Saturday, June 7, 2014

Tjazz by Tjader

Effective research isn't merely about hours spent in dusty library microfilm rooms, or chasing vague leads via Internet searches; it's also about cultivating a network of friends and colleagues who possess their own areas of expertise. In other words, it's never just what you know; it's also who you know ... and whether they can help you find an elusive something-or-other.

And, when it comes to Guaraldi's association with Cal Tjader, I was lucky, early on, to strike up an acquaintance with Duncan Reid.

Tjader, left, and Guaraldi, in back, rehearse while the production crew gets
ready to film the quintet's guest appearance on the TV show Stars of Jazz.
Guaraldi worked closely with Tjader twice during the 1950s: first from the autumn of 1951 through January 1953, generally in a trio format with bassist Jack Weeks; and then again from September 1956 through January 1959, this time as part of Tjader's Quintet (initially alongside Eugene Wright, bass; Al Torre, drums; and Luis Kant, congas; and later alongside Al McKibbon, bass; Willie Bobo, drums and bongos; and Mongo Santamaria, congas).

What eventually blossomed into my Guaraldi biography began as a modest essay in the summer 1993 issue of the Peanuts Collector Club newsletter. When I helped take the club online and became its official Web guru a few years later, I scrambled for enough content to give the new site a reasonably splashy debut; the Guaraldi essay was an obvious choice, so I expanded it slightly and posted this revised version in February 1996. Over time, that article drew the attention of several very helpful folks, who contributed additional facts and gently corrected some of my assumptions (and the occasional downright error). One of those individuals was Duncan, who at the time was gathering information and conducting interviews for a planned biography of Tjader. Duncan already had started mining the San Francisco Chronicle and Oakland Tribune newspaper archives, and he helped me augment the few paragraphs I had devoted to Guaraldi's involvement with Tjader.

Fate can be funny. A few years later, when Duncan was ready to commit to an actual book, he asked for ideas regarding a publisher. As a longtime fan of the McFarland catalog, I knew that publishing house would be a good fit for such a project; I suggested as much, and it turned out to be an ideal match. 

Duncan and I corresponded frequently, even met a couple of times. We exchanged photos and contact information for various sidemen and other individuals within the 1950s and '60s Northern California jazz scene. Duncan called my attention to — and (bless his heart!) — got me a copy of 1958's The Big Beat, the only big-screen film in which Guaraldi appears, as part of the Tjader Quintet.

Many years later, when I bit the bullet and decided to tackle a similar book-length project about Guaraldi, I asked Duncan who he was working with at McFarland, and that's how we wound up with the same editor.

Although Duncan started his book years before I began mine, I beat him to publication by a little more than a year. In fairness, though, Duncan had a lot more material to assemble, and folks to interview; Tjader lived longer than Guaraldi, toured more aggressively, and assembled a much more ambitious recorded catalog.

Cal Tjader: The Life and Recordings of the Man Who Revolutionized Latin Jazz was published in August 2013. It's a meticulously researched book, highlighted by a wealth of detail and an impressively descriptive discography. (Duncan and I share a fondness for attempting to insert every last little factoid, thus running the risk of drowning casual readers in data.)

The work never stops, of course; as I've observed on numerous occasions, new information flows in scarcely before any just-published book's ink has had time to dry. Most obviously, the book itself attracts readers who, in some cases, knew and/or worked with these folks back in the day, and can supply their own fresh nuggets of information. Anticipating this led me to create this blog, as an outlet for fresh data; recognizing the wisdom of this approach, Duncan has done the same. His blog, Cal Tjader's World, has just gone live.

Drop by and leave him a comment or two. And say hello for me.