Thursday, August 21, 2014

One university, three concerts

My efforts to track Guaraldi's concert and studio schedule have revealed that he performed at my college alma mater, the University of California/Davis, at least three times.

It's possible there were more than three. Cal Tjader's Quintet toured California in 1957 and '58, while Guaraldi was a member; the combo's many stops easily could have included UC Davis. A California college tour with Bola Sete in October 1965 also might have featured a stop at UC Davis. For that matter, Guaraldi easily could have managed one-offs, since Davis is only a 90-minute drive from his Bay Area haunts.

But I'm certain of only three appearances: November 3, 1963; September 26, 1968; and October 7, 1972. The latter is particularly frustrating, as I entered UC Davis as a freshman in the autumn of 1973, thereby missing him by just one year. He never returned to Davis during my undergraduate years, more's the pity.

That aside...

1960s-era masthead of the UC Davis
student newspaper,
The California Aggie
Thanks to the archives of the UC Davis campus newspaper, The California Aggie, we get a fascinating portrait of the jazz genre's slide into "unhipness" during the course of this decade from 1963 to 1972, along with a general sense of the rise of the anti-establishment attitude of the paper's student journalists.

The 1963 appearance was made while Guaraldi's Trio — Fred Marshall, bass; and Jerry Granelli, drums — shared the bill with headliner Dick Gregory and folksinger Margie McCoy. This ill-fated cross-country college tour was cut short on November 21, when President Kennedy's assassination brought the entire country to a halt. The tour's appearance three weeks earlier, however, was just another stop along the way; The Aggie duly sent an unbylined reporter to cover the show. He (I'll assume it was a guy, given the era) did a noteworthy job, treating the event quite respectfully, allowing for early 1960s attitudes that make us wince today. Thus, Gregory is identified as a "Negro comedian," while McCoy is dubbed a "talented blonde."

Guaraldi is cited as "the great jazz pianist," and the reviewer clearly enjoyed Dr. Funk's set, calling particular attention to his handling of Henry Mancini's "Mr. Lucky" and Guaraldi's then-newest composition, "Treat Street."

But I hope it was a typo, rather than bad ears, that prompted the writer to identify the Guaraldi trio's final number as Fats Waller's "Litter Bug Waltz."

Guaraldi and his trio only rated a single long paragraph, though; the bulk of the review went to Gregory's set, which followed an intermission. The writer cited several of Gregory's more amusing lines, such as the fact that he liked football because "it's the only time a colored man could chase a white man and have 40,000 people stand up and cheer" ... or how his favorite Halloween ritual involved visiting an all-white neighborhood, knocking on a door and asking if the adjacent house really was for sale. These obvious laugh lines aside, the writer also made a point of discussing Gregory's stronger political content.

All in all, a thoughtful and well written piece. ("Litter Bug Waltz" aside.)

Things were a touch different five years later.

On the positive side, Guaraldi's 1968 appearance was heralded by an unbylined promotional brief on September 25. This clearly wasn't merely a regurgitated press release, as the student writer made a few personal observations, such as the fact that "Vince is now renown [sic] for his own style of 'cool (or kitsch) jazz,' which draws from Latin rhythms, blues and jazz." The article touches on Guaraldi's time with Woody Herman, his creation of the Grace Cathedral Jazz Mass, and the fame that resulted from both "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" and his score for A Charlie Brown Christmas.

On the negative side, the concert is further promoted, in the same issue of The Aggie, by the worst, saddest attempt at a home-made display ad I've ever seen. Granted, college newspapers are training grounds for student writers, photographers and advertising artists, but still ... could anything be more pathetic than the insult at left? This was the nascent era of glorious rock 'n' roll posters, and this was what poor Guaraldi wound up with? Hell, a 5-year-old could have done a better job!

Fortunately, the critic assigned to cover the show did do better, despite a tone that frequently sounded condescending. Starting a review with this opening sentence — "Vince Guaraldi used to do nice things with the piano" — sounds far from positive, particularly since the writer keeps hammering the phrase "nice things" throughout the piece, to diminishing returns. Indeed, the opening paragraph continues thusly:

These things were nice because they were modern, but they weren't entirely "too far out," they weren't exactly heavy "funk" or "soul," they were pleasant, and, well, out of Vince's own bag. Now Vince still does these nice things — on electric piano, as well — and he employs the aid of three nice musician-chaps named Bob, to keep things nice.

(Numerous typos and cases of incorrect or absent punctuation were corrected in the sentences above, in order to make them more readable. Copy-editing does not seem to have been the 1968 editorial staff's strong suit.)

A bit too precious, yes?

Guaraldi and his "three Bobs," during their 1968 performance at UC Davis. The picture
above, by staff photographer Gregg J. Cutler, ran on September 30, 1968, along with
the concert review.
The writer redeems himself with some solid commentary: a genuine appreciation for bassist Bob Maize, who received the greatest share of the applause; an observation that Bob Addison delivered some "Wes Montgomery-style octave guitar and straight picking"; and enough savvy to be surprised that "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" was "conspicuous by its absence." The writer also identified most of the selections performed, from "Eleanor Rigby" and "Going Out of My Head" to a solo piano prologue to "Autumn Leaves" that "kept the audience spellbound for several minutes" until "the three Bobs" joined in for an up-tempo shift. Guaraldi and his combo (Bobby Natenson handled the drums) obliged with an encore of "Do You Know the Way to San Jose," which "brought many happy patrons to their feet."

At which point, the writer concludes by observing that "This had truly been a nice thing."

Okay, the asides are far too cute for their own good, just as the writer is obsessed with the fact that all three of Guaraldi's sidemen were named Bob. Still, there's an honest attempt to discuss the music, the set list and the performances; that's (ahem) a nice thing.

We come now to 1972 ... and goodness, what a difference four years made.

Not in a nice way.

This photo of Guaraldi's 1972 UC Davis appearance is credited to "Kurt R." The sidemen
aren't identified; the caption writer devoted the space to a complaint that the five lines
were unjustified because somebody "disabled our $17,000 machine so it won't work."
Wow, such a display of maturity from college students!
Two so-called "journalists" took credit for the so-called "review" of this show, not even trying to conceal their contempt for the assignment. No identification of sidemen, or of songs. No attempt to discuss musicality, jazz chops or anything else having to do with the actual concert.

In fact, let them be hung by their own inane rant. In the article's entirety, complete with errant spelling and punctuation:


It is not often that Davis is presented with a treat at least equal to a cup of Sambo's coffee (with cream & sugar). Voyaging all the way from the fogs of San Francisco to tinkle the 88's for the auditory delight of the connesieured ears of this post-agrarian villiage, however, Vince Guaraldi, his fate cast to the winds of Fortune, tinkled the hears of his detroit audience. Unable to integrate the blacks and the whites in a true horizontal line, he responded to the cucumber audience's temper by playing a tu tantrum.

At times it was too dark for the musicians to see what they were doing and too cold for slow movement. For instance, while playing a D# suite he had to button up his mouth to keep the warm air from escaping in harmony. Right, his breathe has long been known to confine to the key of sea. Fine, fine, but it was as if he were two musicians in one — playing half a melody each. Not to be dismayed by the danger of not equalling the magnificence displayed in the first half Guaraldi mounted himself the audience and his piano to heights never before attained in the squalor of Death Valley or the main auditorium with his drummer boy and base bass player. All in all, he attained the precision and cleanliness of a Sani-screen (OS) and with the sobrerity of a beer 'ottle. There were no deaths on exiting.

I'm hoping they were drunk, stoned or both. I'd hate to think this drivel was composed by somebody sober.

Okay, granted, jazz had become persona non grata at most college campuses by the early 1970s, and a Guaraldi concert might have been a hard sell for anybody on the (one assumes) rock-oriented newspaper staff. But heck, the same issue also contains a review of a Joan Baez concert by a young woman who took her assignment far more seriously; I guess politically active folk artists garnered more respect. (Which, if so, is a further unjustified slam against Guaraldi, since he was very active in the 1960s Civil Rights Movement.)

After that reception, I'm not surprised Guaraldi never returned to UC Davis. 

My loss, even if nobody else's...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I came to Davis in the Fall of 1972 and boy was I happy to discover Guaraldi performing in a small theater on campus. I was very excited to see him. I'm sorry you missed him. I certainly don't recall reading that horrid review. The theater was on the dark side as I recall but the music was good. Those were some great music years while I was there. Linda Ronstadt and the Eagles performed together not long after this on a Thursday night at Freeborn for $2 a ticket. - Ron