Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Vince on the Web

Guaraldi fans are lucky; most of the albums under his own name have remained in print and been readily available since their initial release. That's true of his entire Fantasy catalog, not so much his latter projects for Warner Bros. Oh, Good Grief was (and is) the most popular and easily obtainable of that trio; The Eclectic Vince Guaraldi and Alma-Ville require more digging, but even they're not too hard to find on either LP or CD.

But what about material that never saw commercial release?

Happily, a few nuggets exist, several of which are available via the Web. Some are housed in authorized online archives that are willing to share them with the general public; others are bootlegs that (shall we say) lack that level of legitimacy, but nonetheless are waiting to be enjoyed by folks who haven't yet discovered them.


Our first stop is SugarMegs Audio, "where live music lives since 1996." The site hosts a massive archive of more than 67,000 concert recordings, in whole or in part. Most are rock/pop, but you'll find other things as well. On the homepage, scroll down to where THE MAIN COLLECTION is headlined, then click on the "database interface" link below. That'll bring up a page with a small white SEARCH box on the left. Enter the name "Guaraldi," and — as these words are typed — you'll get six hits. (They're at the bottom of the page, so be sure to scroll down far enough.) Three are simply more recent performers covering one or more Guaraldi songs, but the other three entries actually feature Vince. In chronological order, they are:

• The massive jam during the final night of the five-day farewell party for San Francisco's Fillmore West, which ran June 30-July 4, 1971. Guaraldi was part of the final evening's "San Francisco Musicians Jam," which included Van Morrison, the Tower of Power horn section, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Cold Blood, Hot Tuna, the Loading Zone and even rock impresario Bill Graham, on cowbell. Guaraldi played electric organ. You'll be hard-pressed to hear him over the chaos, but you're welcome to try!

• A shared billing with no less than Carlos Santana, during a benefit for the College of Marin in Kentfield, California, on the afternoon of October 7, 1972. The band also included Coke and Pete Escovedo; other personnel, if present, remain unnamed. Although numerous sources agree that the entire show was broadcast by a local radio station — some claim KPFA, others KSAN — only two fragments seem to have survived: a portion of a jam running just shy of 7 minutes, and a second, longer fragment from an extended jam version of "Evil Ways," that clocks in at about 15:38. You'll find them both here, stitched together as a single file. Guaraldi's electric keyboard can be heard quite clearly throughout both fragments, although the melodic quality of his contribution is open to debate. Mostly, he delivers the extemporaneous riffs that characterized his occasional rock-inflected appearances at the Matrix, during this part of his career. This file's nice bonus, however, is the DJ who speaks over the music at roughly 20:40, to identify Santana on guitar, and Guaraldi on electric piano.

Guaraldi also shared the stage with Van Morrison
on December 1, 1972, during a benefit designed
to help save the Alhambra Theater in Sacramento,
California. (Sadly, that effort failed.)
• Unfortunately, the third item — Guaraldi's presence as part of Van Morrison's back-up band, for a concert at the Lion's Share, in San Anselmo, California, on February 15, 1973 — appears to have been removed from SugarMegs. Alternate sources, at The Midnight CafĂ© and Guitars 101, also no longer have active links; more's the pity. At this point, the only options appear to be much dodgier BitTorrent sites, so proceed with caution.

Morrison played two sets, and Guaraldi joined the band for the entire second set. To quote my book:

Perhaps inspired by Guaraldi's presence, Morrison devoted much of the second set to covers of standards that included "Misty" and "White Cliffs of Dover." The fit was awkward; Morrison did much better on his own hits, such as "Listen to the Lion" and "Hard Nose the Highway."

Even so, Guaraldi was allowed generous solos; he riffed on electric keyboard midway through "White Cliffs of Dover" and comped quite enthusiastically behind an oddly up-tempo handling of "Misty."

You can judge for yourself. Guaraldi spent about half a year with Morrison, from late 1972 through the spring of 1973, but this is the only known recording of their work together.

Moving on...

• Toward the beginning of Lee Mendelson's long run with Peanuts TV specials, the director/producer still had time for outside projects. One of these, Bay of Gold, was a documentary about the San Francisco Bay, produced for the Fireman's Fund American Insurance Company. The hour-long program aired at 10 p.m. September 14, 1965, on San Francisco's KPIX Channel 5. Guaraldi doesn't appear in the film, but he did supply an original soundtrack that included a few familiar tunes: his song "Macedonia," a samba-style number that was heard on Little Band, Big Jazz, the album on which he worked with Conte Candoli; and a second melodic riff that clearly anticipated the Peanuts track eventually titled "Rain, Rain, Go Away." The San Francisco Bay Area Television Archive has made this film available in its entirety, and it can be viewed here.

A still from In the Marketplace. Guaraldi can be seen in the center,
directly above the letter "T," with his trio members behind him and
to his right.
• Almost precisely a year later, Guaraldi and his band — Puzzy Firth, bass; and Paul Distel, drums — did appear on camera during an installment of In the Marketplace, a public affairs show produced by San Francisco's KPIX Channel 5. The episode focused on the Rev. Charles Gompertz and his then-innovative Church in Ignacio; a portion of the show was filmed January 23, 1966, during the church's presentation of the Guaraldi Jazz Mass (only the second time this Mass was staged, after its debut May 21, 1965, at San Francisco's Grace Cathedral). Guaraldi and his band are on camera for several minutes, and the documentary's soundtrack includes selections from the Mass. The San Francisco Bay Area Television Archive also has made this 30-minute film available in its entirety, and it can be viewed here.

I've known about all of the above for awhile, and they're all mentioned and indexed in my Guaraldi bio. Just a few days ago, however, I came across an exciting new find. (Well, new to me, anyway; I'm not sure how long it has been available.)

British-born jazz critic and historian Leonard Feather lived and breathed the genre; I well remember reading his articles and reviews in the Los Angeles Times for many years, and he also was co-editor of Metronome magazine until that publication ceased in 1961. During his time at Metronome, he created an occasional feature known as the "Blindfold Test," during which a noted jazz musician would be played a series of recordings and challenged to identify them, while also discussing their various merits (or lack thereof). Feather later took the feature to Downbeat magazine, and it also was an occasional part of his jazz-oriented radio show Platterbrains, during its run on the ABC radio network from 1953 through '58.

Guaraldi was the "victim" for an installment of the Blindfold Test published in Downbeat on March 25, 1965. He nailed four of the eight tunes Feather played, and wasn't shy about explaining why he did or didn't like a particular cut.

• To my absolute delight, the University of Idaho has made a significant portion of its Leonard Feather Jazz Collection available online, and the archives include the tape Feather made when he subjected Guaraldi to this challenge. Yep, you can actually hear Guaraldi give his responses ... although you can't hear any of the music. Absent that key bit of data, Guaraldi's comments will seem random; you'll therefore want to follow along with the Downbeat article itself, at left. (Click the image for a larger, readable version.)

A few necessary words of explanation:

Despite the length of the file, Guaraldi's portion is limited to the first 13 minutes and 13 seconds. Everything that follows is entirely different, and — despite what the explanatory text claims — has nothing to do with either Cal Tjader or Clare Fischer, neither of whom appear anywhere on the clip (although they are the featured performers on one of the tracks Feather selected for Guaraldi's Test). The Collection's cited date (March 1, 1962) also must be taken with a grain of salt, since at least two of the recordings Guaraldi discusses weren't even released until 1964 and early '65.

Aside from the candor of Guaraldi's comments, and his apparent discomfort with the process itself, it's fascinating to compare the audio to the Downbeat text, to see how Feather edited and shaped the resulting column. And something odd occurs after the fifth song (Tjader's "O Barquinho") and before the seventh (Duke Ellington's cover of Bob Dylan's "Blowing in the Wind"). It sounds like two songs are discussed in between, whereas Feather cites only one — Andrew Hill's "Judgment" — as the sixth song of the eight published in the column. Prior to his brief chat about "Judgment," Guaraldi talks quite a bit about "a blues number ... that leaves me cold," and there's no evidence of that in the text version. I'm assuming Feather played nine tracks that day, but chose to use Guaraldi's observations about only eight of them.

One other oddity: According to Feather's published column, Guaraldi's discussion of Ellington's take on "Blowing in the Wind" includes this statement: "You know who I'd like to hear play with this band? Sonny Rollins." But Guaraldi never says that anywhere on this recording! So ... where did that remark come from? An aside that Guaraldi made, after Feather turned off the tape recorder?

We'll likely never know.

Those bits of intrigue aside, the recording is a delight. Guaraldi can be quite blunt, and he certainly doesn't seem to care if anybody's feelings might get bruised. At the same time, he clearly has a solid preference for melody, and little use for the cacophony of the "free jazz" movement that would become more common, during the next few years. 

Which is rather ironic, considering how "free" some of his own performances would become in the late 1960s and early '70s!

That's it for this round. Rest assured, though: If any other audio or video treasures surface elsewhere on the Web, you'll find out about them here.


The Possum said...

I have a hunch that the guitar lead on this track may be an overdub played by Vince himself . . . . any info or thoughts?

Derrick Bang said...

The track in question can be heard at this YouTube clip, the link for which was supplied by The Possum in a quick follow-up note:
A point of clarification, however, before going further. The title given to this track is incorrect, because the tracking sequence for this CD is wrong from top to bottom, as I explain fully in my Guaraldi discography:
This track's actual title is "Snoopy and Woodstock," which makes a lot more sense if you watch the scene it accompanies, in the animated special "It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown."
That said, the original question certainly remains valid, and the answer is "Very likely." No guitarist is credited during any of the four known early 1974 recording sessions for the music in that TV special; Guaraldi worked solely with Seward McCain (bass) and Eliot Zigmund (drums). Given that Guaraldi had been noodling with guitar for several years by that point, I'm inclined to agree that he probably supplied the aforementioned guitar lead on this track.

The Possum said...

Thanks for the reply, Derrick. I thought I recognized his musical phrasing and, with only "Uno Y Uno" from ALMA VILLE (WB 1969) for comparison, his love of slow bends. His guitar playing may be rudimentary, but, like everything else he touched, deeply soulful. This track is one of my favorite examples of Vince's early-'70s funky style.