Friday, December 20, 2013

A Celebration of Jerry

Jazz drummer Jerry Granelli has been in the news of late, as a result of his December 8 performances of music from A Charlie Brown Christmas. It's nice to see that media outlets recognized the importance of the publicity hook: one of Vince Guaraldi's sidemen, from way back in the day, mounting a seasonal tribute concert to his long-ago trio leader. Jerry's a great guy — and an ace drummer — and he certainly deserves the fresh exposure.

I sent him a congratulatory note, and also expressed the hope that he'd consider reviving the concept in 2014, and possibly touring it a bit farther than his current home in Nova Scotia.

His reply:

Thanks ... it was a really wonderful four shows ... also fun to approach [these songs] as new pieces for the stage. People really seem to want it again, and out west as well. Ciao!

The pre- and post-concert coverage deserves to be shared, so I've gathered the best bits here, for your enjoyment.

In and Out (CBC Radio, December 7)

The Joy and Melancholy of A Charlie Brown Christmas (CBC Radio, December 11)

Granelli Shines on Reissued A Charlie Brown Christmas Soundtrack (CBC New Brunswick, December 11)

Unless you happened to live in or around Ottawa or Halifax, you'd not have been able to join the appreciative audiences at the four concerts. And — alas! — none of the shows was recorded (at least, not officially ... we'll see what pops up on YouTube!). We do, however, have a few clips available to enjoy, courtesy of CBC News:

Jerry Granelli warms up (posted December 9)

Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown (posted December 9)

Finally, if you'd like to watch a lengthy 2002 piece on Granelli, In the Moment, you'll find it posted here.


Just by way of a late reminder: Quite a few Guaraldi/Charlie Brown Christmas tribute concerts have been added to this earlier post, since it first was published on November 8; check out the complete list here. If you live in New York, Southern California, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Texas, Washington (state) or, yes, even Nova Scotia (again!), you still can have a very Merry Guaraldi Christmas!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A touch of brass and a bit of radio drama

The holiday season isn't merely an excuse for jazz combos to present their concert takes on Vince Guaraldi's Charlie Brown Christmas score, although we're seeing plenty of that action. (This year's "Jolly Guaraldi Holiday" post has been updated with numerous fresh entries since debuting November 4, so do keep checking back.)

It's also when we might expect a fresh cover of Guaraldi's album to drop, and we've been blessed with a rather unusual one this year: The Canadian Brass' Christmas Time Is Here.

Needless to say, this is rather novel instrumentation for a recording initially conceived and performed by a jazz trio of piano, bass and drums. The Canadian Brass is fronted by a quintet of horns — Chris Coletti, trumpet/flugelhorn; Eric Reed, French horn; Chuck Daellenbach, tuba; Achilles Liarmakopoulos, trombone; and Caleb Hudson, trumpet/piccolo trumpet — and backed by some orchestral elements, and the result brings new meaning to the term "droll."

(No surprise: The instrumentation and arrangements remind me strongly of French hornist Aaron Brask's The Guaraldi Sessions album. Which you should dig up, if you've not yet heard it.)

As you might expect, the Brass don't really "swing" in any jazz sense, and their arrangements of Guaraldi's up-tempo numbers — notably "Christmas Is Coming" — are likely to raise eyebrows. But the horns work surprisingly well when carrying the melody of "Skating," and their handling of "My Little Drum" builds to a pleasantly dramatic finish. The Brass also covers the traditional carols Guaraldi included on his album; "O Tannenbaum" and "The Christmas Song" are particularly gentle and sweet, while "What Child Is This" offers something perilously close to jazz noodling during the bridge.

As befits the ensemble's classical leanings, the album also includes Christopher Dedrick's "The Angel Choir and the Trumpeter" and a blend of Bach's BWV 29 and Leontovych's "Carol of the Bells," titled "Bach's Bells," along with a few more contemporary carols: "Frosty the Snowman," "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" (and the less said about the vocals that conclude the latter, the better).

Rather oddly, the Amazon entry lists only 14 tracks on the disc, which (incorrectly) suggests that the additional four tracks are available solely via download, or as some sort of bonus. This is simply untrue; the CD includes all 18 tracks.

But enough with the mere facts; let's rate this album on the "Guaraldi scale" I established last year, when discussing other covers of A Charlie Brown Christmas. On that basis, this Canadian Brass release gets 25 points for featuring all five of the traditional songs Guaraldi arranged on his album, and 25 points for including "Fur Elise" ... but only 15 points (out of 20) for covering Guaraldi's original compositions. Rather oddly, the Brass skip "Linus and Lucy." Finally, their track sequencing is nowhere close to that of Guaraldi's album, so no points at all in the fourth category. The final tally: 65 points, which is quite respectable.


I'll be discussing A Charlie Brown Christmas and other aspects of Guaraldi's career during a live radio chat this Friday morning, December 6, on WFAE 90.7 FM, the National Public Radio station in Charlotte, North Carolina. I'll be featured from 9 to 10 a.m. (EST) on "Charlotte Talks, with Mike Collins," so West Coasters will need to get up early. WFAE offers a live stream here (click the "Listen Live" button, in the upper left), and I'm told the audio will be available later as both a podcast and download, with the additional possibility of a replay on Christmas Day. Sweet!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Memories from Marin

Artistic immortality depends on many factors, not the least of which requires the ongoing involvement of a devoted fan base. But if a musician (for example) is to remain relevant with time, his work must remain available. If access disappears or becomes difficult, that musician's mainstream penetration will fade as his original fans grow older. Subsequent generations, lacking the necessary awareness, won't even realize that Somebody Cool has dropped from sight.

Guaraldi has been luckier than many, thus far; his entire Fantasy Records catalog has remained in print ever since each album debuted in the 1950s and '60s. More recent Fantasy/Concord CDs also are readily available, as are most of the discs issued by Vince's son, David. (A few of the latter are easier to find as MP3 downloads.) The same is true of almost all the albums he recorded as a sideman with groups fronted by Cal Tjader and others. The only "problem children" are Doctor Funk's latter two Warners albums, The Eclectic Vince Guaraldi and Alma-Ville. Their distribution always has been spotty, and it hasn't gotten better recently. As I type these words, the Wounded Bird CD release of Eclectic is easy to find, but the same label's CD release of Alma-Ville is virtually unavailable (unless one gives serious consideration to the individual selling a copy for $90 via Amazon).

All things considered, though, one can assemble an impressive library of Guaraldi's music with very little trouble, and (for the most part) at reasonable cost.

But that's only half the battle.

True immortality comes when one's music becomes firmly associated with the era in which it first appeared, and, therefore, gets resurrected as a means of "setting the stage," so to speak. I was delighted to hear the Guaraldi Trio's cover of "Since I Fell for You" employed as source music in the film An Education, which was set in the early 1960s; I was even more pleased when that track appeared alongside others by Ray Charles, Percy Faith and Mel Torme on the soundtrack album. That's massive, because it's a key means of attracting new listeners who wouldn't necessarily pick up a Guaraldi album otherwise.

The goal, then, is to have one's music appear in other contexts, thus broadening exposure to the greatest possible degree.

I therefore was delighted to learn about The Marin Project, thanks to Paul Liberatore's delightful article in the November 7 edition of the Marin Independent Journal. Liberatore wrote a wonderful article about my Guaraldi bio last year — and the layout looks even better on the printed page than via the online version — and he's equally gracious about this quite eclectic album.

It began as a vanity project by Marin-based financial relations consultant John Liviakis, who wanted to produce an album of music that resonated with memorable moments of his life while growing up in Northern California. He's not in it for the money, by any means; he spent $90,000 assembling a cadre of Bay Area session musicians, and any profits from album sales will be donated to the Salvation Army and Marin's Homeward Bound.

The reason why this topic is even being discussed here? Because Liviakis' rather unusual (to say the least!) song list includes two Guaraldi tracks: "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" and "Star Song," covered in a manner — by design — that sounds, as much as possible, just like the original recordings. (You can hear a portion of "Star Song" at the album's web site.) That's an intriguing approach, as Liberatore acknowledges; jazz artists always make a point of putting their own distinctive stamp on cover arrangements. But "distinctive" wasn't Liviakis' intention, as he explains: "These are historic, classic works, iconic in some cases. I didn't feel I should start changing things around."

Slavish re-creations often raise eyebrows, but you'll just have to get the album and judge for yourself. I can say this much with certainty, however: We'll never again find two Guaraldi jazz compositions on an album that also includes works by Mozart, Erik Satie, Roger Eno and Booker T. & The MGs!

Friday, November 8, 2013

A Jolly Guaraldi Holiday 2013

Christmas is coming — to borrow the title from one of Guaraldi's well-known tracks in A Charlie Brown Christmas — and I know this because decorations and holiday-themed gifts began to appear in stores well before Halloween. Linus and Charlie Brown complained about Christmas getting too commercial all the way back in 1965; I've no doubt they'd be horrified these days!

But music fans can put a more positive spin on this seasonal rush, because it does give us time to anticipate the growing roster of musicians who take a decidedly Guaraldi-esque approach to the holidays. As has become quite the tradition across the country, an impressive number of Charlie Brown Christmas-themed concerts will be offered during the closing weeks of the year, so fans will have plenty of opportunities to celebrate the season in true Peanuts style.

I traced the history and growth of this delightful tradition last year, which I encourage the curious to read. Meanwhile, this post will serve as a clearinghouse for any and all late 2013 concerts that come to my attention. I'll add to this schedule as new information becomes available, so do check back on occasion.

This year's most visible news concerns Concord recording artist David Benoit, above, who has been touring his ambitious Charlie Brown Christmas show for several years. This year's schedule kicks off November 30 in Sherwood Park, Alberta, and concludes December 22 in Danville, California, with stops along the way in Oregon, Kentucky, New Jersey, Texas, Florida and several California venues. We caught the 2011 performance in Livermore, California, and I can report that it's a great show. It's also tremendously sweet, since Benoit and his team work with a children's choir that is local to each stop. Check his website for details.

Benoit's December 15 booking in Saratoga, California, is different than the others; he'll be performing the music live to a theatrical presentation of A Charlie Brown Christmas. But don't scramble; this event is already sold out. (As Charlie Brown would say, rats!)

Benoit certainly will grab the lion's share of headlines in the States, but our Canadian friends are hosting this season's most historic booking. Drummer Jerry Granelli, right, who worked as a member of Guaraldi's trio in the 1960s, will headline a performance of the music from A Charlie Brown Christmas twice on December 8 — at 2 and 8 p.m. — at the Spatz Theatre in Halifax, Nova Scotia (the province where Granelli lives). This will be the first time Granelli has played this music in a public concert setting; he'll be joined by Simon Fisk (bass), Chris Gestrin (piano) and the Vivace Children's Choir. Check the JazzEast website for additional information (and note that the matinee and evening performances are listed separately).

Granelli discusses the concert, and Guaraldi, in nice articles in the Ottawa Citizen and the Halifax Chronicle Herald.

The Eric Byrd Trio also has made a cottage industry of Guaraldi's Christmas music, going so far as to cover most of the album in a 2009 release. Byrd's combo has taken its Charlie Brown Christmas Show on the road for several years now, mostly in Maryland. This year's gigs begin in Germantown, MD (December 7), and conclude in Westminster, MD, on December 22. Check his website for details.

The Heather Pierson Quartet has expanded its bookings this year, with a total of nine shows devoted to A Charlie Brown Christmas. They kick off December 6 in Eaton, New Hampshire, and conclude December 23 in Bridgton, Maine. Check her website for details.

The Cartoon Christmas Trio doesn't concentrate solely on music from A Charlie Brown Christmas; they also pepper their performances with tunes from other animated holiday shows, such as Frosty the Snowman and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. (Their album is a kick; give it a listen.) They have a busy touring schedule this year, starting in Wilmington, Delaware (December 5) and continuing through Phoenixville, Pennsylvania (December 20). Check their website for details.

The Joe Cool Trio — drummer John Milham, pianist Chris Spies and bassist Chris Servin — will join trumpeter James Andrews and saxman Christopher Spies for their fifth annual series of Charlie Brown Jazz Christmas Concerts. They have three dates booked, starting December 6 in Meridian, Mississippi, and concluding December 21 in Mobile, Alabama. Check their Facebook page for additional details.

Pianist Jim Martinez is "getting ready for another Christmas season of fun jazz music," although full details have yet to be clarified. Last year found him in Michigan and North Carolina, in addition to several venues in California. Thus far, he's starting with a gig Tuesday, November 19, in Sun City, Lincoln Hills, Northern California. Details are here. Also announced is a performance on Monday, December 16, at the Steinway Piano Gallery in Roseville, California; check here for details. Beyond that, check his website for additional dates (and I'll also post them here, as I find out).

The Ornaments, a jazz trio based in Nashville, Tennessee, waited a bit to announce this year's mini-tour information, possibly because leader Jen Gunderman has been busy as a member of Sheryl Crow's touring band (great gig, if you can get it!). The combo — Gunderman, James Haggerty and Martin Lynds — is doing a week's worth of gigs at The Family Wash in East Nashville, with shows each evening from Monday, December 16, through Saturday, December 21, and an additional Saturday matinee at the nearby Belcourt Theater. Details

Other groups also have gotten into the act, and I'll cite them below: 

The Music of Charlie Brown and Peanuts, with the Donovan Johnson Sextet (Richard Payne, bass; Frank Prince, guitar; Bucky McCann, sax; Lee Gambrel, drums; and Michael DeLuca, percussion); Saturday, November 30, at The 402, Omaha, Nebraska. Details.

• The Music of Charlie Brown and Peanuts, with the Donovan Johnson Sextet (Richard Payne, bass; Frank Prince, guitar; Bucky McCann, sax; Lee Gambrel, drums; and Michael DeLuca, percussion); Sunday, December 1, at The 402, Omaha, Nebraska. Details.

Charlie Brown Goes to the Nutcracker, with the Ron Legault Jazz Quartet (Legault, Wilson Winner, Kalin Capra and Ryan Elwood); Friday, December 6, at Everyday Joe's, Fort Collins, Colorado. This program will feature both Guaraldi's music and a jazz arrangement of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite. Details.

• It's a Jazzy Christmas, with the Peanut Gallery Jazz Trio (David Gleason, Mike Lawrence and Pete Sweeney); Friday, December 6, at the Massry Center for the Arts, at The College of Saint Rose, Albany, New York. Details.

• A Charlie Brown Christmas, with the Jose Gonzales Trio (Gonzales, piano; Michael Marcus, bass; and Lionel Kramer, drums); Saturday, December 7, at the Tim Noah Thumbnail Theater in Snohomish, Washington. Details.

• A Charlie Brown Christmas, with the Michelle Schumann Trio; Sunday, December 8, at Antone's, in Austin, Texas. Details.

A Charlie Brown Christmas, with the Jose Gonzales Trio (Gonzales, piano; Michael Marcus, bass; and Lionel Kramer, drums); Monday, December 9, at Town Hall in Seattle, Washington. Details.

The Music of Vince Guaraldi, with the JazzArts Initiative (Chad Lawson, Mark Stallings, Lovell Bradford, Bill Hanna and Charles Craig); Tuesday, December 10, at the Blumenthal Booth Playhouse, Charlotte, North Carolina. Details.

A Charlie Brown Christmas: A Little Jazz and Joy, with the Vancouver Chamber Choir; Friday, December 13, at Ryerson United Church in Vancouver, British Columbia. Details.

A Charlie Brown Christmas, with the Sheridan College Jazz Combo and the Sheridan County Children's Chorale; Friday, December 13, at Sheridan College, Sheridan, Wyoming. Details.

A Charlie Brown Christmas, with the Marc Sabatella Trio (Sabatella, piano; Drew Morell, bass; and Jill Fredericksen, drums); Saturday, December 14, at Dazzle Jazz, Denver, Colorado. Details.

• A Charlie Brown Christmas, with the Sheridan College Jazz Combo and the Sheridan County Children's Chorale; Saturday, December 14, at Sheridan College, Sheridan, Wyoming. Details.

• A Charlie Brown Christmas: A Little Jazz and Joy, with the Vancouver Chamber Choir; Sunday, December 15, at Ryerson United Church in Vancouver, British Columbia. Details.

A Tribute to A Charlie Brown Christmas, with the Joey Altruda Trio; Tuesday, December 17, at Grand Performances, Los Angeles, California. Details.

The Music from A Charlie Brown Christmas, with the Kodama Trio (Robert Muller, piano; Jeremy Bleich, bass; Milton Villarrubia III, drums); Thursday, December 19, at the Second Street Brewery on the Railyard, Santa Fe, New Mexico. Details.

• The Music of Vince Guaraldi: Selections from A Charlie Brown Christmas, with the Duck Soup Trio (Adam Bravo, piano; Anthony Shadduck, bass; and Sam Webster, drums); Friday, December 20, at the Cal State University Long Beach Gerald R. Daniel Recital Hall, Long Beach, California. Details.

A Charlie Brown Christmas, with Christine Smith (piano), Gary Gyekis (drums) and special guests The Three Kitties; Friday, December 20, at the Elk Creek Café + Aleworks, Millheim, Pennsylvania. Details.

• Jeffrey Butzer & T.T. Mahony Perform Vince Guaraldi's A Charlie Brown Christmas; Friday, December 20, at The Earl, Atlanta, Georgia. Details.

• Jeffrey Butzer & T.T. Mahony Perform Vince Guaraldi's A Charlie Brown Christmas; Saturday, December 21, at The Earl, Atlanta, Georgia. Details.

A Charlie Brown Christmas, with the New York Pops, the New York Theatre Ballet, TADA! Youth Theater, Essential Voices USA and narrator John Tartaglia in a concert version of the TV special; Saturday, December 21, Carnegie Hall's Stern Auditorium, New York, New York. Details.

Good Grief! A Charlie Brown Christmas, with the Kirk Reese trio (Kirk Reese, Steve Meashey and Jason Hoffheins); Saturday, December 21, at the Holy Hound Taproom, York, Pennsylvania. Details.

Charlie Brown Christmas Special, with the John Lander Trio (John Lander, piano; Ray Cetta, bass; and Faron Tillson, drums); Saturday, December 21, at Greenwich House Music, New York, New York. Details.

The Charlie Brown Christmas Jazz Songbook, with the Dave Wild Trio; Saturday, December 21, at the Valley Mills Wineyards, Waco, Texas. Details.

The Piano Starts Here: The Music of A Charlie Brown Christmas, with musicians Tim Kennedy, Dawn Clement, Chris McCarthy and Michael Stegner; Sunday, December 22, at the Royal Room, Seattle, Washington. Details.

• A Holiday Concert of classics from A Charlie Brown Christmas and the Great American Songbook, with Andrew Boudreau (piano), Devon Henderson (bass) and Will Fisher (drums); Saturday, December 28, at Roadside Willie's Smokehouse, Bible Hill (Truro), Nova Scotia, Canada. Details.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Vuckovich rides again!

Blog readers will recall the good time my wife and I had back on July 14, when veteran jazz pianist Larry Vuckovich led a quintet in an afternoon concert of songs from Guaraldi's longtime repertoire: both tunes that Dr. Funk wrote, and some (by other composers) that he was known to have performed during his career. I detailed that delightful afternoon in an earlier post, and concluded by expressing the hope that Larry would be successful with his desire to repeat the experience.

That hope has become reality. Larry will lead the same combo — Josh Workman, guitar; Seward McCain, bass; John Santos, Latin/Brazilian percussion; and Akira Tana, drums — in a concert taking place at 8 p.m. Monday, December 9, at Yoshi's Jack London Square, 510 Embarcadero West, Oakland, California. Ticket details and other information can be found here.

Judging by the event description on Vuckovich's website, the program will be similar (if not identical) to what took place in July, at Silo's in Napa, California. Larry will chart high points in Guaraldi's career, following a chronological order, with this quintet delivering items from Dr. Funk's early Fantasy albums, along with hits such as "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" and selections from the Black Orpheus soundtrack. It also sounds like Larry and his group once again will share their arrangement of "Blue Lullaby," an unreleased Guaraldi original.

Sadly, I won't be able to participate this time, as I was back in July; Monday is a long day for us working stiffs, and there won't be enough time to make the drive — in the midst of Bay Area rush-hour traffic — after my shift concludes. But I'll be in there in spirit!

I'll leave you, and further whet your appetite, with another photo of the quintet's July performance in Napa. Expect more of the same!

Friday, October 25, 2013

A different sort of gold record

Record Store Day, now an international "holiday" celebrated on the third Saturday of April, began with a modest proposal back in 2007: that something should be done, along the lines of Free Comic Book Day — which began in 2002 — to call attention to the old-fashioned, Mom 'n' Pop retail music outlets that were vanishing from the landscape, thanks to the pernicious effect of Internet sellers.

The first Record Store Day took place in 2008; the event has since blossomed into a Very Big Deal that involves special appearances and performances by hundreds of recording artists, who meet and greet their fans at the surviving record stores across the country and around the world. The biggest attraction, however, likely is the release of special vinyl and CD singles and albums: many available only on the day in question, and only at these vintage brick-and-mortar stores.

In 2010, recognizing a promotional opportunity, the folks behind Record Store Day aligned their activities with what has come to be known as "Black Friday": the day after Thanksgiving, which is — for better or worse — recognized as the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season. Dubbing their piggy-back event "Back to Black Friday," the Record Store Day team encouraged their North American brick-and-mortar record store clients to participate just as noisily in Black Friday activities. The sweetener: yet another round (albeit more modest) of artist appearances and vinyl/CD releases.

Which brings us to this year, and the question undoubtedly percolating just behind your lips: What, if anything, does this have to do with our beloved Dr. Funk?

Ahem. By now, you must have noticed the image above.

This year's Back to Black Friday celebration will take place on November 29, the day after Thanksgiving. A few of the special vinyl and CD releases will be keyed to the holiday season, and one of them will come from Fantasy Records: a faithful recreation of their 1964 Vince Guaraldi Trio single — "Linus and Lucy" on the A side, "Oh, Good Grief" on the B side — with a new picture sleeve. 

And the disc will be pressed onto gold vinyl.

Pretty cool, eh?

(My allegiance to historical accuracy compels me to point out that the original 1964 single in question, Fantasy 593X, came from the album Jazz Impressions of A Boy Named Charlie Brown, as opposed to the later soundtrack album for A Charlie Brown Christmas, as this gold vinyl re-release implies. Indeed, "Oh, Good Grief" isn't even on the Christmas album. Had Fantasy really wanted to be authentic, they'd have granted this special treatment to the single that did come from the Christmas album, Fantasy 608X, with "Christmas Time Is Here" on the A side, and "What Child Is This" on the B side. But I digress.)

Now, you can't order this special Guaraldi single online; the whole point is to bring warm bodies into old-style record stores. You can find the closest participating outlet here, and while you're visiting, you'll also want to check out the Back to Black Friday FAQ. This is important, because not every store will stock every special release; most probably will base their orders on customer requests. That's why you're reading these words now, as opposed to a month from now: It's up to you to visit your favorite music store and ask them to bring in a copy of Vince's disc. Or two, or three, if you're thinking of gifts to other deserving jazz fans. Or if you simply wish to hoard a few, against the inevitable rise in value a few years down the road.

Viewing the entire list of anticipated releases, I also note holiday offerings from the Blind Boys of Alabama, John Denver & The Muppets, and Ernie Kovacs (gotta get that one!). Guaraldi's disc, however, seems to be one of very few jazz releases.

So, what are you waiting for? Hopefully, you already know where to find your local music store, because you're a regular customer. If not, check the online resource, take a little trip, introduce yourself and ask for this spiffy Guaraldi special. 

The person-to-person eye contact will do you good.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Once more unto the breach, dear friends...

You've gotta give Fantasy credit. They work hard to sell us the same thing, over and over and over.

Today marks the debut of yet another edition of Guaraldi's score for A Charlie Brown Christmas, officially dubbed the "Snoopy Doghouse Edition." The disc itself is the same as the 2012 remastered edition (covered in a previous blog entry), but the CD sleeve has blossomed into something truly unusual.

As you can see in the photo above, the customized sleeve unfolds and converts into Snoopy's decorated doghouse. The package also comes with four character cut-outs and stands, so that a dedicated fan can set up a tiny holiday tableau, as shown. (I can't help noticing that the relative scale of the figures and doghouse is somewhat off, but maybe I'm being unduly picky.)

For as long as the link functions, Concord's YouTube Channel features a cute "unpacking video" that can be viewed here.

It's an intriguing marketing ploy, which reminds me of the opulent debut release of Guaraldi's Jazz Impressions of a Boy Named Charlie Brown, back in December 1964. Fantasy issued the first printing of that LP with a gatefold album jacket that included a dozen 8-by-10, frame-ready Charles Schulz "posters" of the Peanuts gang. (See my Guaraldi discography for further details about that album.)

I've honestly lost track of how many versions of this album sit on my shelves, but Fantasy certainly has my number; I obviously need to get this one, as well.

But this release does beg the obvious question: How many times can Fantasy sell the same product to the mainstream public? And if last year saw the arrival of what one assumes is the ultimate re-mastered edition, followed this year by a variant with cute packaging, what will the label do in 2015, to celebrate the album's 50th anniversary?

The mind doth boggle...

Saturday, September 21, 2013

What's in a name?

Full disclosure up front: This entry is sheer speculation.

But it's fun to wonder about such stuff, even when there's probably no way to verify the hypothesis.

First, the facts: On August 7, 1959, a club/theater dubbed Caffe Court opened at 642 High Street in Palo Alto, California. The Vince Guaraldi trio was on hand for the gala opening celebration, backing vocalist Valerie Knight. This gig ran through August 16, and likely would have continued longer, but on August 17 Guaraldi left for Las Vegas, to join Woody Herman's "small combo" for a week. Immediately thereafter, Guaraldi spent most of the next eight months down in Southern California, as a member of the Lighthouse All-Stars.

To my ongoing frustration, I've never been able to find a photo of Outside at the Inside.
Not even the kind fellow at the Palo Alto Historical Association could locate one. But he
did supply this nifty vintage shot of 621 High Street, which would have been directly
across the street from the club, once upon a time. And isn't in interesting that, at
the time this picture was taken, 621 High Street appears to have been a recording
studio and (possibly) a TV repair shop!
He returned to the greater Bay Area in the spring of 1960, and on May 18 began what would become a regular gig at the same Palo Alto venue, which in the meanwhile had adopted the name by which it remains best known today: Outside at the Inside. The Guaraldi Trio remained the house band for roughly a year, through the early spring of 1961.

This portion of High Street is quite close to Stanford University. (Today, what once was 642 High Street appears to be a parking lot. Sic transit gloria mundi.) High Street runs parallel to one of the city's primary arteries, El Camino Real/The Betty Meltzer Memorial Highway. There's also one major street running parallel between High Street and El Camino Real: Alma Street.

The Brazilian/French/Italian/Portuguese film Black Orpheus debuted in the United States on December 21, 1959. Guaraldi is known to have seen it quite a few times, and he quickly became entranced by its marvelous soundtrack, a collaborative masterpiece by Antonio Carlos Jobim, Vinicius de Moraes, Luis Bonfá and Antônio Maria. During the next year and change, Guaraldi shopped his concept for an album of jazz arrangements of that film's four primary themes. The project finally found a home at Fantasy Records, but the Black Orpheus music filled only one side of the album. No problem, of course; Guaraldi filled the other side with material that he'd been working up during his club gigs, most of which -- at this point in time -- would have been at Outside at the Inside.

A vintage shot of Palo Alto's University Avenue. Note, in the lower right corner, the sign that points the way to Alma Street.
Two of the additional tracks were covers: Henry Mancini/Johnny Mercer's "Moon River" and Buddy Johnson's "Since I Fell for You." The two remaining tracks were Guaraldi originals, one of which — "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" — we know all about, as it put the jazz pianist on the map. The other was a tune dubbed "Alma-Ville," which later gave its name to the final LP that Guaraldi recorded during his lifetime. It's known that he was refining "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" during 1960; it's highly likely that he also composed, shaped and named "Alma-Ville" at the same time.

So: Whence the name "Alma-Ville"?

As suggested by a good friend and fellow Guaraldi fan, is it reasonable to assume that Alma Street's lengthy presence in this Northern California municipality, and its proximity to High Street and Outside at the Inside, could have made Palo Alto "the city of Alma" ... or, to put it another way, Alma-Ville?

Guaraldi is known to have acknowledged the venues and areas where he performed; consider his original composition "El Matador." It's not too much a stretch to imagine that he might have paid tribute to Palo Alto in a similar, whimsical vein.

That's total guesswork, of course. But it seems a reasonable assumption.

What do you think?

Friday, September 6, 2013

More power!

Bassist Kelly Bryan became a member of Guaraldi's trio in the fall of 1967, during what was to become a transitional point in the jazz pianist's career.

Kelly Bryan in 1968: You gotta love the threads.
(Sadly, no, he doesn't have any photos of his various
gigs as a member of Guaraldi's trio. More's the pity!)
The reason: Vince’s fondness for experimenting with all sorts of sounds, and his seduction by good ol rock n roll.

In hindsight, we probably can’t blame him; jazz clubs had all but vanished by this point, replaced in the San Francisco area — as everywhere else — by folk and rock venues. Guaraldi undoubtedly regarded his first-gen electric keyboards as a means of remaining relevant. Perhaps to the dismay of his long-time fans, though, he experimented with these new toys on the fly, during his club appearances, rather than developing at least some technique in the privacy of his home studio.

The results often weren't pretty, but hey: It was the 1960s, and some listeners probably expected things to get way, way out during an extended jam.

Bryan was present at Ground Zero, during one such gig, and he remembers it well.

Kelly was one of my more enjoyable interviews: amiable, helpful and always willing to be prodded by a few more questions, as I attempted to clarify various details. Our chats also helped motivate his own literary desires, and he has been penning his own memories of this quite engaging period in his life. (Frankly, Kelly, if what's to come reads as well as what you've already kindly shared, you must consider some sort of formal publishing arrangement.)

Anyway, Kelly cheerfully agreed to go into a bit more detail about his early days with Guaraldi, along with some general thoughts about the early days of electric instrumentation.

The rest of this entry, then, belongs to Kelly.


In late January and early February of 1968, I played for a week with Vince Guaraldi and John Rae at the Bear Valley Ski Resort, in northern California. Vince had taken an interest in skiing and would spend all day on the slopes. He must have done well, because he always made it back to the lodge in time for dinner and the gig ... and all in one piece. I went skiing a couple of times and took lessons from a pretty blond ski instructor. By coincidence, she lived in Berkeley, too, so I got her number and dated her for a while when we were both at home again.

It might have been after the Bear Valley job that Vince said, "Well, Kel, now we've played every kind of gig there is ... except a hanging.”

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A cool July afternoon

Silo’s is a delightful little club in the heart of downtown Napa, California, within the greater wine country. The venue seats 125, and is tucked into the historic Napa Mill, adjacent to the Napa River Inn. On Sunday afternoon, July 14, it was the perfect setting for a tribute to Vince Guaraldi, performed by a polished combo led by jazz pianist — and long-ago Guaraldi student — Larry Vuckovich.

The event was sponsored by the Napa Valley Jazz Society, whose head poobah, Bill Hart, encouraged me to bring a stack of books, feeling certain that some of that afternoon’s patrons would appreciate the opportunity to purchase a copy. Bill also asked me to say “a few words” about Vince between sets, a proposal greeted with equal enthusiasm by Larry. I promised not to overstay my welcome; after all, everybody was present to hear the music.

My wife and I arrived about 45 minutes early, at 3:15 p.m. Bill showed us to our seats, at his table and favorably placed about 10 feet from the band. (That said, there aren’t any bad seats in the house, which is the epitome of intimate.)

We were surprised to discover a full bar, but not at all surprised to see that the cocktails were cheaper than single glasses of wine (all of which were high-end, Napa-area selections). I checked in with Larry and his lovely wife, Sanna; they were holed up in a back area separated only by a curtain, from the rest of the room. I also took advantage of the opportunity to chat with bassist Seward McCain; although he and I corresponded a lot and talked on the phone several years ago, while I worked on my book about Guaraldi, we’d never actually met. In person, he’s just as engaging as he was during our interviews.

Shortly before 4 p.m., Bill Hart took the microphone and made several announcements on behalf of the Napa Jazz Society: upcoming events and other bits of business. His colleague Richard Danne already was taking pictures with an impressive-looking camera, and several of his photos are sprinkled throughout this essay. Hart then introduced me and displayed a copy of my book (thanks, Bill!), which he presented as a gift to Vuckovich. After a round of applause, Bill concluded by formally introducing Larry, who discussed his own early years, starting with his arrival in San Francisco in 1951. He recalled seeing Guaraldi as a member of Cal Tjader’s band in 1957.

“Vince had driving rhythm and soulful playing,” Vuckovich said, “and he played Latin music with great authenticity.”

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Tribute to a "big" jazz pianist

I never got to see Guaraldi perform, but I was luckier with jazz pianist Paul Smith; I saw him live at least a dozen times, and probably more. He was a monster pianist, and not simply because of his impressive size — he stood 6 feet 5, and his huge hands easily spanned an octave and a half — but because of his astonishing facility on the keyboard. If you've never heard his stuff, you've a real treat in store.

I was crushed to learn that he had died on June 30.

Even so, I hear you ask, why am I discussing Smith in a blog devoted to Vince Guaraldi? 

Well, because it's my only venue for jazz chat, and because I adored Smith almost as much as I like Dr. Funk, and mostly because I discovered — to my dismay — that the Web contains very little information of substance about him (and much of what I did find is grossly inaccurate). Wanting to correct that oversight, I've compiled a discography of Smith's recorded output as leader, which you'll find here.

I supposed I could attempt to justify this detour by pointing out that while Smith and Guaraldi never shared a stage (as far as I know), Smith did make a few albums with famed Guaraldi bassist Monty Budwig ... and that seems a sufficient excuse. 

On the other hand, as one of my correspondents cheerfully pointed out awhile back, it is my blog, and I therefore get to make the rules. 

That said, this entry will remain short, and therefore easily ignored if Smith isn't on your radar. 

But he should be...

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Many happy returns

Vince would have turned 85 today, a milestone cited by jazz pianist Larry Vuckovich, during Sunday afternoon's Guaraldi tribute concert in Napa, California. I'll report on that event in a bit — still awaiting some photos — but I couldn't let this day pass without acknowledging it.

Nor, happily, could KMUW 89.1 in Wichita, Kansas. Station DJ Chris Heim's award-winning world music show, Global Village, is celebrating the birthdays of several music icons this week; Guaraldi will get his due on tonight's show (7 p.m. Kansas time). You can read a few advance details here. Guaraldi colleagues Cal Tjader and Bola Sete were honored last night (Tuesday), and that show can be enjoyed at the Global Village archives.

We can't help lamenting what might have been, when birthdays remind us of artists now departed: particularly those who were taken before their time. Think of all the music Guaraldi might have written, arranged and recorded, had he lived to the ripe old age currently enjoyed by some of the jazz world's revered icons. I'm reminded of the wry joke, often shared by musicians who lament their own limited output: "Goodness, when Mozart was my age, he'd been dead for [insert a number] years."

And yet it's pointless to wonder about what might have been, when we can enjoy what was, and is. Mozart couldn't make recordings; we can only imagine how his music sounded, as actually performed by his own talented self. We're incredibly lucky to live in an age when our artists are preserved for all time. We can marvel as Fred Astaire dances in dozens of films. We can laugh as Jackie Gleason roars at his TV wife, in The Honeymooners. And whenever we crave a shot of Guaraldi, we need only listen to one of his albums. His output may have been modest, by some standards, but — to quote Spencer Tracy, in 1952's Pat and Mike — "what's there is cherce."

So grab your favorite Guaraldi album — LP, CD or digital medium of choice — and give it a special, concentrated listen today. He'd like that.

Oh, and of course the photo above is young Vince ... all of 1 year old.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Powder Keg redux (well, sort of!)

Pianist Larry Vuckovich was Guaraldi's one and only student, having "graduated" to Vince's mentorship in the late 1950s, after taking early keyboard lessons from Cal Tjader's wife, Pat.

Larry was one of my best interviews, during the course of researching my Guaraldi biography. Larry's devotion to his former teacher remains strong to this day, as typified by this quote:

"Hearing Vince all the time was an uplifting experience. That's one of the things that the young players miss today: They hear a lot of jazz from the newer players, but they never heard Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Stan Getz, Sonny Rollins or Coltrane. I heard most of those players live, every week, and that's how you learn."

When Guaraldi earned a two-week gig in New York during the summer of 1960, backing singer June Christie at Basin Street East, he didn't want to lose his ongoing trio booking at Outside at the Inside; he therefore summoned Vuckovich as a substitute. The young understudy got his splashy debut, and many such fill-ins followed, as the years passed. The tireless Guaraldi often accepted multiple bookings on the same day; if an afternoon engagement threatened to interfere with a club combo gig that same evening, Vuckovich would sit in for the first set, until Vince could hustle on over.

The two became great friends, and even shared the stage for a memorable booking at San Francisco's Great American Music Hall, during the early months of 1973. Guaraldi assembled a dual-keyboard quintet, usually leading on Fender Rhodes; Vuckovich supported on acoustic piano, and they were joined by Tom Harrell on trumpet, Seward McCain on bass, and Glenn Cronkhite on drums. Guaraldi dubbed the group Powder Keg.

"Vince and I alternated on the piano and Fender Rhodes," Vuckovich recalls, "and we always played together. Sometimes we added a guitar player. It's unfortunate that that stuff wasn't recorded, because it was hot!"

During the decades following Guaraldi's death, Vuckovich went on to become a well-respected jazz pianist in his own right, with an extensive discography as both leader and sideman; you can check out his activities at his handsome web site.

But Vuckovich hasn't forgotten his former mentor, all these years later. Current proof is offered by a concert sponsored by California's Napa Valley Jazz Society: 4 p.m. Sunday, July 14, at Silo's Jazz Club in Napa. (I'm told the event already is sold out, which is great for the musicians, but obviously frustrating for any Northern California jazz fans reading these words prior to concert time.) Larry will be joined by guitarist Josh Workman, Latin percussionist John Santos, drummer Akira Tana, and — as if you would have needed more incentive to join the fun — bassist Seward McCain.

So yes, after all these years, two members of Powder Keg are re-uniting for a Guaraldi tribute.

Although Vuckovich naturally acknowledges the impact of the Peanuts music franchise on Guaraldi's career, he's always quick to point out that Vince was a well-established jazz icon before putting the swing in Charlie Brown's step. As a result, this concert will concentrate on Guaraldi's musical output and activities prior to his hook-up with Charles M. Schulz.

Specific program details aren't available, but Vuckovich has promised this much:

• Guaraldi originals such as "Choro," "Ginza Samba" and (of course!) "Cast Your Fate to the Wind";

• "Samba de Orpheus," one of the seminal arrangements Guaraldi delivered on his Black Orpheus album;

• Jazz standards that Guaraldi arranged in his own signature style, and recorded on his early albums, including "The Lady's in Love with You," "The Days of Wine and Roses," "Night in Tunisia," "Boogaloo Blues" and "Viva Cepeda";

• Two Peanuts numbers, "Surfin' Snoopy" and "Christmas Time Is Here"; and, perhaps most excitingly...

• A recently discovered Guaraldi original, "Blue Lullaby," found on a tape made during an at-home jam session with bassist John Mosher and drummer Willie Bobo.

Additional information, and a bit of background, can be found in the Napa Valley Register and the Weekly Calistogan.

Perhaps, with this event already sold out, Vuckovich and his combo will be persuaded to repeat the program. We can hope...

Friday, April 26, 2013

Guaraldi's actual, for-sure CD debut

It was a small but vexing detail.

When, precisely, did Fantasy first release Guaraldi's score for A Charlie Brown Christmas on CD?

I didn't immediately embrace this new technology, back in the 1980s; I stubbornly clung to LPs until new albums began to arrive solely in digital. (And, for the record, I've kept all my vinyl and recently upgraded my original turntable to a newer, sleeker model. I've nothing against CDs, but — call me old-fashioned — LPs somehow suggest more romance.) As a result, I didn't purchase a digital version of A Charlie Brown Christmas the nanosecond it came out, which obviously would have answered the question above when, decades later, I began working on my Guaraldi biography.

By the time I did start researching Guaraldi's history on CD, ambiguity reared its ugly head. To this day, numerous sources cite 1986 as the year A Charlie Brown Christmas debuted in digital; others give 1988 as the relevant date. Grab a random copy, new or used, of the "original" disc in a music store — as opposed to the re-mastered versions issued in 2006 and 2012 — and you're almost guaranteed to find a 12-track version dated 1988. Indeed, the liner notes I wrote for the most recent (2012) re-mastered version cite "the original 1988 CD release." Several years earlier, however, I elected to go with 1986 in the final draft of my Guaraldi bio.

So ... which is correct?

Both, in a way. But 1986, ultimately.

Thanks to fellow Guaraldi fan Rich Marek — who deserves a massive shout-out — I now have a copy of the fer-shur 1986 CD release of A Charlie Brown Christmas, which faithfully and precisely duplicates the original 11-track LP. The mastering engineer was George Horn, and the relevant proof is displayed both inside the CD cover insert and on the back of the tray insert, as shown at right.

Two years later, Fantasy issued an "updated" version of the disc, this time with the 12th bonus track — an extended version of "Greensleeves" — that has remained part of the package ever since. This 1988 release also credits George Horn for the mastering, but he recently confirmed that his "new" efforts were restricted to the bonus track; the first 11 tracks simply were lifted from the 1986 disc.

Which was discontinued and has, over the years, all but vanished.

Mystery solved.

For the purposes of my book, then, 1986 was the right choice (although I freely admit that I wound up flipping a coin, at the time ... nothing beats living lucky!). For the purposes of my more recent liner notes for the 2012 re-mastered version of the album, 1988 also was the right choice, because that commentary discusses the "original" 12-track release.

It's interesting to note, as well, that the 1986 CD — like the 1965 LP — cited only Guaraldi, and failed to identify the trio's bassist and drummer. That oversight was corrected with the 1988 CD, which listed bassist Monty Budwig and drummer Colin Bailey ... a claim that ignited a firestorm when bassist Fred Marshall and drummer Jerry Granelli insisted that they had supported Guaraldi on that album. This kerfuffle has been detailed several times, most notably in my book and a December 1998 piece written by Robert Wilonsky for the Dallas Observer (and syndicated in several other papers throughout the country). The controversy eventually prompted Fantasy to re-issue the 1988 CD anew in August 1999. The music didn't change — in other words, no fresh mastering — but the credits more properly divided the 12 tracks between Budwig/Bailey and Marshall/Granelli. Additionally, the Charles Schulz illustration on the CD cover was modified slightly: Snoopy is looking left, not right, and Charlie Brown, Lucy and Linus are posed differently.

So, there you have it. Completists now must track down three early discs:

• The 11-track 1986 version
• The 12-track 1988 version, citing only Budwig and Bailey
• The 12-track 1999 version, citing all four sidemen

And that, I hope, will lay the matter to rest!