.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Still spreading the word

I love libraries; I faithfully biked to our local library every Friday afternoon after school, pretty much from the time I was old enough to make such a trip (about four miles) on my own. This continued through high school, at which point I then transitioned to the majestic main library at UC Davis, where I completed my undergraduate work. I subsequently learned that it's by no means the largest library in the University of California system, but it sure impressed me at the time: four floors of books, plus a basement, in a structure so immense that one could get lost in the crazy-quilt section between the second and third floors, in the oldest part of the building. (Indeed, one freshman rite-of-passage involved getting "accidentally" locked in the library overnight, a feat easily accomplished in that section.)

More recently, I lost myself for untold hours, days, weeks and months in the UC Davis library's microfilm section, poring over old newspapers, while researching Vince Guaraldi at the Piano. (Sadly, they've a long way to go before that entire newspaper archive gets digitized.)

I'm therefore delighted to be presenting my Guaraldi dog-and-pony show in a library this week: the first time I've been able to "give back" to one of the venerable lending institutions where I've derived such pleasure over the years. I'll be reading an excerpt and then giving a brief overview of Guaraldi's life, accompanied by photos, audio and video clips: a program very similar to the one I gave at the Charles M. Schulz Museum, back in late June. This one will take place in a few days, at 7 p.m. Thursday, September 13, at the St. Helena Public Library. That's part of the wine country, as folks in Northern California know: very close to Charles Krug, one of my favorite wineries.

This gig was set up by one of my partners in crime — and publishing — Don Fraser, a longtime Peanuts licensee who retired from active duty in that realm, but has remained quite active among those of us devoted to highlighting Charles M. Schulz's fame at every opportunity. Don and I co-edited Security Blankets: How Peanuts Touched Our Lives a few years ago, a project that (alas!) delivered far more delight in prep and production, than in eventual sales. (Ah, well; they can't all be winners!) Don and his wife live in St. Helena, so it came as little surprise when he contacted me one day and confessed to having rather aggressively pitched me as a worthy candidate for his local library's speaker program. Apparently, they weren't able to refuse.

My presentation will be free, so if you've no other plans Thursday evening — and the commute wouldn't be too onerous — please drop by.


KCSM Jazz Radio, not too much farther away in San Mateo, aired its Guaraldi special — Vince Guaraldi: The Story of Dr. Funk — last Friday between 7 and 9 a.m. (PST); the show, divided into distinct parts, was one of the featured specials presented during the station's pledge drive. On-air host Alisa Clancy interviewed quite a few folks for the show, including Colin Bailey, Eddie Duran, Dean Reilly and Lee Mendelson; she also spent a delightful 90 minutes with me earlier in the summer. She did an accomplished job in production, blending music, commentary and interview material, and I'd like to think it was the highlight of that day's pledge activities. Alisa and colleague Chris Phillips also maintained a lively patter during the pledge breaks themselves, and I was delighted to hear that copies of my book were among the thank-you gifts for pledges at or above a certain level. (Frankly, Alisa enthused about my book so much that I blushed.)

Why do I mention all this, since the show aired last week? Well, The Story of Dr. Funk was such a hit that KCSM will repeat it this weekend: from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, September 16. So, if you missed it the first time, you've got a second chance. The station streams its content from its Web site, which you'll find linked above, so you can listen from anywhere in the world. Best of all, Alisa admits that last Friday's version was truncated a bit, since the morning activities also included a birthday tribute to Sonny Rollins; she promises that her complete edit of Dr. Funk will air this Sunday.

Heck, I thoroughly enjoyed the "short" version; I can't wait to hear the rest!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Mustache, Take 1

Without question, the nicest sidebar benefit to everything that led up to the publication of my book — the research, the inquiries, the fact-checking and particularly the unexpected discoveries — has been the opportunity to establish professional and even comradely relationships with other Guaraldi fans. I'm old enough to still marvel at how much easier this process has been, thanks to the Internet; I can't even imagine how long it would have taken to find and cultivate such contacts, armed solely with traditional letters, the U.S. Postal Service and international mailing irregularities.

Early on, I always was delighted to learn of yet another album that featured Guaraldi in a supporting role. Each time I thought I had found the last one — for the better part of a year! — I'd learn about something else ... and then, of course, I had to obtain a copy. One such example was the second Brew Moore album that featured a single track with Guaraldi. I had known about (and already owned) Fantasy's Brew Moore Quintet, released in July 1956, but was surprised to discover that the simply titled Brew Moore, released roughly two years later, also boasted a single Guaraldi track. (Additional information about both these albums, and everything else in Guaraldi's oeuvre, can be found in my Guaraldi discography. No doubt you already know about it, but if not ... do take a look.)

Anyway, that meant I had to obtain a copy of Brew Moore, which at the time only existed as an LP, not having been re-released on CD. (That's no longer true, by the way; in May 2012, Fresh Sound Records released West Coast Brew, which has all 15 tracks from both LPs.) That meant a quick visit to eBay, where I was pleasantly surprised to discover a near mint copy of the album for sale, at a very reasonable price. I immediately made the purchase and waited for the mail to deliver the LP to my hot little hands.

Imagine my surprise, when the album was delivered to me in person, at home. The seller — Pete Poulos — turned out to live fairly close (small world!), and he knew me from my local newspaper exposure. Rather than waste unnecessary money on shipping, he brought the album by himself about a week later, and we had a great chat about jazz in general, and Guaraldi in particular.

What, you're wondering, does any of this have to do with Guaraldi's mustache?

I'm getting there, I'm getting there.

Pete has stayed in touch, occasionally sharing a tidbit about Vince; the most recent anecdote deserves wider exposure.

In my book, I quote Guaraldi's longtime girlfriend, Gretchen Katamay, with the most likely reason for the pianist's decision to grow a mustache: "Vince was very self-conscious about his teeth, because they were like baby teeth. And he had a short upper lip. Look at him on the Cal Tjader album, Jazz at the Blackhawk, where the guys are lined up, and Vince is on the end. He's baby-faced. He had a mustache when I met him [in 1963], and he still looked 20. He wanted to look older."

Which segues nicely to Pete Poulos' story:

This was relayed to me by Howard Rumsey, and it took place at The Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach, in 1957. Guaraldi was appearing at The Lighthouse with a trio, Monty Budwig on bass, and John Guerin on drums. Vince was in L.A. to do some sessions with Richie Kamuca, Conte Candoli and Frank Rosolino; Monty was just becoming a regular with Shelly Manne and his Men.

So Guaraldi and his trio arrived at The Lighthouse early, and Vince — pre-mustache — walked up to the bar. Club owner John Levine had had some issues with the local police department over selling alcohol to minors, and he jumped off his stool when he saw Guaraldi.

"Let me see that ID," Levine demanded of Guaraldi, adding, "Hey, Howard, is this guy old enough to drink?"

Now, Vince would have been close to 30, but he wasn't very tall, and of course he didn't have the mustache then. So he got carded!

Small wonder Guaraldi was further motivated to grow that mustache...

We can make another intriguing assumption on the basis of this story. Obviously, Levine wouldn't have made that mistake after he had gotten to know Guaraldi, so the implication is that this took place the very first time Vince performed at The Lighthouse. It would be nice to know the precise date — whether it was indeed in the late spring of 1957, when Guaraldi already was in Southern California for those other recording gigs, or whether it might have been 1958 or '59 (which would better fit Budwig's timeline with Shelly Manne) — but, alas, that detail has yet to be nailed down.

But it's a cute story nonetheless!


Radio alert: KCSM in San Mateo, California, will broadcast a three-hour special on "The Life of Vince Guaraldi" from 7 to 10 a.m. (PST) Friday, September 7. Hosts Alisa Clancy and Chris Phillips will deliver a blend of music and interviews, the latter featuring all sorts of familiar individuals. Alisa spent close to 90 minutes interviewing me a few months back, and I know she also chatted with Colin Bailey, Eddie Duran, Larry Vuckovich and some other folks.

This show will be part of KCSM's pledge week activities, so we can expect the Guaraldi special to be interrupted by occasional requests for financial support from the station's listeners. For the same reason, this special is unlikely to be archived, although you'll be able to listen via the station's streaming options on the Web. You won't want to miss this: Three hours of Vince is an impressive chunk of radio time!