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!