Monday, March 25, 2013

Posthumous public service

It's a frequent trivia question, and one that many otherwise reputable reference books get wrong:

Guaraldi scored 15 Peanuts TV specials (from A Charlie Brown Christmas through It's Arbor Day, Charlie Brown), one big-screen film (A Boy Named Charlie Brown) and two half-hour TV documentaries (the unsold A Boy Named Charlie Brown and Charlie Brown and Charles Schulz).

Few people realize, however, that Guaraldi also had a hand in three more animated Peanuts projects.

Sort of.

Guaraldi's untimely passing in February 1976 left Lee Mendelson in an obvious bind, when it came time to score the next Peanuts TV special, It's Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown. Perhaps after considerable soul-searching, Mendelson shifted from jazz to a more pop-oriented sound, teaming former psychedelic rocker Ed Bogas with singer/songwriter Judy Munson. That likely was a shrewd decision; rather than have somebody else try to imitate Guaraldi's distinctive Peanuts sound — which clearly would have been impossible, and perhaps even unwise — Mendelson went in an entirely different direction. Successive Peanuts TV specials remained in that pop realm for the next dozen years.

At the same time, though — shortly after Guaraldi's death — when Charlie Brown and his friends accepted a few outside "moonlighting" assignments, Mendelson instead returned to his Main Man ... which is how Vince scored three Peanuts public-service shorts from the grave.

Well, not exactly ... although it might have seemed that way, to people who weren't paying attention.

Mendelson, animator Bill Melendez and Charles M. Schulz teamed with the American Dental Association to produce a pair of 5-minute shorts: 1977's Tooth Brushing and 1980's It's Dental Flossophy, Charlie Brown. Both films were designed to be shown in schools, as a means of encouraging children (and their parents) to take better care of their teeth. 

Tooth Brushing begins as Charlie Brown happily concludes a visit with his dentist — apparently not having suffered any cavities — and then shares what he learned with Linus and Snoopy. As Charlie Brown explains how to brush and floss properly, we watch both Linus and Snoopy demonstrate these desired techniques. The film draws most of its humor from the fact that Snoopy is using Lucy's tooth brush, which the neighborhood's champion fussbudget fails to realize when she joins the bathroom gathering. As Charlie Brown and Linus react with hilarious expressions of nausea, Lucy uses the same brush to prove that she's the best brusher in town.

The music track behind this action is constant, and consistent: several variations of "The Heartburn Waltz," lifted from the score to Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown, which had debuted January 28, 1975. This engaging theme was heard half a dozen times during the course of that Peanuts TV special, but never quite the same way twice; Guaraldi vamped and noodled through numerous arrangements and Hammond B3 variations, and he also recorded more versions than ultimately were used in the show. Thus, sharp-eared listeners who hang on every note during Tooth Brushing will detect a few versions of "The Heartburn Waltz" that are lifted directly from Be My Valentine, while at least one is an alternate take that never made it into the soundtrack.

Tooth Brushing is available for viewing on YouTube, and you'll find that it's cute and instructive, as well as being a nice showcase for Guaraldi's music.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Another view of the Annex

I continue to marvel at the manner in which the Internet allows access to — and contact with — other historians and fans who pursue the same subjects from slightly different angles. If the blogosphere is any indication, quite a few music buffs have become absorbed by the San Francisco scene from the 1950s through the '70s, and some are devoted enough to seek out and interview Those Who Were There, occasionally with radio broadcasts or podcasts in mind. I love to learn about such efforts; there's always the possibility of fresh nuggets to be mined, even from musicians I've interviewed (exhaustively!) myself. You never know when a familiar question, perhaps worded in a slightly different manner, might trigger a long-buried, previously unshared memory.

My colleague Corry Arnold — who writes the marvelous Grateful Dead blog, Lost Live Dead — called my attention to Jake Feinberg, an unabashed music fan on a mission to immerse himself in the aforementioned music scene to the best of his ability, at this decades-long remove. I appreciate Jake's enthusiasm and dedication; I also share his devotion to vinyl ... although I fear that's a battle we're destined to lose.

Jake has interviewed all sorts of musicians, with the resulting hour-length installments of KJLL's The Jake Feinberg Show archived at his website. (KJLL is an AM station out of South Tucson, Arizona.) The impressive roster includes several of Guaraldi's former sidemen, each of whom discusses Vince at least in passing, and in some cases in considerable detail.

I also enjoy the archive photos that Jake has managed to dig up, granting us a glimpse of what these cats looked like, back in the day.

Vince Lateano
Drummer Vince Lateano was interviewed on September 24, 2011. He mentions working with Guaraldi on some of the later Peanuts soundtracks, and also spending six to eight months — alongside bassist Seward McCain — as part of Guaraldi's regular trio at Butterfield's. 

Nothing new there, but I was intrigued to learn that Lateano recalled first hearing Guaraldi perform in the late 1950s, while the latter was a member of Cal Tjader's Quintet, alongside Al McKibbon (bass), Willie Bobo (drums and percussion) and Mongo Santamaria (congas). Lateano was in his mid-20s when he moved to San Francisco from Sacramento in the mid-'60s, so he would have been a teenager during that initial exposure to Guaraldi, perhaps during a jazz-laden night in the City.

(Wouldn't it have been nice to tag along!)

Jerry Granelli (foreground)
Drummer Jerry Granelli, interviewed on November 26, 2012, discusses his gig with Guaraldi at some length. Granelli gives Guaraldi credit for introducing him to the bossa nova and samba sound that inspired the jazz pianist so strongly in the late 1950s. Granelli also recalls how quickly guitarist Bola Sete was added to their trio, which included bassist Fred Marshall: "We rehearsed a couple of tunes with Bola," Granelli explains, "and then just started playing!"

Albums were knocked out quickly at Fantasy, Granelli recalls, because the studio time would be booked — and paid for — in three-hour blocks. That corresponds to what I've heard from many of Guaraldi's former sidemen, who explained that arrangements and solos would be perfected during the nightly club gigs; no surprise then, when it came time to make a record, that the tracks could be laid down in just a few takes.