Friday, March 27, 2015

Grace-ful memories

As I've mentioned, this will be a busy year for Guaraldi fans, as we count down to the 50th anniversary of both his Grace Cathedral Jazz Mass (May 21) and the TV debut of A Charlie Brown Christmas.

David Willat and your faithful blog host. (David is the good-looking gent not wearing a
Peanuts T-shirt.)
With respect to the former, I recently shared a radio studio with David Willat, who as an 11-year-old boy had a part in both of those productions. He was a member of the St. Paul Church Choir that spent the better part of 18 months rehearsing what became Guaraldi's Jazz Mass, before performing it for the packed-to-the-gills worshipers at San Francisco's Grace Cathedral on May 21, 1965. A few months later, he and a small number of the choir's younger members rode a bus to San Francisco's Fantasy Records studio, where they supplied the vocal performances for "Christmas Time Is Here" and "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing," as part of the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack, and also dubbed the Peanuts gang at the end, when everybody shouts "Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!"

(I interviewed David and two other former choir members, back in June 2010, during an energetic four-way conversation; the setting was one of the the rehearsal rooms at St. Paul's Church itself, in San Rafael. That was a memorable couple of hours.)

Local-access DJ Bill Buchanan, who back in 2012 granted me his weekly KDRT show to discuss my just-published Guaraldi biography, opened his studio again for a half-hour chat with Willat and me. The three of us had a grand time, as David discussed his experiences back in the day. The interview even resurrected a memory nugget that I'd not heard before, which you'll recognize while listening to the show, and which you can bet I'll be investigating more aggressively.

The show is being broadcast this week on our local station, and the podcast version is available for listening here.

Sadly, I made a lamentable gaffe at one point, with respect to the date of the second presentation of Guaraldi's Jazz Mass. My memory was accurate when I pegged that event in January 1966, at the Rev. Charles Gompertz's Church of Ignacio ... but then I had to spoil the moment by trying for the precise date, and fluffed it. (January 23, for the record, and not January 8. That's what happens when you try to show off.)

That aside, the conversation was lively, and David was a great sport. I only wish Bill's show could have included some of the juicy stuff that was mentioned before and after the microphones went live...


As I mention toward the conclusion of my book, true fame comes when an artist's work enters the pantheon of pop-culture exposure, particularly on television and in cinema. Guaraldi's tunes, as he recorded them, have lived on in TV shows such as The Simpsons and Arrested Development, and in the soundtracks of movies such as The Royal Tennenbaums and An Education.

The most recent big-screen example is the 2014 Hugh Grant romantic comedy, The Rewrite, which also features Marisa Tomei and recent Academy Award winner J.K. Simmons. Although the soundtrack is dominated by original music from Clyde Lawrence and Cody Fitzgerald, the menu also includes tunes by Madeleine Peyroux and Stolen Jars, along with the Vince Guaraldi Trio's rendition of "Since I Fell for You," from his album Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus. Thus far, the soundtrack is available only as an MP3 download at Amazon and a few other digital outlets; no CD has been announced. [Update #1: A CD version was released in May 2015.]

Unfortunately, I've no idea when most of us in the States might be able to see the film. Although released in the United Kingdom back in early October, it has yet to secure wide U.S. distribution ... which probably isn't a good sign for a film with such a heavyweight cast. It therefore might be awhile before we can hear Guaraldi's tune within the context of writer/director Marc Lawrence's storyline. Ah, well...

[Update #2: It never did achieve wide release in the States, but now is readily available via various streaming platforms.]


Doug said...

That's a really enjoyable interview (and now I'll never be able to listen to "What Child Is This" without hearing that door slam, which somehow had escaped my notice before!). Thanks for sharing.

Unknown said...

My wife and I just watched The Rewrite the other day. My ears took note of the soundtrack immediately, then I nearly fell off the couch when Vince's "Since I Fell for You" made an appearance. I checked out the soundtrack the next day and noticed plenty of Vince's fingerprints on Clyde Lawrence's score—even a haunting, hanging signature Vince chord utilized in the main theme. Undeniable!

Derrick Bang said...

And don't you just love chance discoveries like that?