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!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Christmas 1966: Choral memories

It's no more than several quick paragraphs in my book:

On Dec. 13 [1966], Guaraldi and Charles Gompertz were in the audience for a rather unusual performance of the music for the Grace Cathedral Mass ... at Tamalpais High School.

"This was a kid, Brian Mann, who was a music major," Gompertz recalled. "He had memorized the Mass, and was a really good piano player. He could 'play Vince' the same way Vince played!

"The music department phoned and asked if I could get Vince's permission for Brian to do the concert, and then have Vince and me come up afterwards and say a few words, and answer questions. So we did, and Brian did a great job. Vince was blown away, and really taken with this kid; he saw himself at age 20.

"Vince gave him some tips after the performance, and then they sat down at the piano together and played stuff. It was a wonderful evening."

The entrance to Tamalpais High School, early 1967, as seen in an archival photo
extracted from a KPIX-TV Channel 5 news story.

Just a few paragraphs, because I hadn't been able to find Brian Mann or anybody else associated with that performance. 

With what I know now, that short anecdote could — should — have blossomed into several pages. If not more.

But let's look on the bright side. That's what this blog is for, right?

During one of my bookstore signings in 2012, a vivacious woman handed me a book and asked me to personalize it for "Brian." In response to my observation that she didn't look much like a Brian, she laughed, said her name was Linda, and explained that she knew Brian Mann from "back in the day," when they were members of the Tamalpais High School Advanced Choir. She was buying the book as a gift for him.

My heart didn't quite stop, but it certainly paused.

"Brian Mann?" I asked. "The Tam High School performance of the Guaraldi Mass?"

She nodded.

"Please," I said, as persuasively as possible, "ask him to get in touch. I'd love to chat with him about that performance, and everything that led up to it."

Linda did that, and more. She put me in touch with both Brian and John Terwilliger, who played drums in that Tam High School trio. Better still, she gave me a copy of the program handed out to audience members that evening in 1966, and dubbed a copy of the performance itself ... which, wonder of wonders, had been recorded and pressed as a small-run LP that was given to all the choir members.

Having now listened to that recording at least a dozen times, I can confirm that Chuck Gompertz wasn't exaggerating: Brian did sound just like Vince. More to the point, the audio quality of this recording — given its age — is nothing short of stunning; for my money, it sounds better than Fantasy's recording of the 1965 Grace Cathedral performance.

But I'm getting ahead of things. Let's hear the story unfold as it actually happened.