Thursday, March 26, 2015

A message from 1967

It tantalized me for years.

The San Francisco Bay Area Television Archive is a marvelous resource: an endeavor that has preserved great chunks of Northern California's television history, whether it originated on film or broadcast video, from the dawn of television to 2005. Best of all, much of the archive's contents have been digitized and made available for online viewing by all, at no cost.

You can check out a nifty video introduction of the archive here.

The archive's deposits are a fascinating window into the past, affording the sort of "You're really there" experience that simply doesn't come from the oh-so-phony "re-enactments" beloved by many of today's cable and satellite channels.

Jazz fans will find tantalizing items, albeit only after some digging. George Lewis and his Ragtime Jazz Band come to life during a 1953 performance at the Hangover Club. Dave Brubeck discusses his former mentor, Darius Milhaud, in a two-part documentary first aired on KQED in 1965. In a 1974 KPIX Eyewitness News report, San Francisco jazz critic Ralph Gleason — also a founding editor of Rolling Stone magazine — reflects on the death and legacy of Duke Ellington.

The archive's collection is sizable, and growing all the time: far faster than its dedicated staff can tabulate, digitize and post the contents. And therein resided the source of my frustration.

A search on Guaraldi, during the research phase of my book, yielded three entries: all of them "waiting to be processed." I was lucky; thanks to relationships cultivated with the many individuals I interviewed, I was able to obtain copies of two of these three items. 

The first, 1965's Bay of Gold, was an hour-length documentary about the San Francisco Bay; it was directed and produced by Lee Mendelson, who later that same year made history with Guaraldi when A Charlie Brown Christmas debuted on television. As the two men already had become friends and creative partners, Mendelson hired Guaraldi to write and perform the score for Bay of Gold, and you'll hear themes and improvisations that never appeared elsewhere (along with a few themes that Guaraldi did later recycle). 

The second item, a half-hour 1966 KPIX documentary titled In the Marketplace, included some great footage of Guaraldi and his trio performing during the second presentation of his Grace Cathedral Mass, at the Rev. Charles Gompertz's Church in Ignacio.

Happily, and entirely by coincidence, both items were digitized and made available for viewing shortly before my final edit went to McFarland, and I was able to include links in my videography. Thus, you can watch Bay of Gold here, and In the Marketplace here.

That left the third item: a KPIX clip rather vaguely titled "Vince and Kids" and recorded (or broadcast) on July 21, 1967. An e-mail exchange with archivist Alex Cherian yielded the additional information that it was short, no more than two minutes, and had been filmed for a local news spot. But as for the actual contents, well ... that was unknown.

And likely to remain unknown, for quite some time.

In the ordinary course of events, Cherian and his fellow archivists undoubtedly would have gotten around to digitizing and posting this clip ... eventually. Clearly, though — and quite reasonably — their attention would turn first to more important holdings. Overworked archivists face a horrible reality every day: They simply can't spread themselves thin enough to grant every deposit the attention it deserves.

If I waited, would I live long enough to see such attention paid to this final Guaraldi clip?

I'd certainly like to think so, but...

Another option presented itself.

I was told that it was possible to "jump the queue" ... by paying for the work.

Not cheap. Indeed, a very pretty penny, for a two-minute clip.

I stewed ... for four years.

Ultimately, I couldn't stand it. On top of which, I reasoned, this would be a nice way of acknowledging the digitization already done by Cherian and his colleagues, on Bay of Gold and In the Marketplace: both significant pieces of Guaraldiana.

So I hauled out the checkbook. To Cherian's credit, he wasted no time...

...which is why you now can watch this short clip of Guaraldi and his trio rehearsing with the San Francisco Boys Chorus, working up Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind," either for the upcoming album Vince Guaraldi and the San Francisco Boys Chorus, or perhaps for a live performance of same.

I guarantee, your first reaction will be, I know he sported a legendary mustache, but My God!


Maddeningly, the cameraman holds on Guaraldi and his (not identified) sidemen for only a few seconds, and then spends the rest of the performance time on the chorus members. We can hear the Guaraldi trio's contribution, but we never see them again. (Idiot camerman!)

But there's a bonus: close to a minute of Guaraldi being interviewed, and chatting about the experience of working with the kids. And that, boys and girls, is worth the price of admission ... because, modest as this is, you can count the number of existing on-camera conversations with Guaraldi, on the fingers of one hand. 

And now you'll need one more finger.


Fate Music said...

Tip o' the cap to you, sir. Thank you and all involved in making this kind of preservation and presentation possible.

Anonymous said...

That was fantastic. Thanks Derrick.

Doug said...

Wow! Even as someone who's done a fair share of archival spelunking on Guaraldi, this is the coolest thing I've seen in a very long while, for a number of reasons: (1) It's the clearest moving picture image of Vince that I can recall (better than the "Anatomy of a Hit" film print at the Library of Congress); (2) From 1967, it's the latest extant footage of Vince speaking that I'm aware of ("Anatomy of a Hit" was broadcast in 1964, and "The Gleason Beat" in 1965); (3) It's the next-to-latest extant footage of Vince that exists, period (I believe the last is the short snippet of his Sept. 21,1968 Monterey festival appearance that was used -- with overdubbed music -- in the "Charlie Brown and Charles Schulz" TV special); and (4) It's got a great stretch of the "Blowin' in the Wind" rehearsal performance, including an improvised instrumental bridge that differs from the recorded version. Fantastic. Let's hope it's not the last such discovery! (And many thanks for your generosity in underwriting the transfer and sharing it with the public.)