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?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow. I love this. I have a riff about getting the City of Palo Alto to play Lee Konitz' "Palo Alto" as hold-music when you call City Hall, but I will update to recommend Vince Guaraldi "Alma-Ville" as an equal or better (yet still pretty far-fetched) idea.

Also, please note that Oaxaca is Palo Alto's Sister City -- David Guaraldi eventually released this composition, "Oaxaca" and album title in 2004, although you mention the exact date VG started playing it live years before.

I am writing a history of jazz in Palo Alto based mostly on the PAHA (history association) files, mixed with random musings of my own. I have Vince just at a glance but will update with this motherlode of info: Outside at the Inside (and two different flyers and ads -- would love to borrow from you), Nero's Nook at the Cabana, also Frost, Stanford Chapel, Foothill College -- which are a little off-topic but close enough to give a fuller picture -- Exit-In, In Your Ear, which is what the only cite I had to start with, but I did not realize it was the same venue as Poppycock -- you have him playing "Oaxaca" there in July, 1971 -- plus info about George Winston, Robben Ford -- Wow! I think John Medeski at Cubberley in 1996 actually riffs on 'Linus and Lucy" but kinda mimics the sound effect of the teacher's voice in the tv shows, at a time when the crew, the City Staff, not my people, were kinda upstaging him and turning on the house lights as a way to control the crowd - he was mocking them -- will have to check the board tape to see if that is actually true but I've always remember it in that way. Weird digression.

I have very little on that 1960 to about 1968 period before all this.
I will of course credit you, Derrick, for all your hard work. If you'd like to summarize all this, that would indubitably be an improvement. It's funny you posted this a week or so before I wandered into the history center at Cubberley (where I produced a concert series in the 1990s) and got invited to be like an intern or pseudo-scholar-in-residence. I'm trying to get them, the history association, to produce a panel on this topic. Palo Alto is not as vital to West Coast jazz as SF or Bach Dancing, but it's interesting to see what did happen here, and lament the lack of a venue today.

I'm of the belief that every note Vince Guaraldi played live around here, forty and fifty years ago, still reverberates and has some kind of impact, on those it touched and who else and how else they touched others, so thanks for your diligence in keeping track of it.

Mark Weiss, "Plastic Alto" blog and Earthwise Productions

I'm also kinda curious about "Maestro of Menlo Park" film and concept -- Butterfields itself duly noted and for better or worse sort of out of my purview for Palo Alto per se. But will go by and check out the street address, out of respect.