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?

As his film was failing to attract sponsors, Mendelson apparently made a Hail Mary play that must have been agonizing. He cut the show to half its original length: what he hoped would be a more network-friendly 30 minutes. Alas, that gambit also proved unsuccessful.

Only Mays survives in this truncated version; the remaining guest stars wound up on the cutting-room floor ... as did several animated sequences that featured Guaraldi's freshly composed themes.

We can assume that "Pebble Beach" would have backdropped a live-action golf sequence that included Arnold Palmer, possibly striding the links with Schulz. It's also not hard to imagine a brief animated sequence that would have profiled Frieda — with the naturally curly hair — and employed that Guaraldi tune.

As for "Blue Charlie Brown" and "Charlie Brown Theme" ... who knows?

Sadly, Mendelson doesn't seem to have saved a copy of the show's original 60-minute edit, so we'll likely never know.

But this, at least, explains one of the two big questions — The Case of the Missing Music — prompted by the surviving 30-minute version.

The other question is equally intriguing. With respect to the music we can hear in the existing documentary, do the performances match those found on the soundtrack album?

Not entirely...

I once again acknowledge the superior audio detective work of my friend and fellow Guaraldi fan Doug Anderson, who applied similar technical skills — described at length in this blog's previous post — to compare the show and album performances from A Charlie Brown Christmas.

The results are just as fascinating here.

Click here to view the entire chart.

The documentary's versions of "Happiness Is" are, indeed, identical to the album recording. One of the documentary's versions of "Oh, Good Grief" also can be found on the album. But three other readings of "Oh, Good Grief" are clearly different performances, as are the show's versions of "Baseball Theme" and "Schroeder."

Despite his best efforts, Doug can't be sure about "Linus and Lucy."

That said, the evidence clearly suggests the presence of multiple takes, likely of each song. If everything was recorded during a single studio session, we can assume that Mendelson grabbed some takes for his show, while Fantasy opted for others on the album. That's certainly logical.

Logical, perhaps, but maybe not likely...

As I discussed in an earlier post, it wasn't at all unusual for soundtrack albums to be recorded at a different time, during a different session, likely at a different studio and possibly even with different personnel. And, given the kerfuffle that continues to erupt over which bassist(s) and drummer(s) played on A Charlie Brown Christmas (show and album), we can be forgiven for wondering if the same occurred with A Boy Named Charlie Brown.

After all, I've already described the liner notes confusion that Fantasy has promulgated, by assigning credit for the same recording of "Linus and Lucy" — at different times, on different albums — to bassist Monty Budwig and drummer Colin Bailey, and bassist Fred Marshall and drummer Jerry Granelli. Remember, "Linus and Lucy" was written for, and first appeared in, A Boy Named Charlie Brown.

Thanks to Bailey's meticulous diaries, I know that he joined Guaraldi and Budwig at the Whitney Studio in Glendale, California, on October 26, 1964, to record the music for the album A Boy Named Charlie Brown.

But check that date. By October, Mendelson already had spent months trying to sell his documentary; remember, above, that on June 9 Fantasy Records had championed the show's completion. Logic surely dictates that Guaraldi's completed score would have been part of that package.

So ... when and where was the show's score recorded? And with which sidemen?

Alas, I have no firm evidence to answer those questions.

Meanwhile, though, here's one final, tantalizing tidbit.

You'll note, on Doug's chart above, the presence of three unidentified snippets of music: cues 4, 7 and 11. We don't know what they are.

Cue 4, running just over 30 seconds, is a finger-snapping 4/4 swinger that showcases Guaraldi's strong right hand against some gentle comping with his left.

Cue 7, at only 3 seconds, is little more than a punctuating flourish ... although it also sounds like it could have been the closing moments from an alternate take of any one of the existing songs.

I've always felt that cue 11 could be an introductory bass/drum vamp for "Pebble Beach," much the way Guaraldi would have his bassist and drummer "introduce" him during club performances of "Samba de Orpheus." The tempo and beat sound right for "Pebble Beach," but Doug isn't entirely convinced, and I agree that we can't be sure.

So, that mystery endures, as well. Some of these questions could be cleared up if Lee Mendelson ever finds an original edit of A Boy Named Charlie Brown buried deep within his archives, and we certainly can hope for such a miracle.

But as for who played what, and when ... once again, such answers elude us.


J.A. Morris said...

Hi, I just discovered this blog yesterday (via Five Cents Please). I'm a big fan of Vince Guaraldi's music, first through Charlie Brown specials and I've gotten into his earlier recordings in recent years.
I have a blog dedicated to covering Charlie Brown's non-holiday specials if you're interested, I recently added Impressions Of Vince to my links.

BR4D said...

Awesome analysis! I find I jump into these posts hoping for answers and then walk away with more questions. I find the whole process facinating, and love getting more pieces to the puzzle.

Fantasy/Concord needs to get their act together and put together a proper 24 bit remastering of A Boy Named Charlie Brown. This album is long overdue for remastering, and I can only assume they're busy on a 2015 re-re-re-release of A Charlie Brown Christmas. :)

Derrick Bang said...

Well, your wish has been granted. Check the next post, which just went live today (3/25)...

Mark Astolfi said...

This Christmastime, I got to comparing the versions of the “A Boy Named Charlie Brown” cuts between the unaired documentary and the soundtrack LP. I was grateful to find your comparison and I thought I’d tackle the Lucy & Linus question.

If you look at the sheet music to Lucy & Linus, the first 2 notes played by the right hand are eighth notes, of equal length. But as many times as Vince plays them during the LP recording, he only plays them that way twice. Every other time, the first note is held slightly, but noticeably, longer than the second note.

Now there are 3 breaks…the first break has a phrase repeated 3 times, the second and third breaks are longer and improvisational. And the first 2 notes of the right hand coming out of the second and third break are the only 2 times those 2 eighth notes are of equal length. That’s at 1:33 and 2:19.5.

The L&L taken directly from the documentary starts with 2 notes of equal length. But it leads into the first break, and that sequence never occurs in the LP version. So the documentary version must be an edit or a different take.

So I made an edit and overlaid the two. Good match at the beginning…by the time it gets to the first break, the documentary version is about 1 second behind, while the pitches match. But what I can say for sure is the documentary version is not taken directly from the LP version without editing. --Mark Astolfi

Doug said...

I only just now saw Mark's post on "Linus and Lucy" -- great audio detective work! Thanks for sharing (and sorry to be a year and a half late in appreciating).