Saturday, April 11, 2015

Stanford unlocks its vaults

If the relevant Facebook post can be taken as gospel, as of last September 2, Stanford University made the entire contents of its campus newspaper available online: every issue of The Stanford Daily, from 1892 onward. That's ... quite impressive.

It also represents a fresh windfall for researchers seeking Northern California-based information, as I recently discovered. One of my many Guaraldi-themed investigations happened to pull up a page from the Daily last week, which raised eyebrows and quickly led to the archive home page. A search on the term "Guaraldi" gives 78 results, a good many of which yielded fresh information and/or served as supplementary sources for already established details (always a good thing). A 79th hit pops up when searching for the incorrectly spelled "Guraldi," which once again proves that one must remember to explore alternate spellings of desired terms.

As with all well-designed archives, the results include both articles and advertisements that include Guaraldi's name; the latter are always fun to see, and I snagged several to enhance the visuals on my extensive Guaraldi timeline.

June Cochran, back in the day
As a result of one such ad, I now know that the Guaraldi Trio's appearance at Grodin's Music Festival — on September 29, 1963 — found Dr. Funk sharing the stage not only with Dave Brubeck, The Four Freshmen and The Brothers Four, but also Carol Brent, Georgie & Teddy, and "Top Rock Stars" ... along with "7 Playboy Playmates, including June Cochran, Playboy Playmate of the Years."

Goodness, what an afternoon that must have been!

A few years further along — on April 23, 1965 — a mischievous music brief mentions that Guaraldi and Bola Sete are at El Matador, and that "As an extra added attraction, bullfight movies will be shown on Sunday night, to jazz accompaniment, no doubt."

The first substantial treat appears May 9, 1966: a review of the previous evening's benefit concert at Stanford's Frost Memorial Amphitheater, which featured headliner Glenn Yarbrough, with an opener by Guaraldi's combo. Despite that billing, staffer Aaron Ross' (somewhat harsh) critique actually devotes more space to Guaraldi, beginning with the first paragraph and continuing onward:

Cool, relaxed, easygoing, that's the mood set by Vince Guaraldi at the Sunday concert for the Convalescent Home. Vince first gained recognition in 1960 with his album "Black Orpheus," taking the sound track from that movie and setting it to jazz.

I'm sorry to say, Vince's music hasn't changed much from those days; he still uses many of the same compositional formulas today. His solos are sometimes interesting, but on the whole are filled with standard clich├ęs.

I don't mean to say that he's a prostitute, just that he's safe. He sticks to the security blanket that brought him fame and fortune. This is sad, because he's a very talented and capable musician. Someday, I hope he shows it.

Vince, for the past few years, has featured a guitarist. The first was Bola Sete, who was such a success, he took off on his own. More recently, he's been featuring George Morel, a semi-classical guitarist from Buenos Aires, Argentina, a very fine technician who has brought a refreshing change of pace.

[Next came two paragraphs devoted to Yarbrough.]

Featured among Guaraldi's selections were "Samba [de] Orpheus" and a new composition, "Rain, Rain, Go Away." Morel did his own arrangement of classical and popular Spanish songs, entitled "Fantasia Espagnol."

[Three more short paragraphs devoted to Yarbrough, and done.]

This is the first I've heard about Guaraldi performing with Morel, and that's something worth exploring in additional depth. The second informational nugget is the apparent debut of "Rain, Rain, Go Away," which this young Stanford Daily critic apparently didn't realize was a tune Guaraldi had composed for the second Peanuts TV Special, Charlie Brown's All-Stars, which would debut just a month later, on June 8.

The most significant find in the Daily's archive, however, comes the following year: the discovery that Guaraldi and his trio had given another presentation of his Grace Cathedral Jazz Mass on the Stanford campus. I already was aware of the one that took place February 24, 1971 ... but the Daily verifies an earlier one, on Sunday, April 16, 1967, also in the Stanford Memorial Church. This quite busy day began at 9 a.m. with a Communion Celebration, and continued through the afternoon and evening, culminating in a Communion Celebration for Modern Martyrs, which featured Guaraldi's trio performing the "jazz accompaniment [that he wrote] for the Eucharist two years ago for use in Grace Cathedral." That's huge, since it now proves that Guaraldi performed the Jazz Mass four more times, following its May 1965 debut at Grace Cathedral.

The Daily's final "cool find" comes on October 27, 1971, with a full-length review of the Guaraldi Quartet's ongoing run at Palo Alto's In Your Ear. Allowing for the bad phonetic spelling of two sidemen (which I've corrected), critic Marc Barman is much more generous with his praise, than his predecessor five years earlier. The story is headlined Electric Guaraldi Impressive at Home of Eggplant Hero, and the article reads as follows:

Could Charlie Brown find true happiness in an Eggplant Hero sandwich? Listening to Vince Guaraldi? At "In Your Ear"?

Probably in all three. But even if Charlie wasn't there, a lot of happy folks caught this triple-decker-combination this past weekend, as the Vince Guaraldi Quartet played a fine home-town gig. And "In Your Ear" does serve Eggplant Heroes!

Probably everyone on campus has heard Vince at one time or another. Really. Ever watch "Peanuts" on TV? That blue-rooted piano splashing in the background is definitely Vince. Of course, you just might happen to own a Guaraldi album.

Even so, things have changed since then. Vince is playing electric piano now, and from the way he plays it, you know it's here to stay.

"I really like playing it," he explained backstage. "It has about four times the range of a regular piano. The bass is especially nice."

During the late 1960s, the venue at 135 University Avenue, Palo Alto,
was The Poppycock, a quite popular rock club. It morphed into the jazz
club In Your Ear at some point in the summer of 1971, and then, in the
late winter or early spring of '72, the entire building burned to the
ground under "mysterious circumstances." This is the corner address
today, looking nothing like it did back when Guaraldi headlined.
I'll say. So are the tones he gets out of it. But what's really wild about it is the Waa-Waa pedal on it. When that piano wails ...!

Having been on an extensive road tour across the country this past year, Vince has been feeling very much at home in his native Bay Area lately. His current band has been together for about six months, and has been playing clubs locally and around Lake Tahoe.

In those six months, the group has coalesced quite nicely, and does some impressive things. They are still developing, however, and should be getting into some deeper things soon.

His sidemen are constantly full of surprises. Bass player John Wilmeth (acoustic and electric bass) also has this freaky thing that looks like a badly under-nourished French horn, sounds kinds of like a trumpet, and is an absolute gas to listen to.

Tenor player Vince Denham also plays soprano sax and a very rich-toned flute. He has a driving, muscular sound and plays the extreme ranges of his horn with ease and power. To my taste, he doesn't play as long as I wish he would.

Drummer John Waller is solid, dependable and an unobtrusive delight.

Among the musical highlights were "We've Only Just Begun," the Carpenters' song, on which Vince coaxed chime-like chords from the electric piano, followed by "Watch What Happens," played with an up-tempo Latin beat. Denham played some spell-binding flute here.

There were some fine rock things, with Wilmeth on electric bass and Guaraldi using the extended range of the electric piano to go so far into the bass, you could feel the room shake.

Between the vibrations and the vibrations, there was a mellow, relaxed rapport between the audience and the musicians. Said Denham, "The people here have been fantastic. We always play better with a crowd like this."

Okay, that's pretty cool.

Understand, my delight stems from the fact that concert/gig reviews of any kind are hard to come by, with respect to Guaraldi's roughly 16-year career as leader of his own combos. Jazz shows simply didn't get much journalistic love, unless we're talking about the likes of Miles Davis or Dave Brubeck. Popular as Guaraldi was, and as often as his good friend Ralph Gleason promoted him in the San Francisco Chronicle, actual reviews are scarce.

The Daily critic's claim notwithstanding, this wasn't Guaraldi's "current band" ... at least, not entirely. Seward McCain was his regular bassist at this point, so Wilmeth — better known for his trumpet work — must have been a last-minute substitution.

And that's it, for the "choice bits" from the Stanford Daily. Not a bad haul, for an afternoon's work.

No comments: