Thursday, July 31, 2014

Library duty

Professionals constantly are asked to provide their services at no cost, often by well-meaning (but clueless) friends and neighbors. Attorneys get phone calls from folks in desperate need of free legal advice; doctors get backed into corners, at parties, by total strangers who proceed to describe a jaw-dropping assortment of symptoms, followed by the traditional question ... "So, whaddya think, Doc?"

We writers are no different. People know that I can string words and sentences together with persuasive competence, and so I've often been asked for press releases, letters of recommendation, essays and even full-blown feature stories ... at no charge, of course. Depending on who's asking, I might say something along the lines of "You know, I do this for a living," hoping to elicit at least a trace of guilt; that usually gets me a smile and a reply such as "Oh, c'mon; you could dash this off in no time."

Well, yes ... and the reason I sometimes can "dash it off in no time" is attributable to my having worked at it for 40-plus years. Which should be worth something.

Granted, people only take advantage of us if we let them; I have no trouble declining. But I often say yes — much to my wife's vexation — particularly if the request seems worthwhile, or if the pitch is made in an appealing manner.

Sometimes the weight of the potential honor also carries the day.

I therefore was quite intrigued, back in the spring, to receive a cordial note from Cary O'Dell, who works in the National Recording Registry for the U.S. Library of Congress. They're the folks who select 25 recordings each year for preservation: recordings that have been deemed so vital to our country — aesthetically, culturally or historically — that they demand (and receive) permanent archiving in our nation's library.

previously wrote about the National Recording Registry, a few years back, when Guaraldi's soundtrack for A Charlie Brown Christmas was one of the 25 recordings so honored in 2011 (although announcements didn't go out until 2012). That's a rare accolade for a jazz musician, and for a soundtrack, let alone the score for a half-hour television special. And yet I'm sure everybody reading these words would agree that Guaraldi's album easily deserves such a tribute.

Anyway, Cary explained that the Registry folks are attempting to augment their core web site with "scholarly essays" for each of the (currently) 400 titles within. Cary then asked if I'd be willing to supply such an essay for Guaraldi's A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Now, Cary didn't know this, but — to paraphrase a famous line from Jerry Maguire — they had me at "Library of Congress." Even so, I was particularly delighted by the following few lines in Cary's letter, which I'll reproduce verbatim:

Unfortunately, we are not able to pay you at this time. As a writer myself, I know of the nasty gumption and gall of asking writers to "give it away for free." So, all I can offer as an excuse is: "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you..."

Okay, you gotta love it.

As a further sweetener, I also was promised a byline and brief bio.

Heck, a byline on a document within the Library of Congress, attached to a recorded work that has been selected for permanent preservation? Meaning that, in all likelihood, my deathless prose also would stand the test of time? Goodness, isn't that what we all yearn for? Something significant that will outlive our mortal selves?

Where do I sign?

It was, indeed, that formal; I had to autograph an official release, and of course I also had to submit to format and editing requirements. Cary sent along a few sample essays and gave me a suggested length of 1,000 to 1,200 words.

Naturally, my finished essay came in at 2,025 words. After I trimmed it.

Twice as long as requested ... which also is pretty much what happened with the final draft of my Guaraldi bio. Happily, Cary was just as accommodating as my editor at McFarland, and I wasn't required to cut anything.

The results can be seen here, at its own page within the National Recording Registry site; it went live earlier today, and Cary kindly alerted me to same.

And I've been sporting a disgustingly self-satisfied grin ever since.

Because — let's face it — this is way-way-way-way-way cool.

Even if they didn't pay me.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Explosive developments

First, the happy news:

Northern California fans have a treat in store, when Larry Vuckovich once again presents his Guaraldi Tribute Show at 4:30 p.m. Sunday, September 14, at the Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society, 311 Mirada Road, Half Moon Bay. Vuckovich is calling this concert "The Jazz and Latin Side of Vince Guaraldi," and the set list will include songs Guaraldi recorded with guitarist Bola Sete, along with "Cast Your Fate to the Wind," a few compositions written for the Peanuts TV specials, and another performance of a Guaraldi original never recorded on an album.

I'm guessing the latter is "Blue Lullaby," and that this upcoming concert will be similar to the show Vuckovich headlined last summer, at Silo's in Napa. I discussed that show at length in an earlier post, which should give a flavor of what to expect this September. The personnel will be the same: Vuckovich on piano; Josh Workman on guitar; Seward McCain on bass; John Santos handling Latin percussion; and Akira Tana on drums. McCain, you will recall, was part of Guaraldi's trio during the final years of his life.

Additional details can be found both at Larry's website and the Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society site.

Now, the sad news:

Pete Douglas, founder of the Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society, died July 12, at the rich, well-lived age of 85. Both Douglas and his rather eclectic venue have been famous for numerous decades; their Sunday afternoon concerts have been a popular Northern California attraction for fans of all ages and musical tastes. Guaraldi and his combo are known to have performed there several times, although I have only one firm date (September 16, 1973). Not quite two months after Guaraldi died, Douglas' venue was the site of a tribute concert dedicated to Dr. Funk; the March 28 event featured none other than Larry Vuckovich, along with Benny Barth and George DeQuattro. That first tribute spawned an annual series; Guaraldi memorial concerts continued at the Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society, every spring, through at least 1981.

Douglas' passing prompted numerous excellent news stories; you'll want to read those in the Half Moon Bay Review, Broadway World and (my favorite) the San Jose Mercury News. Douglas and his venue were — are — treasures, and although scheduled concerts will continue through late October, the club's long-term fate isn't yet known. It would be a catastrophic shame to lose both in the same year ... but, then, the club derived its atmosphere and je ne sais quoi from its founder. It might be difficult to carry on without him.

We can only wait and see ... which makes the September Guaraldi concert by Vuckovich and his combo that much more of a must-attend event: a chance to once again hear the Italian Leprechaun's music at a venue where he actually performed. Because, let's face it: There aren't many of those left!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Birthday greetings

Dr. Funk would have turned 86 today: a ripe old age, but certainly not prohibitive, in terms of further sharing his talent. Plenty of jazz elder statesmen have continued to record and perform well into their 80s; it's nice to think, in an alternate universe somewhere, that Guaraldi is doing the same.

Concord/Fantasy hasn't let the moment pass; the label has acknowledged this birthday milestone with a spanking-new vinyl release of Guaraldi's career-making album, Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus. The LP jacket front is virtually indistinguishable from the album's later re-christening as Cast Your Fate to the Wind, following that song's chart-rising success and Grammy Award. Even the catalog number is identical: Stereo 8089/Fantasy 3337 ("High Fidelity").

The jacket back also appears the same, down to the "other Fantasy albums of interest" listed beneath Ralph J. Gleason's liner notes. Closer scrutiny, however, will reveal the Concord Music Group address in tiny print at the very bottom, along with a new catalog number (OJC-437) at the upper right.

The LP contents are identical to those pressed in 1962, and — unlike other recent LP re-issues of Guaraldi albums — the vinyl is basic black. (Alas, no fun color.) has cited Guaraldi as its "Jazz Musician of the Day," and you can check out this honor here. The AllAboutJazz page, in turn, links to an essay I wrote many years ago, long before I decided to embark on a full-blown biography; you'll also find a modest selection of photos.

That appears to be it, in terms of acknowledgment by the wider world ... unlike last year, when KMUW 89.1 in Wichita, Kansas, devoted an installment of its award-winning show, Global Village, to Guaraldi. (I guess an 86th birthday isn't quite as exciting as an 85th. Those multiples of 5 always seem more significant.)

As for my own sentiments, on this day ... I can't really do better than what I wrote a year ago, so I'll refer you back to that post.

But I will add this: We can take enormous pleasure in the fact that Guaraldi's music continues to resonate just as much, 365 days after his previous birthday. Indeed, there's no shortage of fresh news about our favorite Italian leprechaun, as followers of this blog know. Nor does Concord show any signs of slowing down, in terms of CD and LP re-issues.

I recall being told, by drummer Mark Rosengarden, that Guaraldi's tipple of choice, during the latter part of his life, was Courvoisier. Acknowledging that this brand of cognac is something of an acquired taste, I nonetheless encourage the faithful Out There to raise a glass of the stuff, and join a heartfelt toast to the man whose small hands belied his massive jazz chops. May his celestial star ever brighten.