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!

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