Friday, April 11, 2014

The other Ella

Hang onto your hats, kids; this one's huge.

Guaraldi backed a number of female singers during the early stages of his career. He memorably accompanied Faith Winthrop when both were house musicians during 1954 and '55 at the hungry i. Several years later, after fresh stints with Cal Tjader and Woody Herman, Guaraldi once again commanded his own trio and became the house band at Palo Alto's new club, Outside at the Inside. From the spring of 1960 through early '61, Guaraldi and his trio would play their own sets and also back headlining singers such as Helen Humes, Toni Harper and his former hungry i colleague, Faith Winthrop. 

For two weeks during the summer of 1960, Guaraldi flew to New York and backed June Christie at the famed Basin Street East.

None of these sessions was recorded, nor did Guaraldi hit the studio with any of these singers. Indeed, until just a few weeks ago, I would have said — with confidence — that Guaraldi never had been recorded while backing a female vocalist.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Imagine my surprise, boys and girls, when a recent eBay auction featured an item that rocked my world: a Galaxy Records 45 starring vocalist Ella Jamerson, back by none other than the Vince Guaraldi Trio.

The single — Galaxy Records #724 — features Buddy Johnson's blues ballad "Since I Fell for You" on the A-side, and is backed by Victor Young and Edward Heyman's "When I Fall in Love" on the flip side. (Doris Day made the latter a pop hit in 1952.)

Okay ... so who's Ella Jamerson? How did she encounter Guaraldi, and where has this disc been all my life?

She was born November 13, 1931, in Rome, Georgia; she and her family moved to San Francisco's Daly City district when she was 9. She grew up singing in gospel choirs and choruses; as a young adult, she joined groups such as the Angelairs and the Inspirational Tones. The latter ensemble split up in 1961, at which point Ella put together her own group, with an eye toward performing in San Francisco-area nightclubs. This new group — The Apollos (note the final vowel) — became a fixture at the Sugar Hill, on Broadway; later, and quite notably, they shared billing and sang back-up for young Barbra Streisand, during a gig at the hungry i.

Considerable more detail about Jamerson and The Apollo(a)s can be found in this 2005 essay by Opal Louis Nations.

For our purposes, however, I'll note that Fantasy Records' Sol Weiss caught The Apollos during their hungry i appearance, and clearly was captivated by what he heard. At that point, the group was a quartet: Jamerson, Joanna Bosley, Hiram Walker and Ron Brown. As of the early 1960s, Fantasy's subsidiary Galaxy label had been moribund for a bit, having stalled after putting our four singles featuring Cal Tjader, and one featuring Vido Musso (Galaxy 701-705). As reported in Billboard on July 21, 1962, Weiss "reactivated its Galaxy subsid to showcase pop, folk, R&B and gospel talent." Artists signed included Saunders King, Johnny Lewis, the Holidays, the Playgirls and, yes, The Apollos. The latter were first out of the gate, cutting two singles: Galaxy 707, featuring "I Can't Believe It" and "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child"; and Galaxy 708, with "Say a Prayer" and "Lord, Lord, Lord." Sadly, despite a live stage delivery that was known to be electrifying, those 45s didn't do a thing for Fantasy/Galaxy or The Apollos.

But they eventually came to Guaraldi's attention, and he clearly liked what he heard. As for what came next ... well, let's allow Jamerson to continue the story, in her own words. Because yes; she's still with us, and I was overjoyed to chat with her on the phone a week ago.

"I was at Fantasy one day, and Sol told me that Vince was interested in me," she began, in a sparkling voice that remains crystal-clear, all these years later. "Sol said, 'You understand that this won't be a group thing, right? It's just you he's interested in.' That was so surprising, but what the heck? I didn't know Vince from Adam, and I'd never recorded as a soloist. But I said okay. So Sol introduced me to Vince, and I went to his home and met his mom, his wife and his two children. They were all very nice.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

A visit with the Doc

Guaraldi continues to elicit interest from jazz critics and historians, which of course is marvelous. Late last year, I was contacted by Richard "Doc" Stull, a jazz fan, writer and radio host whose CV reveals that he also dabbles as a musician and entertainer. You can learn more about him at his quite engaging web site.

Anyway, Doc wanted to chat about Guaraldi, and my book; we eventually enjoyed a lengthy phone conversation on February 4. Doc was well prepared, and his questions touched on everything from Guaraldi's childhood to his legacy, with stops along that way that covered bossa nova, the Grace Cathedral Jazz Mass and (of course!) the Peanuts gang.

I was particularly pleased to spend several minutes discussing Guaraldi's recording and performance association with Bola Sete, pictured here. For roughly two years, from March 1964 through February 1966, the Guaraldi/Sete Quartet was the hot ticket in the greater San Francisco area. Their debut run at Berkeley's Trois Couleur was extended repeatedly; they performed together at the 1964 Monterey Jazz Festival; and they wrapped lines around the building during numerous bookings at El Matador.

"The joy in Guaraldi's jazz is a priceless and timeless gift to music lovers," Doc wrote at one point, during our many e-mails. I couldn't have expressed that sentiment better, and Doc's appreciation for Dr. Funk is evident throughout the lengthy podcast that resulted from our chat. It went up April 3 on the New Books in Jazz website, where you'll also find Doc's generous review of my book. The interview runs 73 minutes; you can either play it via the site's pop-up player, or download it for later listening at your leisure.

Thanks again, Doc. It was great fun.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

When did Vince become Guaraldi?

Public records are amazing.

Information about Guaraldi's childhood is sketchy, despite his mother's devotion to her only child. Carmella preserved quite a few mementos and photographs; she also began a diary when Vince was quite young, but — alas! — didn't maintain it for very long.

As a result, I was able to obtain some broad strokes about Dr. Funk's boyhood self, and a bit more data came via interviews. Sadly, Carmella died before I began my book; the same was true of Vince's ex-wife, Shirley; and longtime girlfriend, Gretchen; and his two uncles (Carmella's brothers), Joe and Maurice "Muzzy" Marcellino. All that information lost.

Makes me wish I'd started this project a decade or two sooner. But woulda/coulda/shoulda is a sure and certain path to madness and frustration, so we do the best we can, in the moment.


I know that Vince grew up in San Francisco's North Beach area; I know that he was born to Carmella (Marcellino) and a brick-layer named Vince Dellaglio. (Yes, Vince was named after his father.) The elder Dellaglio moved out of the house when the boy was 4, and a divorce followed. Carmella soon met and married Anthony (Tony) Guaraldi, generally known as Secondo. Initially, at least, Carmella and Secondo lived on their own; Vince was "booted upstairs" (that's a quote) to live with his grandmother.

At some point during the next few years, Secondo Guaraldi adopted Vince, giving the boy the name by which we now know him. Sadly, though, Carmella's second marriage fared no better than the first; she and Secondo eventually divorced, and she never married again.

That's what I know. Here's what I don't know:

• The dates of Carmella's first marriage and divorce;

• The dates of Carmella's second marriage and divorce;

• The date Vince was adopted.

Ah, but thanks to a much-appreciated note I recently received from a fellow Guaraldi fan named Jeff, we have some very solid clues.

Jeff enjoys trolling through public records; he's pretty good at it. He informs me that full census forms become available to the public after 70 years, and you can imagine the wealth of data that presents.

As a result, Jeff called my attention to census records which verify that, as of April 25, 1940, young Vince was indeed living with his grandmother, Jenny L. Marcellino, at 1555 19th Avenue, San Francisco. You can view the relevant census page here; look in the left column, toward the middle of the page.

Note Vince's full name: Vincent Dellaglio. Having been born July 17, 1928, Vince would have been 11 years old, not quite 12. Not yet Guaraldi.