Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Current Events

Photo courtesy the Associated Press
A few Guaraldi-themed tidbits in the news...

The Rev. Canon Malcolm Boyd, the famed priest, author and activist who made quite a splash with his 1965 book of prayers, Are You Running with Me, Jesus?, died February 27, at the impressive age of 91.

Boyd was a hard-charging activist who never worried about whether his socio-political image would clash with his religious training; indeed, he cheerfully employed the latter to further all manner of causes in the realms of civil rights, gender equality and much more.

Early in his career, in the late 1950s and early '60s, he was a popular coffeehouse fixture who reached out to the era's poets and beatniks, earning the media label "the espresso priest." This eventually brought him to San Francisco, where his path crossed Guaraldi's on two notable occasions: first and most famously on May 21, 1965, when Boyd delivered the core sermon during the debut of Guaraldi's Jazz Mass at Grace Cathedral. Alas, Boyd's stirring oratory wasn't included on the album — Vince Guaraldi at Grace Cathedral — that Fantasy subsequently released.

That said, the original Fantasy LP, released in September 1965, was packaged with a printed copy of Boyd's sermon. (And here's a funny story: I wasn't aware of that until just a few days ago, when somebody mentioned that detail in passing. Curiosity prompted me to pull out my old LP, where — lo and behold — I did indeed find the single-fold "booklet." I'd never known it was there! All the many, many times I played that record, back in the pre-CD days, but the printed sermon never revealed itself by sliding out with the disc. And since I bought the LP used, probably at some point in the 1970s, it no longer had the wrapper which likely bore a sticker mentioning the inclusion of that document, and so I didn't know to look for it!)

Their second collaboration took place in September 1966, during the first week of what would become Boyd's month-long run at the hungry i. Activist comedian Dick Gregory was the headliner; Boyd shared the bill, "performing" his prayers/poems to musical accompaniment. His regular partner, guitarist Charlie Byrd, had a conflicting gig at El Matador the first week; Guaraldi is known to have stepped in for at least one night, and possibly for that entire week.

Boyd was famous enough to have earned lengthy obituaries in newspapers and media outlets throughout the country, but the best I've seen (by far) is this one, from the Episcopal News Service. It even mentions Guaraldi, if only in passing.

Boyd was a titan. My wife and I were fortunate to see him perform in person, in August 2010, when filmmakers Toby Gleason and Andrew Thomas screened their just-completed documentary, The Anatomy of Vince Guaraldi, at the second annual Sausalito Film Festival. The film was followed by Boyd, who — accompanied by a piano trio — re-created the beatnik-era style of jazz-inflected prayer and poetry that would have characterized that memorable month at the hungry i. As I wrote in my book's epilogue:

Audience members could close their eyes, lean back, let the experience wash over them, and imagine the intervening years melting away: imagine being transported back to 1966, in spirit if not body, to witness the birth of a new sort of prayerful protest movement.

Boyd clearly was moved by Gleason and Thomas' film: enough so that he made a point of introducing Thomas to Michael Battle, who had begun work on an authorized biography of Boyd, which was published in 2011 as Black Battle, White Knight. In that book, Battle reprints an e-mail that Boyd wrote, shortly after viewing The Anatomy of Vince Guaraldi for the first time. Excerpting the relevant portion of that note:

I realize the incredible impact of the Jazz Mass on my consciousness. More to the point, I can see its impact on Vince Guaraldi. ... For both of us, I think, we'd found a freshness, an innocence and simplicity, that would mark us indelibly. I look back at the event, collaborating with Vince, as a kind of magical moment. Two strangers met, exchanged a brief encounter on a great stage, and the gods seemed to smile or, at least, show friendliness.

After that, we went our own ways.

As it happens, Boyd has become Thomas' most recent project. The filmmaker is collaborating with author/scholar Mark Thompson on a documentary-in-progress titled Disturber of the Peace: The Many Lives of Malcolm Boyd. Additional information can be found at the film's web site.

We need more impassioned agitators like Boyd, but — as the saying goes — we'll not see his particular like again, any time soon.


On a happier (concert) note...

Our Canadian neighbors will have the opportunity to enjoy a Guaraldi program at 10:30 a.m. Friday, March 13, when pianist Duncan Cooper and his trio — John Beach, bass; and Chris Lingard, drums — present "A Tribute to Vince Guaraldi" at the John M. Parrott Art Gallery in Belleville, Ontario. The event apparently will be more than music, as Cooper also promises to discuss Guaraldi's life and career. Admission appears to be free; check here for details.

Down here in the States, veteran jazz pianist Larry Vuckovich, Guaraldi's one and only formal student (way back in the day!), will honor his mentor with a couple of concerts in the near future: a treat for those of us in California.

First up is "Larry Vuckovich's Vince Guaraldi Tribute Ensemble," performing at 8 p.m. Saturday, March 14, at the Piedmont Piano Company in Oakland. The set list will be familiar to those who've enjoyed Vuckovich's recent Guaraldi tributes, described in this earlier post. The band personnel have changed a bit: bassist Seward McCain has been replaced by Jeff Chambers, and drummer Leon Joyce Jr. is sitting in for Akira Tana. McCain's absence is unfortunate, since he also remains a direct link to Guaraldi, having been part of Dr. Funk's final band, back in the 1970s.

Ticket information and other details can be found here.

Later in the spring and down in Southern California, the Los Angeles Jazz Institute is presenting an ambitious, four-day tribute to jazz impresario Howard Rumsey, "Music for Lighthousekeeping." Rumsey, 97 years young, is best known for forming the ensemble that became known as the Lighthouse All-Stars, the house band at the eponymous Hermosa Beach restaurant/nightclub. The festival, taking place May 21-24 at Los Angeles' Sheraton Gateway hotel, will feature 26 concerts, rare films and special presentations.

The schedule is frankly stunning, in terms of the talent assembled for this long weekend, and must be seen to be believed; take a gander at this program.

Guaraldi fans will want to pay particular attention to "Concert 23," detailed at left, which features Vuckovich and his band.

But that's not the only Guaraldi element. Four short cinema events are scheduled throughout the weekend, all boasting "rare films from the L.A. Jazz Institute Archive." The May 23 screening, dubbed Mambo Las Vegas, makes a point of mentioning Guaraldi. I've no idea what those archive materials might be, although I'm trying to find out (and will share whatever I learn in this space).

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