Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Orange is the New Gold

We're coming up on a couple of important anniversaries for Guaraldi's Peanuts music, and the first will land in about six weeks.

Guaraldi's first Peanuts album — Jazz Impressions of A Boy Named Charlie Brown — was released in December 1964. Technically, then, the album won't celebrate its 50th anniversary until the end of this year ... but Fantasy Records isn't waiting that long.

A limited-edition, collectible vinyl reissue of the original album will be released on May 13 by Fantasy, via the Concord Music Group. All concerned have worked hard to restore the original 1964 gatefold LP cover design, and the package also includes reproductions of the 8-by-10 Charles M. Schulz lithographs that were included inside first-edition releases.

Finally, the disc itself will be orange, as a nod toward Fantasy's original gimmick of issuing records on colored vinyl.

(Don't ask me why orange, rather than gold, which is appropriate for a golden anniversary.)

This collector's-edition vinyl will be readily available via Amazon and any music store willing to order and stock it.

In addition to this vinyl package, the album also will be re-released on CD on the same day (May 13), where it has been enhanced with 24-bit remastering by engineer Joe Tarantino, who has handled the remastering work on several Guaraldi re-releases. The CD booklet will include a lengthy new essay by my own self; I once again was delighted to assist with another of Fantasy's loving acknowledgments of Dr. Funk's legacy. (For those who might be curious, my essay is available only with the re-mastered CD, not with the LP.)

And I know what you're thinking: Additional surprises? Bonus tracks?


Well, bonus track (singular). The remastered CD includes an alternate take of "Baseball Theme," a variant which — as I briefly explain, in my essay — is performed at a gentler tempo that more closes matches the version heard in the actual documentary.

Concord has set up an entire media page for the album, which you'll find here. The site includes a detailed press release, the album art, a link to the "Fans of Vince Guaraldi" Facebook page, and, thanks to SoundCloud, a means of sampling the music itself.

Original first-gen 1964 vinyl pressings of this album — with both vinyl and gatefold packaging in nice condition — are extremely hard to find. Those that include the Schulz mini-posters — also in nice condition, without (eek!) tape marks or thumbtack holes — are as rare as hen's teeth. (And quite expensive, when they do surface.) This is a chance to reach back 50 years and own a little slice of Guaraldian history.

And I must admit, the prestige approach taken with this album makes me wonder how Fantasy/Concord will top itself next year, when Guaraldi's score for A Charlie Brown Christmas celebrates its golden anniversary...

Friday, March 21, 2014

A Man Called Charlie Brown

In a brief untitled squib that appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on March 13, 1964, jazz columnist Ralph Gleason mentioned that Vince Guaraldi would write the music for a TV film about Charles M. Schulz's Peanuts newspaper strip: a documentary to be titled A Man Called Charlie Brown.

The documentary eventually re-christened A Boy Named Charlie Brown, directed and produced by Lee Mendelson, never aired on television; in 1964, no sponsor was willing to bring Charlie Brown and his friends to the small screen.

Decades passed, after which Mendelson's film finally found a home — and obtained distribution — at the Charles M. Schulz Museum, in Santa Rosa, California. The 30-minute documentary regularly screens in the museum's theater; it's also available for purchase, on DVD, from the museum's online store.

Thus armed with copies of the film, inquisitive Guaraldi fans found fresh reasons for raised eyebrows ... because the documentary's musical contents don't precisely correspond with what we've all enjoyed on the soundtrack album, which Fantasy released back in 1964. Most notably, several songs — "Blue Charlie Brown," "Charlie Brown Theme," "Freda (sic)" and "Pebble Beach" — aren't in the show at all. Were they extras that Guaraldi simply tossed in, to round out the album?

Likely not.

As originally detailed in the April 1964 issue of San Francisco magazine, Mendelson conceived his film as a 60-minute special: a logical choice, given that his previous hit documentary — A Man Named Mays, which profiled baseball great Willie Mays — had been produced at that length.

A few months later, on June 9, Fantasy Records' Max Weiss issued a press release that read, in part, "A Boy Named Charlie Brown has been eight months in production, and features such notables as Bing Crosby, Willie Mays, Dean Martin, Arnold Palmer and Frank Sinatra. Vince Guaraldi has written, scored and recorded the soundtrack, and Fantasy Records is readying an album of the original soundtrack, featuring Guaraldi and his trio."

Bing Crosby? Arnold Palmer? Frank Sinatra?

Folks who own the DVD know full well that they're nowhere to be seen. So ... what happened?

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The score, the whole score, and nothing but the score...

Sharp-eared Guaraldi fans love to analyze every single note heard in A Charlie Brown Christmas, in part because that’s the only Peanuts TV special to have generated its own soundtrack album. Many times over the years, I’ve fielded this question: “What’s being played about seven minutes into the show, as Charlie Brown watches Snoopy decorate his doghouse? That music isn’t on the album!” Answer: “Air Music,” also known as “Surfin’ Snoopy” ... and while it’s true that tune doesn’t appear on the soundtrack album, it is included on the CD Charlie Brown’s Holiday Hits.

For quite awhile, my interest is this particular topic was confined solely to such easy album/soundtrack comparisons. But when what we can call the “sidemen controversy” erupted anew late last year — regarding which of Guaraldi’s bassists and drummers performed on the special’s TV soundtrack, and/or the subsequent album, as detailed at length in this blog’s previous post — I realized that Fantasy’s long-standing justification for the credits, as given since the album’s re-release in 1998, required further scrutiny.

The assumption, as I explained, is that one set of sidemen (bassist Monty Budwig and drummer Colin Bailey) recorded the show’s actual soundtrack, in Hollywood; and a second set of sidemen (bassist Fred Marshall and drummer Jerry Granelli) subsequently recorded the album’s music, in San Francisco.

But can this theory be supported by the evidence?

In a word ... no.

At least, not completely.