Saturday, December 19, 2015

A little of this, a little of that ... Take 5

Aside from their savvy filmmaking skills, the folks at Blue Sky are equally adept when it comes to marketing and promotion. It would have been very difficult to miss hearing about The Peanuts Movie; we were reminded by everything from freeway billboards and YouTube videos, to the usual assortment of product tie-ins. By far the best gimmick, however, is the website that allows visitors to "Peanutize" themselves. It takes a bit of skill to get it right; I had far better results when my younger sister, a talented artist, took charge of the rendering. If you'd like to give it a shot, check it out here.

Concord Records, recognizing the value of such a clever marketing tool, has created a similar site that allows visitors to apply Guaraldi's signature mustache to themselves (or anybody else). It's quite a hoot, although you need just the right photo, taken at the proper angle, for the effect to work properly. So go ahead: Give yourself a Guaraldi 'stache!


I love corresponding with fellow Guaraldi fans; aside from the enjoyment that springs from sharing our mutual enthusiasm, such exchanges can be fun and enlightening. A recent note from a helpful fellow named Jim called my attention to an interesting fact: Whether by accident or design, the release of jazz pianist David Benoit's new album, Believe, makes it possible to assemble a complete Benoit cover of Guaraldi's Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack album. Jim even provided a handy guide for doing so:

1. "Oh Tannenbaum" (Christmastime, 1983)
2. "What Child is This" (Christmastime, 1983)
3. "My Little Drum" (Believe, 2015)
4. "Linus and Lucy" (Here's to You, Charlie Brown, 2000)
5. "Christmas Time is Here" - Instrumental (Christmastime, 1983)
6. "Christmas Time is Here" - Vocal (Believe, 2015)
7. "Skating" (Remembering Christmas, 1996)
8. "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" (Remembering Christmas, 1996)
9. "Christmas is Coming" (Remembering Christmas, 1996)
10. "Fur Elise" (40 Years: A Charlie Brown Christmas, 2005)
11. "The Christmas Song" (Remembering Christmas, 1996)

12. Bonus Track: "Surfin' Snoopy/Air Music," from the "Guaraldi Medley" (Believe, 2015)

"Interestingly," Jim notes, "this set flows nicely, even though the songs were recorded over the course of 32 years. I had to adjust the volume on some tunes to keep it consistent, but otherwise it's difficult to discern the vintage of each track."

Many thanks, Jim; I suspect several folks are about to compose a new playlist!


As I mentioned in a previous post, Concord didn't miss the opportunity to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Guaraldi's Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack; the label tantalized us with a CD anniversary gift pack and three retailer-exclusive LPs on colored vinyl, along with a CD re-release of the album itself. In late November, a Concord publicist asked if I'd be willing to do some radio spots, to help promote all of these goodies, and just chat about Guaraldi in general. Sure, I said; sounds like fun.

Clearly, I should have requested clarification of the word "some."

(Not that it would have changed my answer, but I'd have been spared the sticker-shock.)

I subsequently received two packed schedules: 11 interviews at 15-minute intervals between 6 and 9 a.m. December 1, with a longer piece at 2 p.m. that afternoon; and 11 more between 6 and 10 a.m. December 3.

It was a scramble, although not quite as frantic as I feared. Most of the spots were on news and talk stations, and therefore only about 5-7 minutes; I usually had time to catch my breath before the next one. I definitely gained additional respect for film actors who get stuffed into a hotel room during a promotional tour, and must endure an entire day of interviews booked at 20-minute intervals.

Some of the DJs and hosts weren't at all prepared, despite Concord having sent along plenty of background information; in those cases, some of the questions and comments were inane. Happily, several of the DJs were quite prepared, one to a degree that I'm certain extended beyond what Concord had provided. I love folks who do their research!

If you're curious, these are two of the better spots:

KFOR, in Lincoln, Nebraska (in two parts; scroll down to get the links in order)

Overnight America, which is syndicated to roughly 90 markets

I also did a podcast for American Standard Time.

From left, David Willat, Beth Ruyak, your blog host and Jim Martinez

Finally, I marked the actual anniversary — December 9 — with a live chat on Sacramento's Capital Public Radio, on the public affairs show Insight, hosted by Beth Ruyak. I shared the microphone with jazz pianist and fellow Guaraldi fan Jim Martinez, and former St. Paul's Church Choir member David Willat, who as a young lad was one of the kids singing during the actual Charlie Brown Christmas TV special.

It has been quite a year for Guaraldi; 2016 likely will seem very quiet, by comparison!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A Jolly Guaraldi Holiday 2015

Good heavens; the holiday season approaches yet again! That means it's time to investigate the many Guaraldi-themed concerts taking place, most of which (of course!) are tied in to his music from A Charlie Brown Christmas.

I traced the history and growth of this delightful tradition in 2012, in a blog entry which I encourage the curious to read. Meanwhile, this new post will serve as a clearinghouse for any and all late 2015 concerts that come to my attention. I'll add to this schedule as new information becomes available, so do check back on occasion.

As has been the case for several years now, the most ambitious tour news comes from Concord recording artist David Benoit, who once again is taking his Charlie Brown Christmas show on the road. He's touring this time with jazz chanteuse Jane Monheit, with whom he recorded their new holiday album, Believe. Their schedule kicks off November 28 at New York's Rockville Center, and concludes December 20 at the Blackhawk Museum in Danville, California, with stops along the way in Illinois, Kentucky, Texas, Virginia, North Carolina and several other venues across the United States. We caught Benoit's 2011 performance in Livermore, California, and I can report that it's a great show. It's also tremendously sweet, since Benoit and his team work with a children's choir that is local to each stop. Check his website for details.

For those wanting a bit more detail about Benoit's involvement with the Peanuts franchise, this short interview is worth a look.

Benoit once again is grabbing the lion's share of headlines in the States, but our Canadian neighbors will enjoy the return of the season's most historic booking. Drummer Jerry Granelli, who worked as a member of Guaraldi's trio in the 1960s, will headline performances of the music from A Charlie Brown Christmas with his own trio. They'll perform nine times, starting November 28 at Calgary's Central United Church; and concluding December 18, at the Arts & Culture Center in Corner Brook, Newfoundland. Granelli first presented this show a few times in 2013, and the results were quite popular (no surprise there). He'll again be joined by Simon Fisk (bass) and Chris Gestrin (piano). Check his website for details.

I must — of course! — mention my good buddy Bill Carter. Followers of this blog know that Guaraldi's Grace Cathedral Jazz Mass recently was revived at Carter's First Presbyterian Church of Clark's Summit, Pennsylvania. Well, Carter has a few more choice events up his sleeve. He and his Presbybop Christmas Eve Band will present an afternoon concert titled A Charlie Brown Jazz Christmas Sunday, December 13, at the First Presbyterian Church of Hawley, also in Pennsylvania. This will be followed by Presbybop's annual Jazz Christmas Eve concert at Carter's First Presbyterian Church, which I'm told also will focus on Guaraldi's music from A Charlie Brown Christmas. Details.

The Heather Pierson Quartet — Pierson on piano, Joe Aliperti on sax, Shawn Nadeau on bass, and Craig Bryan on drums — has scheduled a mini-tour of (thus far) six shows devoted to A Charlie Brown Christmas. They kick off December 4 in Eaton, New Hampshire, and conclude December 17 in Laconia, New Hampshire, with stops in Massachusetts and Maine. Check her website for details.

The Cartoon Christmas Trio doesn't concentrate solely on music from A Charlie Brown Christmas; they also pepper their performances with tunes from other animated holiday shows, such as Frosty the Snowman and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. (Their album is a kick; give it a listen.) They have seven shows scheduled thus far, starting December 5 in Newark, Delaware; and concluding December 20 in Wilmington, Delaware; with other shows in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Check their website for details.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Contest time!

The Peanuts comic strip celebrated its 65th anniversary on October 2, and A Charlie Brown Christmas will mark its 50th anniversary on December 9. On top of which, we've got this modest big-screen movie debuting November 6.

Add the impending proximity of the holiday season, and you know what that means: plenty of new and "freshened" merchandise, in a variety of formats.

Guaraldi fans whose taste crosses over to pianist David Benoit — and it absolutely should — won't want to miss Believe, his new album collaboration with jazz chanteuse Jane Monheit. It includes plenty of material from A Charlie Brown Christmas, and the instrumental highlight is a lengthy trio medley — with bassist David Hughes and drummer Jamey Tate — that features "Surfin' Snoopy" (aka "Air Music"), "Christmas Is Coming," "Greensleeves" and "O Christmas Tree." On the gentler side, Monheit's poignant handling of "Christmas Time Is Here" is backed by the All-American Boys Chorus (standing in for the young members of the St. Paul's Church Choir, who supplied Charlie Brown and the gang's singing voices in the TV special). The arrangement is pure Guaraldi, as is the case with an equally charming cover of "My Little Drum." The album also features Monheit's touching reading of "Just Like Me," the 2005 Benoit/Lee Mendelson original that serves as an emotional bookend to "Christmas Time Is Here."

Speaking of the aforementioned new 3D film from the talented folks at Blue Sky (the geniuses behind the Ice Age franchise and several other CGI hits), its soundtrack hit retail shelves on October 23. Although most of the original underscore comes from veteran film composer Christoph Beck, the album also includes three classic Vince Guaraldi Trio recordings: "Linus and Lucy," "Skating" and "Christmas Time Is Here."

Moving to the pure Guaraldi front, today (November 1) marks the debut of Concord Records' Charlie Brown Christmas 50th Anniversary Gift Pack, which includes the following:

• The original 11-track Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack
Peanuts Portraits
• A reproduction of the children's book version of A Charlie Brown Christmas
• Four double-sided postcards featuring various members of the Peanuts gang

This item is a Walmart exclusive.

(Sharp-eyed fans will recognize the postcard images as smaller versions of the mini-posters originally packaged with Fantasy Records' first-run LP pressings of Jazz Impressions of A Boy Named Charlie Brown.)

But wait; there's more! Today also marks the debut of three colored vinyl, retailer-exclusive editions of the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack:

• Red and green vinyl, available only at F.Y.E. stores
• Red vinyl, available only at Urban Outfitters
• Red and white vinyl, available only at Newbury Comics

And, of course, the existing green vinyl version remains available to all via Amazon.

So ... how many of those LPs will you scramble to find?

Looking a little further forward, November 20 is the release date of Concord's four-LP box set version of The Definitive Vince Guaraldi. The 31 songs from 2009's double-CD have been pressed onto four LPs, each housed in a different art sleeve. The package also includes a 12-by-24-inch poster of Guaraldi, original liner notes by noted jazz historian Doug Ramsey, a reproduction of the promotional cardboard "Vince mustache" that was handed out to patrons of his 1960s club gigs, and a 16-page booklet laden with vintage photos, club ads, newspaper articles and other ephemera from back in the day. (Many of the latter items come from the extensive library of archival materials I assembled, while researching my Guaraldi bio.) Not to be missed!

But wait, I hear you cry ... isn't this post headlined Contest Time?

Indeed yes, and I have not one, but two contests for you. 

Concord Records and JazzTimes magazine are running a sweepstakes that gives everybody a chance to win the four-LP Definitive Vince Guaraldi box set. That's right, just one winner ... so the question is, Are ya feelin' lucky? Check it out here.

Be advised: You'll need to establish a free JazzTimes user account, and then log into that account, in order to enter online. (All other forms of entry are void.)

This sweepstakes ended November 15, 2015.

But hey: You don't need to do anything special to enter our exclusive Impressions of Vince contest. Two lucky winners will be sent copies of Concord's Charlie Brown Christmas 50th Anniversary Gift Pack.

(This contest also concluded on November 15, and the answers now have been supplied below.)

All you need to is correctly answer the following questions:

1. Because A Charlie Brown Christmas debuted in 1965, it featured many characters who soon faded into obscurity and then weren't seen for decades thereafter. Name one. [Many possible answers here: Violet, the original Patty, 5 and his twin sisters 3 and 4]

2. Similarly, Charles M. Schulz hadn't yet introduced some of the strip's most popular characters when this show was made. Name one popular Peanuts character not seen in A Charlie Brown Christmas. [Again, several possible answers: Marcie, Peppermint Patty, Franklin, Woodstock and Rerun, among others]

3. Lucy never eats December snowflakes, even though Linus insists "They look ripe to me." Lucy tells us that she waits until which month? [January]

4. What will Linus do with his blanket when he grows up? [Make it into a sport coat]

5. What does Lucy want for Christmas? [Real estate]

6. In the school stage dance scene, what instrument does Pig-Pen play? [Bass]

7. Snoopy is called upon to imitate several animals for the school play. Which of the following is not one of them? a) sheep; b) goat; c) penguin; d) cow. [Goat]

8. How many tufts of green growth does the little tree have when Charlie Brown and Linus first spot it? [Three]

9. How many different ways does Schroeder play "Jingle Bells" for Lucy? [Three]

10. What color is the one ornament that Charlie Brown puts on his tree, which causes it to flop over? [Red]

Email your entries to Please, one entry per person. Winners will be selected randomly from entries with perfect scores. In the event nobody gets 100%, winners will be selected from entries with the most correct answers. 

Congratulations to our two winners: Doug and Bill. You know who you are...!

Friday, September 18, 2015

A little of this, a little of that ... Take 4

With the flurry of activity leading up to the twin 50th anniversary events commemorating Guaraldi’s Grace Cathedral Jazz Mass, a few items were set aside for commentary at a later date. I guess this is that later date...

A view from the rear at the Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church, during the CD release party
for Jim Martinez's newest album. That's quite a crowd!
First and foremost, I’ve been exchanging some great notes with Louis Judson, who as a teen was a member of the trio — which included pianist Brian Mann and drummer John Terwilliger — that presented the Tamalpais High School “concert version” of Guaraldi’s Jazz Mass on December 13, 1966. Louis finally came across the lengthy blog post I devoted to that performance; when researching that essay, I’d only been able to reach Brian and John. Louis was able to add some details, most significant of which is the fact that he’s the one who recorded the event. His comments have been incorporated into the original post, albeit invisibly ... so you’ll just have to read the whole thing again. (Hey, it’s a great excuse, right?)

Speaking of the Guaraldi Mass, an enterprising fellow named Steve recorded the entire August 15 Grace Cathedral concert, and has posted his efforts. The concert is divided into two YouTube files — Part 1 and Part 2 — divided at the point Rev. Bill Carter gives his short sermon. Unfortunately, a portion of his talk is missing (no doubt when Steve had to switch to a second memory card). The video is reasonably stable — very little shaking — and the audio quality is quite good, given the camera placement. For those unable to attend in person, this will give a solid sense of the event.

Jim Martinez led the combo that performed at Grace on August 15, and he followed that with a combination CD release party — for his new album, Good Grief, It’s Still Martinez! — and post-Jazz Mass commemoration, which took place August 30 at the Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church (home of the choir that performed at Grace on August 15). It turned out to be quite a party, drawing roughly 800 (!) attendees. My wife and I weren’t able to make it, as we were traveling back east that day, but Jim assures me that A Great Time Was Had By All. He tells me the entire event was recorded, but thus far he has posted only one video clip: this performance of “Theme to Grace.” If it’s any indication, I can’t wait to see and hear more ... so get a move on, Jim!

We couldn't help noticing that Jim was placed next to a display case filled with vintage
Barbie dolls. What would Snoopy say?
We may have missed Jim on August 30, but we were able to catch his solo act Thursday evening, September 10, when he performed at Sacramento's California Museum during the grand opening of "Pigskin Peanuts," a traveling exhibit from the Charles M. Schulz Museum. The folks at the California Museum did a sensational job with the exhibit, which features football-themed Peanuts strips and memorabilia. Children can keep occupied at several interactive stations, and a few cute photo ops also are present. (My favorite gives everybody an opportunity to become a lifesize Peanuts-themed football trading card.) Jim played for two hours, blending tunes from his new album with classics from Guaraldi's Peanuts canon.

The final item comes courtesy of Keith Mason, who teaches world languages and culture at New Jersey’s Providence High School. He has written an ambitious article about Charles Schulz, Peanuts and Guaraldi, mostly themed around the upcoming 50th anniversary of the debut TV broadcast of A Charlie Brown Christmas. Mason has a strong interest in immersing grade-school children to the arts, and — in addition to giving some history and background on the three topics above — he offers numerous clever ways in which Guaraldi’s music for A Charlie Brown Christmas, and other Peanuts TV specials, can be integrated into interactive lesson plans. (Hey, Keith; where were you when I was in high school?) I applaud the imaginative effort here, and I hope teachers across the country adopt at least some of his suggestions.

And th-th-that’s all for now, folks!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

East Coast Grace

September 6 dawned sunny and bright in Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania, with an early warmth that anticipated the day’s eventual climb to a humid 88 degrees. The sticky Sunday morning surroundings notwithstanding, things were cool and inviting in the city’s First Presbyterian Church — “The Church on the Hill” — when we entered at 8:30 a.m.

Indeed, as cool and inviting as Rev. Bill Carter’s welcoming smile.

We were an hour early for the morning’s events, knowing that some prep time was necessary. I was accompanied by what came to be known as my entourage: Constant Companion Gayna, our Boston-based friend Scott, and our D.C.-based friend Doug. The four of us unpacked the enlarged photos, facsimile 1965 Grace Cathedral programs and other vintage materials — recently used for Jim Martinez’s tribute concert (see previous post) — that I had shipped to Carter’s office. 

Armed with easels and other display materials, we set up a tableau in the church foyer, designed to give parishioners a sense of what it had been like for Guaraldi and his band, half a century ago.

This actually was my second visit to the church, following a brief appearance the previous morning, during a final rehearsal involving Carter (on piano), Al Hamme (sax and flute), Tyler Dempsey (drums), cantors Susan Kelly and Alan Baker, and members of the First Presbyterian Church choir. I hovered for roughly an hour, mostly checking sound levels and balance by sitting in different parts of the worship hall. The trio initially overwhelmed the choir a bit, so I encouraged Bill to enhance the gain on their microphones (which earned an appreciative smile from the singers). Jon Tichenor, affiliated with the local NPR station WVIA, spent that same time setting up recording microphones in front of all instrumentalists and vocalists.

No, we didn't plan it: Bill and I were amused to discover, at the Saturday morning rehearsal,
that we had worn the same Peanuts shirt: Schroeder at the piano, sporting dark specs,
beneath the phrase "It's okay, I'm with the band!"
(My understanding is that, at some point, portions of the Sunday morning service will be broadcast on WVIA as part of a new “Music from First Presbyterian” radio series; details will follow, as they’re verified.)

During my casual sound check, the band and choir ran through a couple of the hymns that Guaraldi had arranged for his Jazz Mass — “Come With Us, O Blessed Jesus” and the “Nicene Creed” — along with his original composition, “Theme to Grace.” Everything sounded excellent, reflecting the dedicated practice that had taken place during numerous earlier rehearsal sessions. Individual singers queried a couple of fine points, but otherwise Carter seemed quite pleased by the results, as well he should have been. I certainly was.

But back to Sunday morning:

At about 9:15, my little group took their appointed seats in the second row, while I followed Carter into the “ready room” behind the worship hall. We were joined by Hamme, Dempsey and bassist Tony Marino, the latter sharing the eye-watering details of some particularly volcanic salsa/marinara sauce that he had concocted, with hot peppers from his own garden. Carter smiled at the shared memory; I simply shuddered.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Mass appeal: Chapter 5

We’re approaching the final countdown on the second of this summer’s double-scoop celebration of Guaraldi’s Jazz Mass, with the second 50th anniversary event taking place Sunday morning, September 6, at the First Presbyterian Church of Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania. The jazz elements will be handled by Rev. Bill Carter and his Presbybop combo; during the past several months, Bill quite generously has shared the lengthy listening/transcription process that has been necessary, to replicate the original experience as closely as possible.

In case you’ve missed previous installments, you’ll find them here, here, here and here.

Meanwhile, I’ll once again turn this blog over to Bill, for his final analysis of How Vince Did It ... and how his mass’ rich legacy even extended to other projects!


Reflections on transcribing the Guaraldi Mass: The Instrumental Music

I had a revelation when I heard the Guaraldi Mass tunes in a different sequence. While preparing a reference CD for my quartet, I put “Sanctus” and “Agnus Dei” adjacent to one another, just as they’d be sequenced in an actual mass. I shouldn’t have been surprised to discover that they’re in the same key, with the same tempo and rhythmic feel. They belong together.

Similarly, “In Remembrance of Me” and “Holy Communion Blues” begin in nearly identical fashion. A repeated C in the melody is accompanied by a descending line in the left hand, before each tune develops in a different manner.

Both tunes were part of a long interlude, as the mass participants received the sacrament of communion. Rev. Chuck Gompertz recalls it took 30 minutes for everyone to be served, so Vince did what scores of church musicians have always done: He filled the time. And why not? If you’ve invited a jazz trio into your cathedral to lead a worship service, it’s best to let them play.

Only about half of that music is included on Fantasy’s recording of the event. Chuck spent a lot of time with the recording engineers, carving up identifiable segments into “tunes,” and even providing titles on Vince’s behalf. Sadly, the rest of that music has been lost to us.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

An afternoon of Grace

“Mother never said there might be a day like this.”

First words out of my mouth. Couldn’t help it.

I had just been introduced — and quite warmly — by Grace Cathedral’s Rev. Canon Elizabeth Grundy, and all I could do was look out across the assembled multitude (officially 611 patrons!), and then up-up-up at the way-high ceiling, almost out of view.

Apparently everybody understood, though, because my awe-struck remark drew plenty of sympathetic chuckles.

But I’m getting ahead of things. Let’s start at the beginning.

Constant Companion and I arrived at Grace at about 10:30 Saturday morning; we had left home quite early, not wanting to take any chances with the San Francisco area’s notorious traffic (which, yes, can be ghastly even on weekends). As a result, we were first to arrive, and so killed some time by browsing through the cathedral’s gift shop. I couldn’t help noticing a counter-top rack of CDs that included several copies of Duke Ellington’s Concert of Sacred Music at Grace, recorded live September 16, 1965 ... but no sign of Fantasy’s recording of Guaraldi’s Mass, which had preceded Ellington by four months.

So I wanna know: What’s up with that?


We soon were joined by Marcia and Nancy Goodrich, two of the long-ago St. Paul’s Church choir members who, as children, had rehearsed with Guaraldi for roughly 18 months, while his Jazz Mass came together. They were excited, to say the least: positively bubbling with anticipation.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Mass appeal: Chapter 4

We’re one week away from the first of two Guaraldi Jazz Mass celebrations, with pianist Jim Martinez busily rehearsing with the Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church Choir each week. Last-minute preparations are being handled, from significant matters of musical fine-tuning, to the completely mundane (as in, have you ever tried to find a place to park in San Francisco?).

Somehow, though, all the details and hiccups will be worked out, likely at the last possible second: one of the great enigmas of the performance world. To quote Geoffrey Rush’s marvelous summation, delivered so well in Shakespeare in Love: “Allow me to explain about the theater business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster. Strangely enough, it all turns out well ... [but] I don’t know how. It’s a mystery.”

Meanwhile, at the other end of the country, the Rev. Bill Carter and his colleagues at the First Presbyterian Church of Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania, are preparing for their similar tribute to Guaraldi, with an authentic church service setting of the Mass, to take place starting at 9:30 a.m. Sunday, September 6. Bill has labored intently for the past several months, working up Guaraldi’s jazz-inflected portions of the service by transcribing the few existing snippets of recordings. (Remember, Vince never wrote any of this music down.)

Bill has scored his transcriptions for jazz quartet (he’ll be on piano), two cantors (who will handle the trickier chants) and a small subset of his church’s choir.

He has generously shared details of his efforts in several earlier installments of this blog, and I’ll let him continue in that vein. Take it away, Bill!

Friday, July 31, 2015

And the Hits just keep on coming!

As Guaraldi fans know, this is a big year for Dr. Funk — being the 50th anniversary of both his Grace Cathedral Jazz Mass, and the television debut of his Peanuts themes in A Charlie Brown Christmas — and Fantasy Records isn’t missing the opportunity to acknowledge these milestones.

The first treat arrives today, with the CD release of Peanuts Greatest Hits, a fresh assortment of Guaraldi’s most iconic themes for Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the rest of the gang. (A brand-new vinyl version will follow in September.) You’ll find the usual suspects, most notably “Linus and Lucy” (of course!), “Charlie Brown Theme,” “Oh, Good Grief” and his three compositions from A Charlie Brown Christmas. But the collection also includes a track that is relatively new to Fantasy: Guaraldi’s vocal rendition of the droll “Little Birdie,” previously available only on Peanuts Portraits.

Fantasy once again was gracious enough to let me write some new liner notes, and I wove that essay around a tantalizing “what if” that might have taken place in an alternate universe. In our real world, the first Guaraldi Peanuts tune most of us heard was “Christmas Time Is Here,” which plays over the opening scene in A Charlie Brown Christmas. But what if director/producer Lee Mendelson had been able to sell his earlier documentary, A Boy Named Charlie Brown, to a television network? How would that have affected the sequence in which we initially heard the 12 tracks on this new collection?

(Hey, I needed a fresh “hook” with which to approach these liner notes, and that seemed as good as any!)

Fantasy has additional plans between now and the end of the year. The 1998 CD release, Charlie Brown’s Holiday Hits, will be re-issued on vinyl. Much more ambitiously, 2009’s double-CD set, The Definitive Vince Guaraldi, will be re-released as a 4-LP, 180-gram vinyl box set: a lovely package that will include a poster of Schroeder and Guaraldi, enhanced liner notes with lots of 1960s-era Guaraldi photos and ephemera from my personal collection. Finally, perennial favorite A Charlie Brown Christmas will celebrate its golden anniversary in multiple formats (final details not yet set; stay tuned).

Those of us who still prefer the “warmth” of vinyl clearly have ample reason to celebrate.

But wait, there’s more!

Fantasy and the Concord Music Group have generously agreed to offer a few free CD copies of Peanuts Greatest Hits to my faithful blog followers. Merely handing them out would be too easy, so I’ve decided to turn it into a contest. Discs will be sent to the first five people who correctly answer this question:

Name two non-Peanuts Guaraldi compositions that he recorded on more than one Fantasy (vinyl) LP, back in the day (prior to 1970). Do not include 1964’s Jazz Impressions in your search, as its entire contents are drawn from earlier albums. And remember: Fantasy only. Don’t send me titles that popped up on Warner Bros., Crown or any other label.

Send your answers to the e-mail address at right ("Email Derrick"). Please do not send them as comments, because I'll simply delete them. (Besides which, I'll need your e-mail address.)

Good luck!


August 1 Addendum:

The contest is over, and many thanks to all of you who participated. Frankly, I'm quite surprised; I wasn't aware my readership was this large, or this gracious. Many of you wrote very nice comments about this blog, and my book, which I greatly appreciate. Makes all the supplementary research efforts even more rewarding.

That said, the correct answers are:

"Ginza," also known as "Ginza Samba," appears on three albums: Modern Music from San Francisco, Cal Tjader/Stan Getz Sextet and From All Sides.

"Star Song" appears on Vince Guaraldi, Bola Sete & Friends and The Latin Side of Vince Guaraldi.

And our five winners are:

Brad Adams
Damon Carmona
Dylan DeFeo
Scott McGuire
Michael Shirey

CDs will be on their way to you soon!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Mass appeal: Chapter 3

The rehearsal began promptly at 10:45 a.m.; choir director John McDaniel runs a very tight ship.

I spent an engaging 90 minutes Sunday morning at the Fair Oaks (California) Presbyterian Church, watching and listening as McDaniel and his singers worked through numerous selections on the program of the upcoming Guaraldi Jazz Mass Tribute Concert, taking place at 2 p.m. Saturday, August 15, at San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral. The weekly rehearsals began July 5, and they’ll continue each Sunday morning through August 9, with a final dress rehearsal Thursday evening, August 13.

John McDaniel, standing on the riser, leads the Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church Choir in a
Guaraldi-inflected version of "Adore Devote (Humbly I Adore Thee)," while Jim Martinez
adds a swinging touch at the piano.
McDaniel’s all-adult choir is roughly 70 members strong, and their well-trained voices filled the large, classroom-style music room with a joyous sound. In a word, the group is terrific. After running through a couple of the jazzed-up hymns that Guaraldi arranged for his Mass, McDaniel surprised me — I was sitting quietly in the back of the room — by asking what I thought.

“Actually, it’s rather spooky,” I said, and his gaze adopted a puzzled expression, until I elaborated. “If I close my eyes, it’s like listening to the original LP recording. You all sound awesome.”

McDaniel smiled, clearly pleased. Gentle but undeniably happy laughter rippled through the crowd.

As the August 15 event is a concert, as opposed to a formal church service, McDaniel and pianist Jim Martinez are supplementing Guaraldi’s Jazz Mass elements with additional choral pieces. Thus, the Fair Oaks Presbyterian singers have been learning not only the Mass’ vocal selections — “Kyrie Eleison,” “Come with Us, O Blessed Jesus,” “Nicene Creed (I Believe),” “Adore Devote (Humbly I Adore Thee)” and the lovely background chant and “Hallelujahs” behind the primarily instrumental “Theme to Grace” — but also five other hymns: “Come to the Music,” “Praise God,” “Total Praise,” “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” and “Worthy to Be Praised.”

Martinez and his band, meanwhile, have been working up the Mass’ instrumental compositions: “In Remembrance of Me,” “The Holy Communion Blues” and the aforementioned “Theme to Grace.” Given Jim’s fondness for Guaraldi’s music, I’m sure he’ll also include a few other familiar tunes.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Homage to Vince

A new Guaraldi-hued album becomes available today, and you’ll definitely want it in your library.

Full disclosure demands that I acknowledge Northern California jazz pianist Jim Martinez as a friend; I wrote the liner notes for this album, and one of the tracks is dedicated to my own self. (It won’t be hard to figure out which one.) So yes, I admit to bias ... but that doesn’t make what follows any less valid.

Guaraldi has been gone for almost 40 years, but his signature themes are more popular than ever; all manner of jazz musicians have covered the “big three” — “Cast Your Fate to the Wind,” “Linus and Lucy” and “Christmas Time Is Here” — with more renditions popping up every year.

Martinez includes the first two on this album, which honors Guaraldi’s decisive musical influence on the neighborhood inhabited by Charlie Brown and the rest of Charles M. Schulz’s beloved Peanuts gang. But this isn’t a garden-variety collection of Guaraldi covers; eight of these 14 tracks are sparkling Martinez originals, all written and performed in Guaraldi’s larkish, Latinesque “Peanuts style.”

Martinez has Guaraldi’s facility for cute, clever melodic hooks that immediately sound familiar, even when heard for the first time. Better still, they’re catchy and instantly hummable, with the cheerful ebullience that always characterized Guaraldi’s performance style. You can’t help nodding in time to Martinez’s effervescent keyboard work; you also can’t help smiling.

He’s a generous leader, granting plenty of exposure to core band mates Josh Workman (guitar), Marcus Shelby (bass), and Tim Metz and Tony Savage, trading off on drums. Indeed, numerous tracks — such as Martinez’s “Chillin’ at the Warm Puppy Café” — feature engaging “duels” between Martinez and Workman, alternating vigorous solos and comping behind each other. (The title references the aptly named coffee shop adjacent to the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, California.)

Workman’s deft guitar work also highlights the gentle, Brazilian-hued “Samba for Snoopy,” and the flamenco elements of the impish “Spike and the Cactus Club,” with its shifting time signatures; one imagines Snoopy’s rail-thin brother dancing with a rose between his teeth.

Shelby’s accomplished bass work powers the percussive “Bang!,” which Martinez fills with Guaraldi-esque flourishes; Shelby’s walking bass also drives the sassy “Blues for Beagles,” which gets additional snap from Lucas Bere’s smoldering tenor sax.

The lyrical “Waltz for Vince” feels very much like the style and delivery of Guaraldi’s early Fantasy albums, while “Schroeder Can Play” is a spirited finger-snapper granted plenty of swing by both Martinez and Shelby.

The band’s cover of “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” is slightly faster than Guaraldi’s version, with Martinez roaring through the lengthy improv bridge. “Linus and Lucy” also is up-tempo, with Metz’s propulsive drum work setting the stage for an initially faithful (but not slavish) adaptation that breaks away when Martinez takes the second bridge into entirely new directions. Guaraldi’s lively “Surfin’ Snoopy” is treated like a classic combo swinger, with Savage and Shelby setting the stage for vigorous solos by Bere, Workman and finally Martinez.

Martinez is equally adept at softer tempos, as with his worshipful handling of Guaraldi’s “Theme to Grace,” an interior theme from the Jazz Mass Guaraldi wrote for San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral in the mid-1960s. Workman and Martinez trade quiet, reverential solos in a manner evoking the latter’s numerous “Jazz Praise” albums. Similarly, Martinez’s “Thank You Sparky” is a hushed, heartfelt lament, with his keyboard backed solely by violin.

The album includes one vocal: a tender cover of Rod McKuen’s poignant title song to the 1969 film A Boy Named Charlie Brown, with Margie Rebekah Ruiz’s expressively soulful voice accompanied by Bere’s equally sweet sax solo and a string quartet.

The album is highlighted both by everybody’s tight solo and ensemble work, and by Martinez’s overall impish tone. Most of his original compositions are droll to begin with, and he enhances that exuberance with occasional quotes from sources as varied as Gershwin, “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and Guaraldi himself.

This album’s dexterous musicality certainly is a selling point, but — most of all — it’s fun. As with Guaraldi’s many albums, you can’t help wanting to play this one again ... and again and again.

So, what are you waiting for?

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Fantasy (almost?) on the block ... the first time

Google Books’ massive wealth of material includes the complete archives of Billboard magazine, free for anybody to peruse. It’s easy to spend several hours (days?) tripping down musical memory lane, and of course these archives also are an invaluable resource; I used them extensively while researching information for my Guaraldi bio.

Until just the other day, though, I hadn’t considered investigating a search on Fantasy Records. Most of the results were too tangential for my purposes, but I did learn a few helpful details. The first was a squib from March 12, 1955, headlined Zaentz Heads Fantasy Sales. In entirety, the little piece informed readers that “Saul Zaentz has been named national sales manager for Fantasy Records. He formerly held sales and promotion posts with Clef and Norgran. Zaentz’s Fantasy duties will also include deejay relations.”

A little more than a month later, on April 23, that week’s Jazz Best Sellers — a listing always subdivided by label — gave Fantasy’s street address: 654 Natoma Street, in San Francisco. Although I already knew that Fantasy was on Natoma Street in the mid-1950s, I’d never had the actual number. (Yes, I do obsess over such details.)

The most interesting tidbit, however, unfolded during slightly more than four months, starting on New Year’s Eve in 1966 ... when Fantasy Records supposedly was purchased by a rival label (!).

Now, it’s well known that Max and Soul (Sol) Weiss sold Fantasy on September 1, 1967, to a consortium of distributors headed by Zaentz. But I had no idea that an entirely different offer had been floated nine months earlier.

On top of which, this earlier potential deal apparently blew up quite spectacularly.

It started when Billboard reported, on December 31, 1966, that — according to “reliable sources” — Audio Fidelity Records had bought Fantasy. “Contracts have been signed,” the article went on, “and Audio Fidelity is expected to take title in a few days. The label will be moved to New York, and Orrin Keppnews, former Riverside Records executive recently hired by AF, is expected to be Fantasy a&r vice president. The move is AF’s second major acquisition since Herman Gimbel took over the reins of the company. The first was the expansion into the country field with Little Darlin’ Records.”

As Mr. Spock had just begun to say, every Thursday evening that TV season, Fascinating...

At that point in time, Audio Fidelity’s major claim to fame was having released the United States’ first mass-produced stereophonic long-playing record, in November 1957. Under original owner Sidney Frey, the label signed a respectable collection of jazz musicians, including Lionel Hampton, Louis Armstrong, Elmo Hope and Lalo Schifrin. In 1962, Frey became one of the first U.S. record company owners to aggressively pursue bossa nova and Brazilian jazz, releasing LPs by João Gilberto, Luiz Bonfá, Oscar Castro-Neves and several others.

Frey sold the company in 1965 to Gimbel, who expanded inventory and artists; even so, he never became a major player during the rapidly expanding rock era. Ironically, most of the Audio Fidelity LPs found in home libraries in the 1970s weren’t music at all; the label did quite well by its extremely popular line of sound-effects albums. Audio Fidelity was folded into Milestone Records in 1985, and eventually went bankrupt in 1997.

But back to our story...

Despite the apparent haste with which Audio Fidelity’s deal with Fantasy was expected to take place, nothing happened for several months. Then, on March 25, 1967, Billboard unveiled fresh information beneath the headline A Disagreement Stops Buying of Fantasy by AF.

“The acquisition has failed to materialize,” the article began. “Herman Gimbel, AF president, had flown to San Francisco last week to close the deal. Gimbel returned without the acquisition, charging that Fantasy failed to deliver assets provided for in the agreement. These assets, according to Gimbel, include ‘full use of a quantity of masters — including all of the Dave Brubeck material, which is unquestionably the heart of the Fantasy catalog.’ Gimbel added that record club and tape cartridge deals had been negotiated for the expected new Fantasy operation.”

The next step was inevitable: Gimbel sued.

On May 13, 1967, Billboard broke this news under the headline AF Charges Fantasy Welched on Contract. “Audio Fidelity has sought recourse through the courts,” the article began. “The deal allegedly was set by both parties, when, according to AF President Herman Gimbel, Fantasy backed out.

“According to the complaint, the defendants entered into a written contract with Gimbel for the sale of their music and sound recording business. Sale price was allegedly $235,000, with another $200,000 for royalties to be paid over a five-year period. Gimbel said he made a $5,000 down payment last November.

“Gimbel charges that on March 9 he met with the defendants in San Francisco, to sign the final contract, but that the defendants refused to deliver the business and assets.”

The rest of the article specifies various sidebar details, including advance orders that Gimbel already had taken for the expected Fantasy library, which “would have yielded him a net profit of at least $70,000” (and which sounds rather like counting one’s chickens before they’ve hatched).

“Gimbel seeks an accounting of the Fantasy operation for 1967,” the article concludes, “along with court costs, and, if the court rules that the contract cannot be performed, damages of $95,974.32 and such additional damages as may be established by the evidence.”

I’d love to know how they came up with that 32 cents...

All kidding aside, I was struck by what seems to have been Fantasy’s rather modest value. Just a quarter-million for the whole shebang, plus not quite that much in royalties? Seriously? I know everything cost less back in 1967, but that still seems low.

Maybe it was, and maybe that’s why Soul and Max backed out. Alas, we’ll never know. That was the last Billboard reported of the matter, which suggests things were settled out of court.

Zaentz and his fellow investors were more successful a few months later, paying $325,000 for the label and all its assets ... which, on the surface, seems a worse deal than Soul and Max were offered by Audio Fidelity. As history quickly demonstrated, Zaentz made one helluva deal. Thanks to the incredible popularity of Creedence Clearwater Revival, he was able to pay off the five-year note in 18 months. As quoted in Billboard on May 3, 1969, Zaentz now insisted that he “wouldn’t take $6 million for Fantasy.”

Zaentz’s subsequent adventures with Creedence and John Fogerty, of course, became an entirely different story, and the stuff of both rock and precedent-establishing courtroom legend. If you’re curious, check it out here.

In hindsight, it’s interesting to note that the Audio Fidelity imbroglio was taking place at the same time that Guaraldi had filed his own lawsuit against Fantasy, seeking release from his oppressive contract. That suit wasn’t resolved until December 27, 1967, shortly after Zaentz took over the label. (I remain convinced that Zaentz, far smarter about such things than the Weiss brothers, recognized and quickly dealt with what almost certainly would have been an embarrassing courtroom loss for Fantasy).

As journalist Linda Ellerbee is so fond of saying, And so it goes...