Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Credit where due?

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Guaraldi’s first album of Peanuts music, Jazz Impressions of A Boy Named Charlie Brown, which debuted in December 1964. Next year, we’ll mark the same anniversary for the album soundtrack of A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Half a century. As Charlie Brown himself would say, Good grief!

I don’t remember precisely when I bought both albums, but it likely would have been some time in 1966 or ’67. I still have both of those LPs, and they’re still in pretty good condition ... which is amazing, considering how many times they’ve been played.

Half a century. You’d think, by now, that Guaraldi’s essential collaborators — his bassist and drummer — also could be acknowledged properly, for both albums.

You’d think.

You’d be wrong.

Over the years, the most frequent Guaraldian queries I’ve fielded have concerned either the sidemen credits for one or both of those albums, or the degree to which the music on both albums does — or doesn’t — match what we hear when watching the corresponding short films. Attempting to suss out the credits remains a source of conflicting opinions to this day, as demonstrated by the recent squabble that took place behind the scenes of Guaraldi’s Wikipedia entry. (See this blog’s previous post for details.)

Comparing the albums to the actual scores, however, has been a long-gestating project delayed only by my awareness of the effort involved: a challenge that therefore sat on a back burner for several years. Gathering the resources certainly wasn’t a problem: Copies of the TV special A Charlie Brown Christmas are easy to find, and the never-aired documentary A Boy Named Charlie Brown is available on DVD, from the Charles M. Schulz Museum.

Now, thanks to considerable assistance on the part of my good friend and fellow Guaraldi fan Doug Anderson, it’s time to shed some light on both issues. What follows raises fresh questions (with respect to credits) and contains some intriguing surprises (with respect to how the music was used). I’ll divide the results of recent analysis into three posts, starting with this one, which will concentrate on who did — or didn’t — play what on which.

As Bette Davis comments in 1950’s All About Eve, “Fasten your seatbelts; it’s going to be a bumpy night!”

Let’s start with so-called “established fact,” as presented over the years on the various Fantasy releases.

You might find it useful to follow this narrative discussion with visual aids: these charts for Jazz Impressions of A Boy Named Charlie Brown (hereafter shorted to A Boy Named Charlie Brown) and A Charlie Brown Christmas.

The album A Boy Named Charlie Brown, when originally released on LP in December 1964, failed to credit any sidemen; Guaraldi was the only musician cited. The same was true for the original December 1965 release of the soundtrack LP for A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Here's where the trouble started: the back-cover credits to the original LP release of
Vince Guaraldi: Greatest Hits. (Click here for a larger view.)

Vince Guaraldi: Greatest Hits, released on LP in 1980, drew from several of the jazz pianist/composer’s Fantasy albums. For our purposes here, we’re concerned solely with its three Peanuts compositions: “Oh, Good Grief,” “Linus and Lucy” and “Christmas Time Is Here.” The first two songs are from A Boy Named Charlie Brown; the latter is from A Charlie Brown Christmas. The credited sidemen on those three tracks are bassist Fred Marshall and drummer Jerry Granelli.

It's telling to note, however, that when this album was re-issued on CD in 1989, those three tracks were credited only to “Vince Guaraldi Trio.”

A Charlie Brown Christmas was the first of Guaraldi’s Fantasy albums to be re-issued on CD, in 1986. A Boy Named Charlie Brown followed a few years later, in 1989. Both CDs credited bassist Monty Budwig and drummer Colin Bailey on all tracks.

Marshall’s daughter purchased a copy of the Charlie Brown Christmas CD in 1997, and was dismayed to find that her father wasn’t acknowledged. This led Marshall to begin a behind-the-scenes scuffle — detailed at exhausting length in my Guaraldi bio, and also in this December 1998 newspaper story — that eventually resulted in a revised version of the CD being released in August 1999. From that day forward, all subsequent releases of A Charlie Brown Christmas have credited Marshall and Granelli on all tracks save the bonus version of “Greensleeves,” which was assigned to Budwig and Bailey.

Still with me?

Hang on; it’s about to get worse.

Fred Marshall and Jerry Granelli bracket Bola Sete, during a 1963 taping of Ralph
Gleason's Jazz Casual; Guaraldi is just off-camera to the left.
Fantasy released Charlie Brown’s Holiday Hits in September 1998. It included five previously released tracks: “Charlie Brown Theme,” “Linus and Lucy” and “Schroeder,” all from A Boy Named Charlie Brown; and the vocal and instrumental versions of “Christmas Time Is Here,” from A Charlie Brown Christmas. All five were credited to Marshall and Granelli, and continue to be so to this day.

Here’s where I mention that the version of “Linus and Lucy” first recorded for A Boy Named Charlie Brown is duplicated on A Charlie Brown Christmas. Same recording, ergo same personnel ... whoever they are.

Despite this, the credits on the Boy Named Charlie Brown CD never have varied, from the initial digital re-issue to now: always Budwig and Bailey.

The Definitive Vince Guaraldi, released by Fantasy in October 2009, credits Budwig and Bailey for “Oh, Good Grief,” “Linus and Lucy” and “Charlie Brown Theme,” all from A Boy Named Charlie Brown; and Marshall and Granelli for “Christmas Is Coming,” “Christmas Time Is Here” and “Skating,” all from A Charlie Brown Christmas.

The Very Best of Vince Guaraldi, released by Fantasy in August 2012, credits Budwig and Bailey for “Linus and Lucy” and “Charlie Brown Theme,” both from A Boy Named Charlie Brown; and Marshall and Granelli for “Christmas Is Coming” and “Christmas Time Is Here,” both from A Charlie Brown Christmas. And here’s an interesting detail: For the first time, Fantasy acknowledges that this recording of “Linus and Lucy” was issued on both A Boy Named Charlie Brown and A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Which brings us up to date. For the moment.

So ... some observations:

• If Marshall and Granelli were credited properly for the lion’s share of A Charlie Brown Christmas, including “Linus and Lucy,” then clearly they also should be acknowledged for that track on A Boy Named Charlie Brown ... rather than Budwig and Bailey.

• If the original credits for Vince Guaraldi: Greatest Hits are accurate, then Marshall and Granelli also should be acknowledged on A Boy Named Charlie Brown for “Oh, Good Grief.” (Bear in mind, however, that the CD re-issue failed to cite any sidemen.)

• If the credits on Charlie Brown’s Holiday Hits are accurate, then Marshall and Granelli also should be acknowledged on A Boy Named Charlie Brown for “Charlie Brown Theme.”

At the very least, I suggest with growing exasperation, Fantasy should try for internal consistency, starting with “Linus and Lucy.” Either it belongs to one set of sidemen or the other ... but it can’t be both on different albums, since it’s always the same recording.

That aside ... do we know, for sure, who did record the various tracks on the two original albums?

Likely not.

Both Guaraldi and Fantasy’s Max Weiss were notoriously lousy record-keepers, and I suspect much of the latter’s data may have “vanished mysteriously” when Guaraldi sued the label in late 1965, to get out of a series of contracts that had become increasingly onerous. Musicians’ union contracts could shed light on the matter, but I’ve never found paperwork for either of the two albums in question.

Personally, I’ve always felt that both albums likely resulted from several recording sessions that employed different sidemen. That would have been typical for Fantasy; one need only examine the credits of various Cal Tjader albums that featured Guaraldi as sideman, to see how they’re “built” from two or three recording sessions separated (at times) by many months or even a year. (Of course, we perhaps should wonder about the accuracy of that information, as well ... but let’s not go there for now.)

Colin Bailey, Monty Budwig and Guaraldi, circa 1961
Indeed, thanks to Colin Bailey’s detailed diaries, I know for a fact that he and Monty Budwig joined Guaraldi in Southern California on October 26, 1964, to record tracks for A Boy Named Charlie Brown at Glendale’s Whitney Studio. Thanks to the same source, I also know that those three musicians were at the same studio on March 6, 1965, to record tracks for A Charlie Brown Christmas. And I know that Guaraldi, Marshall and Granelli spent at least three evening sessions at Fantasy’s studios in September 1965, accompanied by young members of the San Rafael Choir, to record tracks for A Charlie Brown Christmas; that information comes from interviews with several now-adult members of that choir.

What I don't know is whether any or all of the above sessions were for the respective albums or films.

And I also don't know whether the chicken came before the egg. Were the film scores recorded first, and then used (in part) for the albums ... or vice-versa?

Or could it be both?

Fantasy’s official justification for the revised 1999 credits on A Charlie Brown Christmas reflected this decision: that Guaraldi had recorded the actual TV show’s score with Budwig and Bailey during one session; and then re-recorded the same cuts for the Fantasy LP with Marshall and Granelli, during a subsequent session (or sessions). That sounds logical, even reasonable, given the time period.

Casual listeners probably assume that the same music and recordings are used in both films and their subsequent soundtrack albums, but that definitely wasn’t always the case, half a century ago. Many early film and TV album scores were re-recordings, rather than albums built from the original sessions. Taking Henry Mancini as just one example, he altered the arrangements and varied the track sequencing for many of his 1960s soundtracks, in order to deliver a “smoother” album listening experience.

The supposition that Guaraldi did the same, then, seems consistent with common practice at the time.

There’s only one itty-bitty problem.

Careful examination of digitized audio files from A Charlie Brown Christmas (the TV special) and its soundtrack album, conducted by my friend Doug — a man who puts my meticulous talents to shame — have revealed that the TV and album recordings of “O Tannenbaum,” “Skating,” “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” and “Linus and Lucy” are identical. The same likely is true of “Fur Elise,” but it’s harder to be certain, since the TV versions are edited and spliced. (To be precise, multiple versions of “Linus and Lucy” are employed during the TV show, but one of them definitely is the same as that on the album.)

The TV special A Charlie Brown Christmas also features "Charlie Brown Theme," "Frieda (with the Naturally Curly Hair)" and "Happiness Is" ... all of which are identical to these tracks on the album A Boy Named Charlie Brown.

Similarly, versions of "Oh, Good Grief" and "Happiness Is," as part of the underscore for the documentary A Boy Named Charlie Brown, are identical to those used on the corresponding LP. (Again, the film actually employs multiple versions of "Oh, Good Grief," but one of them matches that on the album.)

So: Not true that either film score is one set of sidemen, and the corresponding album is another set. Much more likely, as already proposed, that both albums — A Boy Named Charlie Brown and A Charlie Brown Christmas — are cherry-picked assemblages of tracks from various sessions, employing different sidemen.

To make matters even worse, A Charlie Brown Christmas might involve more than the aforementioned two sets of sidemen. Bassist Al Obidinski and drummer Benny Barth also assert participation on the album, as do bassist Eugene “Puzzy” Firth and drummer Paul Distel. Ironically, the latter two may have the strongest claim; according to the newspaper article mentioned above, Firth and Distel were “the only two players Guaraldi listed in a studio-session report he had to file with the American Federation of Musicians, which insisted on such formalities for television recordings.”

Ouch. Major ouch!

That said, please note this crucial caveat: While it's entirely possible that Obidinski/Barth and/or Firth/Distel recorded some or all of the Charlie Brown Christmas music with Guaraldi, during one or more sessions, that doesn't necessarily mean that anything from those sessions was used on the resulting LP (or in the TV special, for that matter). By 1965, Guaraldi already had the clout to indulge his almost unreasonable perfectionist's streak. If indeed he recorded all this music with four different sets of sidemen, clearly he was seeking just the right sound.

And, for what it’s worth, Granelli recently verified that all the work he did for A Charlie Brown Christmas was alongside Marshall, and nobody else.

But as for whose work, precisely, finally wound up on the albums, or as part of the respective film scores ... we just don't know.

And believe me, I wish it were otherwise!

On perhaps a brighter note, having whetted your appetite with these extracts from my friend Doug's painstaking digital analyses, you're no doubt curious to get the full scoop on each film/album comparison. They're coming up soon, so stay tuned!

No comments: