Friday, December 20, 2013

A Celebration of Jerry

Jazz drummer Jerry Granelli has been in the news of late, as a result of his December 8 performances of music from A Charlie Brown Christmas. It's nice to see that media outlets recognized the importance of the publicity hook: one of Vince Guaraldi's sidemen, from way back in the day, mounting a seasonal tribute concert to his long-ago trio leader. Jerry's a great guy — and an ace drummer — and he certainly deserves the fresh exposure.

I sent him a congratulatory note, and also expressed the hope that he'd consider reviving the concept in 2014, and possibly touring it a bit farther than his current home in Nova Scotia.

His reply:

Thanks ... it was a really wonderful four shows ... also fun to approach [these songs] as new pieces for the stage. People really seem to want it again, and out west as well. Ciao!

The pre- and post-concert coverage deserves to be shared, so I've gathered the best bits here, for your enjoyment.

In and Out (CBC Radio, December 7)

The Joy and Melancholy of A Charlie Brown Christmas (CBC Radio, December 11)

Granelli Shines on Reissued A Charlie Brown Christmas Soundtrack (CBC New Brunswick, December 11)

Unless you happened to live in or around Ottawa or Halifax, you'd not have been able to join the appreciative audiences at the four concerts. And — alas! — none of the shows was recorded (at least, not officially ... we'll see what pops up on YouTube!). We do, however, have a few clips available to enjoy, courtesy of CBC News:

Jerry Granelli warms up (posted December 9)

Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown (posted December 9)

Finally, if you'd like to watch a lengthy 2002 piece on Granelli, In the Moment, you'll find it posted here.


Just by way of a late reminder: Quite a few Guaraldi/Charlie Brown Christmas tribute concerts have been added to this earlier post, since it first was published on November 8; check out the complete list here. If you live in New York, Southern California, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Texas, Washington (state) or, yes, even Nova Scotia (again!), you still can have a very Merry Guaraldi Christmas!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A touch of brass and a bit of radio drama

The holiday season isn't merely an excuse for jazz combos to present their concert takes on Vince Guaraldi's Charlie Brown Christmas score, although we're seeing plenty of that action. (This year's "Jolly Guaraldi Holiday" post has been updated with numerous fresh entries since debuting November 4, so do keep checking back.)

It's also when we might expect a fresh cover of Guaraldi's album to drop, and we've been blessed with a rather unusual one this year: The Canadian Brass' Christmas Time Is Here.

Needless to say, this is rather novel instrumentation for a recording initially conceived and performed by a jazz trio of piano, bass and drums. The Canadian Brass is fronted by a quintet of horns — Chris Coletti, trumpet/flugelhorn; Eric Reed, French horn; Chuck Daellenbach, tuba; Achilles Liarmakopoulos, trombone; and Caleb Hudson, trumpet/piccolo trumpet — and backed by some orchestral elements, and the result brings new meaning to the term "droll."

(No surprise: The instrumentation and arrangements remind me strongly of French hornist Aaron Brask's The Guaraldi Sessions album. Which you should dig up, if you've not yet heard it.)

As you might expect, the Brass don't really "swing" in any jazz sense, and their arrangements of Guaraldi's up-tempo numbers — notably "Christmas Is Coming" — are likely to raise eyebrows. But the horns work surprisingly well when carrying the melody of "Skating," and their handling of "My Little Drum" builds to a pleasantly dramatic finish. The Brass also covers the traditional carols Guaraldi included on his album; "O Tannenbaum" and "The Christmas Song" are particularly gentle and sweet, while "What Child Is This" offers something perilously close to jazz noodling during the bridge.

As befits the ensemble's classical leanings, the album also includes Christopher Dedrick's "The Angel Choir and the Trumpeter" and a blend of Bach's BWV 29 and Leontovych's "Carol of the Bells," titled "Bach's Bells," along with a few more contemporary carols: "Frosty the Snowman," "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" (and the less said about the vocals that conclude the latter, the better).

Rather oddly, the Amazon entry lists only 14 tracks on the disc, which (incorrectly) suggests that the additional four tracks are available solely via download, or as some sort of bonus. This is simply untrue; the CD includes all 18 tracks.

But enough with the mere facts; let's rate this album on the "Guaraldi scale" I established last year, when discussing other covers of A Charlie Brown Christmas. On that basis, this Canadian Brass release gets 25 points for featuring all five of the traditional songs Guaraldi arranged on his album, and 25 points for including "Fur Elise" ... but only 15 points (out of 20) for covering Guaraldi's original compositions. Rather oddly, the Brass skip "Linus and Lucy." Finally, their track sequencing is nowhere close to that of Guaraldi's album, so no points at all in the fourth category. The final tally: 65 points, which is quite respectable.


I'll be discussing A Charlie Brown Christmas and other aspects of Guaraldi's career during a live radio chat this Friday morning, December 6, on WFAE 90.7 FM, the National Public Radio station in Charlotte, North Carolina. I'll be featured from 9 to 10 a.m. (EST) on "Charlotte Talks, with Mike Collins," so West Coasters will need to get up early. WFAE offers a live stream here (click the "Listen Live" button, in the upper left), and I'm told the audio will be available later as both a podcast and download, with the additional possibility of a replay on Christmas Day. Sweet!