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...


BR4D said...

Great to hear about this. Too bad I'm on the other side of the country.

What is the news on this recently discovered Guaraldi original "Blue Lullaby"? Has this home-jam session (with John Mosher and Willie Bobo) been released yet?

Derrick Bang said...

No, the home-jam session hasn't been released, and — sadly — it's not likely to happen any time soon. As is the case with many such recordings, a yawning chasm separates those who own the tape, those who performed on it, and those who own the music. Some things are destined to remain in private hands, and I suspect this will be one of them.