Wednesday, April 8, 2015

A little of this, a little of that ... Take 3

Referencing Kathy Sloane's Keystone Korner: Portrait of a Jazz Club — in my recent post about drummer Carl Burnett — prompted a more thorough search of the book, which revealed an intriguing nugget. The book's preface is written by author, essayist and California Poet Laureate Al Young, who grew up in Detroit but moved to the greater San Francisco area in 1961, in order to attend UC Berkeley. He held a number of odd jobs on the side during the next few years, including a stint as a DJ at San Francisco's KJAZ.

Young's preface to Sloane's book is a poetic overview of the entire San Francisco music scene, broken down by memory, region and venue. It includes this paragraph:

Across the Golden Gate Bridge in exotic Sausalito, pianist Vince Guaraldi — now famous for the scores he composed for the Peanuts TV specials in general, and for the songs "Lucy and Linus" [sic] and "Christmas Time Is Here" in particular — used to broadcast live from the Trident. We carried his Saturday night show over KJAZ. Just then, in 1962, Guaraldi was pushing "Cast Your Fate to the Wind," a number that would become his first international signature hit, and find its way onto his big-selling Fantasy album: Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus.

Fascinating, eh? Chances of any of those broadcasts having been recorded, and surviving to this day, are slim and none ... but boy, what a tantalizing thought!


Further on the subject of books, chasing an obscure detail led to Don Alberts' 2009 release, A Diary of the Underdogs. Alberts is a veteran jazz pianist and San Francisco native, having shared stages with the likes of Chet Baker, Shorty Rogers and Bud Shank, not to mention serving time as house pianist at Jimbo's Bop City: as demanding a job, in terms of requiring skilled jazz chops, as could be imagined. Alberts also fancies himself a writer, having penned short stories and a novel set within San Francisco's jazz world, along with collections of poetry and this sorta-kinda memoir/oral history of his home town's 1960s jazz scene.

A Diary of the Underdogs is dominated by lengthy interviews with roughly three dozen Northern California-based jazz stalwarts, from Dick Conte and John Handy to George DiQuattro and singer Bobbe Norris. Guaraldi fans will recognize a few of the other luminaries, such as Eddie Duran, Dean Reilly and Larry Vuckovich. The chats are free-wheeling, transcribed verbatim and bereft of editorial cleansing, copy-editing, fact-checking or anything else resembling actual journalism. Many of the anecdotes are marvelous; some are informative; others are highly dubious. That won't come as a surprise, given the book's release via Lulu, the online self-publishing, print-on-demand platform. 

I enjoyed portions of Alberts' book, although my subconscious editorial red pencil itched throughout. All that aside, it delivered three potentially interesting bits of Guaraldiana.

The first is fairly trivial: a reprint of a 1962 Ralph Gleason San Francisco Chronicle column that places Guaraldi's trio, on April 4 and 11 of that year, at "the Trio Room in Willow Glenn, [operated by] tenor saxophonist Chuck Travis and sports figures Bill Leonard and Duane Pillette."

I'd never before heard of the Trio Room, and can find no additional mention of this venue. "Willow Glenn" likely is Willow Glen, in San Jose ... but even that doesn't help. And while I'd ordinarily be delighted by the potential discovery of a "new" jazz club, and Guaraldi gigs therein, I'm troubled by Alberts' research, which claims that the column in question was published April 8 ... which seems unlikely, since Gleason never gave "advance" publicity to a gig that had happened four days earlier. Coupled with the Glenn/Glen spelling ambiguity, you'll understand my caution about accepting any of this at face value.

So if anybody Out There can contribute some verifiable details about the Trio Room, I'd love to hear them...

The second item is more substantial and, while wholly anecdotal, a lot more interesting: It speaks to a possible reason for what every other source suggested was an amicable split between Guaraldi and Bola Sete in February 1966, after two years together fronting one of the Bay Area's most successful jazz acts.

The speaker is Abe Battat, a veteran pianist who began his career alongside Cal Tjader, and later spent three highly successful decades as the featured pianist and bandleader in the Westin St. Francis Hotel's Compass Rose Room. Battat was interviewed by Alberts on July 29, 2009, and the conversation turned briefly to Guaraldi:

The jazz life isn't for everyone ... there's only room for a very few successful people in the jazz world. And when I was coming along, if you were white, it was two strikes against you right there. In fact, a funny story, when Vince Guaraldi made that Black Orpheus album that was such a hit, and [later was] working with Bola Sete, a tour plan was set up [by Max Weiss]. Some of the venues that Vince was going to play, they found out he wasn't black, and they were cancelling him!

Vince and Bola could have been another Brubeck and Desmond. When they started fighting and not getting along, I used to tell them, "I'm just going to tell you, from a business standpoint, you guys have something really special going."

[But] Bola wanted top billing, and he wanted to have an independent career, which is really stupid. I used to tell him, "Maybe Abbott and Costello didn't like each other, and Lucy and Ethel, they hated each other, but they were so good together. You just go do the gig, go out two different doors, and rehearse once in awhile. That's all you have to do." Vince and Bola could have been the biggest! Everybody loved Vince, and Bola had that smile when he played.

[But] Vince didn't care that much, I guess. He didn't care enough to patch things up.

Battat then touched on Guaraldi's career and performance style:

Vince had been on the road with Woody Herman, which gave him a lot of credibility, considering he never studied classical piano. He didn't read very well. But he had such raw talent. Everybody loved listening to him play. I just loved listening to Vince. I'd watch him play, and he would get his hands in the funniest positions. If you didn't watch him, and just listened, it was beautiful. But if you watched him, you'd say "How is he doing that?" He kind of had his own fingering. 

I think he was ahead of his time; I really do.

Bobbe Norris, finally, mentions working with Guaraldi at Palo Alto's Outside at the Inside, which would have been at some point between May 1960 and February 1961 ... but she offers no specifics. That's a shame, since I don't yet have her placed anywhere on my Guaraldi activity timeline.


My recent radio chat with former St. Paul's Church choir member David Willat — detailed in this blog entry — included one anecdote that absolutely deserves greater attention. David is speaking: 

I was in the Fantasy recording studio when Vince was recording "What Child Is This." I was just a few feet away from him, watching him play, and I was fascinated. And somebody closed a door during this session; you could hear it. And I thought, oh my gosh, this is the end, they'll have to re-start this recording. But they didn't, and it's still on the recording! You can hear it, 51 seconds into the recording.

Having not heard that particular story before, you won't be surprised to learn that I hustled home, popped the CD into the player and listened carefully ... and it's true. There's a distinct ka-thwump 51 seconds in ... which (sad to say) I'll now hear every time the album is played!


Lastly, the most recent evidence of Guaraldi's immortality:

The laundry detergent All has begun a clever new advertising campaign that features the Peanuts gang ... in a way. The initial TV spot can be viewed here, and you'll notice that the background theme is none other than "Linus and Lucy."

You just can't beat the classics...!

No comments: