Monday, June 29, 2015

Homage to Vince

A new Guaraldi-hued album becomes available today, and you’ll definitely want it in your library.

Full disclosure demands that I acknowledge Northern California jazz pianist Jim Martinez as a friend; I wrote the liner notes for this album, and one of the tracks is dedicated to my own self. (It won’t be hard to figure out which one.) So yes, I admit to bias ... but that doesn’t make what follows any less valid.

Guaraldi has been gone for almost 40 years, but his signature themes are more popular than ever; all manner of jazz musicians have covered the “big three” — “Cast Your Fate to the Wind,” “Linus and Lucy” and “Christmas Time Is Here” — with more renditions popping up every year.

Martinez includes the first two on this album, which honors Guaraldi’s decisive musical influence on the neighborhood inhabited by Charlie Brown and the rest of Charles M. Schulz’s beloved Peanuts gang. But this isn’t a garden-variety collection of Guaraldi covers; eight of these 14 tracks are sparkling Martinez originals, all written and performed in Guaraldi’s larkish, Latinesque “Peanuts style.”

Martinez has Guaraldi’s facility for cute, clever melodic hooks that immediately sound familiar, even when heard for the first time. Better still, they’re catchy and instantly hummable, with the cheerful ebullience that always characterized Guaraldi’s performance style. You can’t help nodding in time to Martinez’s effervescent keyboard work; you also can’t help smiling.

He’s a generous leader, granting plenty of exposure to core band mates Josh Workman (guitar), Marcus Shelby (bass), and Tim Metz and Tony Savage, trading off on drums. Indeed, numerous tracks — such as Martinez’s “Chillin’ at the Warm Puppy Café” — feature engaging “duels” between Martinez and Workman, alternating vigorous solos and comping behind each other. (The title references the aptly named coffee shop adjacent to the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, California.)

Workman’s deft guitar work also highlights the gentle, Brazilian-hued “Samba for Snoopy,” and the flamenco elements of the impish “Spike and the Cactus Club,” with its shifting time signatures; one imagines Snoopy’s rail-thin brother dancing with a rose between his teeth.

Shelby’s accomplished bass work powers the percussive “Bang!,” which Martinez fills with Guaraldi-esque flourishes; Shelby’s walking bass also drives the sassy “Blues for Beagles,” which gets additional snap from Lucas Bere’s smoldering tenor sax.

The lyrical “Waltz for Vince” feels very much like the style and delivery of Guaraldi’s early Fantasy albums, while “Schroeder Can Play” is a spirited finger-snapper granted plenty of swing by both Martinez and Shelby.

The band’s cover of “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” is slightly faster than Guaraldi’s version, with Martinez roaring through the lengthy improv bridge. “Linus and Lucy” also is up-tempo, with Metz’s propulsive drum work setting the stage for an initially faithful (but not slavish) adaptation that breaks away when Martinez takes the second bridge into entirely new directions. Guaraldi’s lively “Surfin’ Snoopy” is treated like a classic combo swinger, with Savage and Shelby setting the stage for vigorous solos by Bere, Workman and finally Martinez.

Martinez is equally adept at softer tempos, as with his worshipful handling of Guaraldi’s “Theme to Grace,” an interior theme from the Jazz Mass Guaraldi wrote for San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral in the mid-1960s. Workman and Martinez trade quiet, reverential solos in a manner evoking the latter’s numerous “Jazz Praise” albums. Similarly, Martinez’s “Thank You Sparky” is a hushed, heartfelt lament, with his keyboard backed solely by violin.

The album includes one vocal: a tender cover of Rod McKuen’s poignant title song to the 1969 film A Boy Named Charlie Brown, with Margie Rebekah Ruiz’s expressively soulful voice accompanied by Bere’s equally sweet sax solo and a string quartet.

The album is highlighted both by everybody’s tight solo and ensemble work, and by Martinez’s overall impish tone. Most of his original compositions are droll to begin with, and he enhances that exuberance with occasional quotes from sources as varied as Gershwin, “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and Guaraldi himself.

This album’s dexterous musicality certainly is a selling point, but — most of all — it’s fun. As with Guaraldi’s many albums, you can’t help wanting to play this one again ... and again and again.

So, what are you waiting for?

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Fantasy (almost?) on the block ... the first time

Google Books’ massive wealth of material includes the complete archives of Billboard magazine, free for anybody to peruse. It’s easy to spend several hours (days?) tripping down musical memory lane, and of course these archives also are an invaluable resource; I used them extensively while researching information for my Guaraldi bio.

Until just the other day, though, I hadn’t considered investigating a search on Fantasy Records. Most of the results were too tangential for my purposes, but I did learn a few helpful details. The first was a squib from March 12, 1955, headlined Zaentz Heads Fantasy Sales. In entirety, the little piece informed readers that “Saul Zaentz has been named national sales manager for Fantasy Records. He formerly held sales and promotion posts with Clef and Norgran. Zaentz’s Fantasy duties will also include deejay relations.”

A little more than a month later, on April 23, that week’s Jazz Best Sellers — a listing always subdivided by label — gave Fantasy’s street address: 654 Natoma Street, in San Francisco. Although I already knew that Fantasy was on Natoma Street in the mid-1950s, I’d never had the actual number. (Yes, I do obsess over such details.)

The most interesting tidbit, however, unfolded during slightly more than four months, starting on New Year’s Eve in 1966 ... when Fantasy Records supposedly was purchased by a rival label (!).

Now, it’s well known that Max and Soul (Sol) Weiss sold Fantasy on September 1, 1967, to a consortium of distributors headed by Zaentz. But I had no idea that an entirely different offer had been floated nine months earlier.

On top of which, this earlier potential deal apparently blew up quite spectacularly.

It started when Billboard reported, on December 31, 1966, that — according to “reliable sources” — Audio Fidelity Records had bought Fantasy. “Contracts have been signed,” the article went on, “and Audio Fidelity is expected to take title in a few days. The label will be moved to New York, and Orrin Keppnews, former Riverside Records executive recently hired by AF, is expected to be Fantasy a&r vice president. The move is AF’s second major acquisition since Herman Gimbel took over the reins of the company. The first was the expansion into the country field with Little Darlin’ Records.”

As Mr. Spock had just begun to say, every Thursday evening that TV season, Fascinating...

At that point in time, Audio Fidelity’s major claim to fame was having released the United States’ first mass-produced stereophonic long-playing record, in November 1957. Under original owner Sidney Frey, the label signed a respectable collection of jazz musicians, including Lionel Hampton, Louis Armstrong, Elmo Hope and Lalo Schifrin. In 1962, Frey became one of the first U.S. record company owners to aggressively pursue bossa nova and Brazilian jazz, releasing LPs by João Gilberto, Luiz Bonfá, Oscar Castro-Neves and several others.

Frey sold the company in 1965 to Gimbel, who expanded inventory and artists; even so, he never became a major player during the rapidly expanding rock era. Ironically, most of the Audio Fidelity LPs found in home libraries in the 1970s weren’t music at all; the label did quite well by its extremely popular line of sound-effects albums. Audio Fidelity was folded into Milestone Records in 1985, and eventually went bankrupt in 1997.

But back to our story...

Despite the apparent haste with which Audio Fidelity’s deal with Fantasy was expected to take place, nothing happened for several months. Then, on March 25, 1967, Billboard unveiled fresh information beneath the headline A Disagreement Stops Buying of Fantasy by AF.

“The acquisition has failed to materialize,” the article began. “Herman Gimbel, AF president, had flown to San Francisco last week to close the deal. Gimbel returned without the acquisition, charging that Fantasy failed to deliver assets provided for in the agreement. These assets, according to Gimbel, include ‘full use of a quantity of masters — including all of the Dave Brubeck material, which is unquestionably the heart of the Fantasy catalog.’ Gimbel added that record club and tape cartridge deals had been negotiated for the expected new Fantasy operation.”

The next step was inevitable: Gimbel sued.

On May 13, 1967, Billboard broke this news under the headline AF Charges Fantasy Welched on Contract. “Audio Fidelity has sought recourse through the courts,” the article began. “The deal allegedly was set by both parties, when, according to AF President Herman Gimbel, Fantasy backed out.

“According to the complaint, the defendants entered into a written contract with Gimbel for the sale of their music and sound recording business. Sale price was allegedly $235,000, with another $200,000 for royalties to be paid over a five-year period. Gimbel said he made a $5,000 down payment last November.

“Gimbel charges that on March 9 he met with the defendants in San Francisco, to sign the final contract, but that the defendants refused to deliver the business and assets.”

The rest of the article specifies various sidebar details, including advance orders that Gimbel already had taken for the expected Fantasy library, which “would have yielded him a net profit of at least $70,000” (and which sounds rather like counting one’s chickens before they’ve hatched).

“Gimbel seeks an accounting of the Fantasy operation for 1967,” the article concludes, “along with court costs, and, if the court rules that the contract cannot be performed, damages of $95,974.32 and such additional damages as may be established by the evidence.”

I’d love to know how they came up with that 32 cents...

All kidding aside, I was struck by what seems to have been Fantasy’s rather modest value. Just a quarter-million for the whole shebang, plus not quite that much in royalties? Seriously? I know everything cost less back in 1967, but that still seems low.

Maybe it was, and maybe that’s why Soul and Max backed out. Alas, we’ll never know. That was the last Billboard reported of the matter, which suggests things were settled out of court.

Zaentz and his fellow investors were more successful a few months later, paying $325,000 for the label and all its assets ... which, on the surface, seems a worse deal than Soul and Max were offered by Audio Fidelity. As history quickly demonstrated, Zaentz made one helluva deal. Thanks to the incredible popularity of Creedence Clearwater Revival, he was able to pay off the five-year note in 18 months. As quoted in Billboard on May 3, 1969, Zaentz now insisted that he “wouldn’t take $6 million for Fantasy.”

Zaentz’s subsequent adventures with Creedence and John Fogerty, of course, became an entirely different story, and the stuff of both rock and precedent-establishing courtroom legend. If you’re curious, check it out here.

In hindsight, it’s interesting to note that the Audio Fidelity imbroglio was taking place at the same time that Guaraldi had filed his own lawsuit against Fantasy, seeking release from his oppressive contract. That suit wasn’t resolved until December 27, 1967, shortly after Zaentz took over the label. (I remain convinced that Zaentz, far smarter about such things than the Weiss brothers, recognized and quickly dealt with what almost certainly would have been an embarrassing courtroom loss for Fantasy).

As journalist Linda Ellerbee is so fond of saying, And so it goes...

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Mass appeal: Chapter 2

Continuing our updates regarding the approaching 50th anniversary Guaraldi Jazz Mass celebrations...

As mentioned in an earlier post, Pastor Bill Carter and his Presbybop band are mounting a re-creation of the entire Mass on September 6, accompanied by his First Presbyterian Church Choir in Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania.

At the same time, and perhaps not entirely by coincidence — the network of “jazz worship” musicians likely being fairly intimate — Northern California pianist Jim Martinez and his combo are readying a concert-style tribute to Guaraldi’s Jazz Mass on August 15, at no less than Grace Cathedral itself. Jim and his band will be joined by the Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church Choir, along with a few members of the original St. Paul’s Episcopal Church choir who — as children — sang with Guaraldi’s band back in 1965.

The special guest list involved with this San Francisco event has expanded to include Charles Gompertz. As a young reverend, back in the day, he “hired” Guaraldi to compose and perform the Grace Cathedral Mass, and was on hand throughout the ambitious project’s 18-month gestation. He and Guaraldi became close friends, and Rev. Gompertz will share his memories of that long-ago event, during a pre-concert introduction.

Additionally, Bill Carter will fly westward, also to be part of the August 15 event at Grace Cathedral. Jim tells me that he’ll turn the keyboard over to Bill for at least a couple of tunes, although that detail hasn’t yet been firmed up. Meanwhile, Jim just set up an ambitious rehearsal schedule for the Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church Choir, with (so far) six sessions taking place weekly throughout July and early August, followed by a dress rehearsal on August 13.

As befits amiable colleagues, Bill and Jim agreed to divide the necessary transcription chores, and both have been quite busy with that sizable task. Bill very kindly sent along a detailed description of how that is proceeding, so I’ll turn the rest of this post over to him:

Transcribing the Guaraldi Mass is trickier than one might think. According to all accounts, Vince never played the music the same way twice, which is confirmed by the few existing recordings of the Mass. So I’ve worked toward a consensus, to ascertain “the mind of Vince,” knowing in advance that I probably will adapt the music in the moment of performance, just like any other jazz musician.

The three hymns are taken directly from the Episcopalian Church’s 1940 red hymnal. Only the melody is printed in that text, which grants great freedom to the jazz combo. While the melodies are sung rather strictly in unison, the instrumentalists offer a new harmonic setting for each hymn. In this way, the traditional melodies are blended with the jazz, and the congregation participates in the music-making.

Vince added a melodic commentary over each hymn, offering a flurry of notes in the piano’s upper register. His experience of backing up vocalists is obvious, and adds both energy and interest.

The opening hymn, "Come with Us, O Blessed Jesus," is based on the chorale of Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” Only the first verse of John Henry Hopkins’ lyric is included in the hymnal, so everybody sings it. Back in the day, Vince improvised with his trio on the 32-bar form, and the congregation sang a reprise.

This may have been a first in recorded jazz history: a recording of a congregation sharing a tune with a jazz musician. Thelonious Monk did record “Abide with Me” and “Blessed Assurance,” but no congregation was in his studio! In the larger context of Christian hymnody, Vince is part of a venerable tradition. Good organists often have played interludes between hymn verses, sometimes improvising as they go ... although, alas, improvisation has largely become a lost art in the church.

Before the trio begins, the organist introduces the first hymn by playing it straight, right out of the hymnal. I chuckled at this, having survived a number of classically trained organists who were (to put it mildly) uncertain about the inclusion of jazz in the liturgy. When the trio enters with the choir, we immediately hear more energy and delight.

Vince takes the melody, written in the key of F major, and undergirds it with a G minor tonality. The opening note (A) is the ninth of the G minor chord, which is so Guaraldi! He loved the ninth of the chord as a melody note (which is the final melody note on “Christmas Time is Here”). He keeps the harmony static: a G minor for six measures, adjusting the major 7th, the 7th and the 6th, to keep it moving. Measures 17-24 are on a C pedal tone (a single bass note). The whole piece is approached as an A-A-B-A jazz tune.

“Come, Holy Ghost,” the second hymn, sounds like a processional, with its steady beat and repeating eight-measure melody. Vince again translates the major key melody — this time in C major — to G minor. As with the first hymn, he offers a harmonic counter line, raising the fifth of the chord (a D) to an augmented fifth, then to a sixth, and back down. This hymn has no solo, although Vince’s fleet-fingered piano fills add a chattering commentary.

I chose not to transcribe his improvisations. That’s a personal matter for most jazz musicians. A transcription of a solo is for the sake of learning and understanding a musician’s style, not for the sake of replication or re-creation. And I’m certain that when my band members play his arrangements, they’ll create new solos of their own. That’s the fun of playing jazz.

The jewel of the three hymns is Thomas Aquinas’ communion hymn, correctly titled as “Adoro Te Devote.” Vince has squared off the flowing chant, in the key of D major, into easily sung quarter notes. The harmony is gentle, moving from D major to E minor to D over a F-sharp bass, and then to a G minor chord — again, such a Vince sound! — before a rapid cycle of fifths returns to a D chord.

The middle of the tune shimmers in a suspended chord over an A in the bass, before returning to the initial sequence. It’s a very satisfying harmonic sequence, and perfectly balances the experience of receiving the bread and wine of holy communion. Vince put it together perfectly. No wonder it was chosen as the flip-side for the 45 single Fantasy Records released to highlight “Theme to Grace”!

The translation of the Aquinas text is stilted and stiff; during our September presentation, my congregation will replace the words with the fresh translation in the new Presbyterian hymnal, under the title, “Thee We Adore, O Hidden Savior, Thee.” Once again, a blend of faithfulness and creativity will push the music forward, which is the promise of jazz within the liturgy.

In upcoming articles, I’ll report on Vince’s adaptations of the liturgical chant, and his introduction of three original compositions for the Mass.


Work hard and practice well, gentlemen ... August and September will be upon us before you know it!

Monday, June 1, 2015

A rather confused 'Boy'

Silly me: Until a few hours ago, I thought Fantasy's Max Weiss was solely responsible for the error-prone liner notes on Guaraldi's LPs, back in the day.

Turns out Columbia Records is equally guilty.

The Rod McKuen album
The past several hours of research and careful listening were prompted by a recent discussion in the Film Score Monthly message board, which undoubtedly resulted from the recent announcement of the CD re-issue (at long last!) of a Rod McKuen LP that is significant with respect to the Peanuts/Guaraldi oeuvre. The FSM thread's initial post is an honest attempt to distinguish between the Guaraldi combo's A Boy Named Charlie Brown album, with music drawn from the 1963 Lee Mendelson documentary that he never was able to sell to television; and the 1970 Columbia Records story-score LP, also titled A Boy Named Charlie Brown, and which served as the closest thing to an actual soundtrack for that 1969 film; and Rod McKuen's 1970 LP, also rather deceptively titled A Boy Named Charlie Brown, which appears to be a film score but actually is a collection of McKuen's music from the Peanuts film and three other movies he scored, Joanna, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and Me, Natalie. It's worth noting, as well, that the McKuen album tracks are re-recordings and different performances, and not actual music from the film(s) in question.

Got all that?

Unfortunately, the initial FSM post and subsequent dialogue revealed misinformation regarding how many songs McKuen actually contributed to the 1969 Peanuts film, which piqued my curiosity ... and led to my discovery that the Columbia Records story-soundtrack LP is guilty of serious errors.

And, sadly, these mistakes have been repeated by no less an authority than the American Film Institute's Catalog of Feature Films 1961-1970, which has a blatantly wrong entry regarding A Boy Named Charlie Brown; this was duly cited by an FSM message board contributor who certainly had no reason to suspect an AFI publication.

All of which goes to show how pernicious bad data can become, once it migrates to the Internet.

This blog post, then, is an effort to set the record straight.

The film story/soundtrack album
First of all, the source of the problem: The Columbia LP is a condensed, storybook-style adaptation of the film, with excerpts of the dialogue heard above the score. For the most part, the LP employs the film's existing music cues, sometimes in the same places — sometimes not — and sometimes re-tracked behind newly recorded narrative "bridges" that describe primarily visual action. The LP also uses a few alternate takes not heard in the movie.

Each of the LP's two sides is a single long track. On the back of the LP sleeve, in the third column, an anonymous author attempted to divide each of these two tracks into distinct sections, by assigning sometimes arbitrary titles to each short "chapter." Each of these titles, in turn, is credited to one of five composers (or combined composers). And this is where the errors crept in, because McKuen is cited for all sorts of things that seem to be different songs ... but actually are reprises of the three songs he actually wrote for the film.

The misleading information, in part
To make matters even more confusing, these LP tracks employ the music in a way that has nothing to do with either the film's cue sheet, or a much more recent true score project which, alas, never saw the light of day (a lamentable situation I detailed in an earlier post).

I've therefore done what I obviously should have done years ago, and sussed out the actual contents of the Columbia LP, in terms of what you're hearing when, and who wrote it.

Starting with the latter, let's establish authorship.

As mentioned, McKuen contributed three songs: the title tune ("A Boy Named Charlie Brown"), "Failure Face" and "Champion Charlie Brown."

A fourth song, "I Before E," is by conductor/arranger John Scott Trotter (music) and Bill Melendez and Al Shean (lyrics).

Guaraldi used six of his own compositions throughout the film: "Charlie Brown's All-Stars," "Baseball Theme," "Blue Charlie Brown," "Linus and Lucy," "Skating" and "Lucifer's Lady."

Trotter delivered four of his own original compositions: "Cloud Dreams," "Catatonic Blues," "Bus Wheel Blues" and "Blue Puck." He also orchestrated "broader" instrumental versions of the songs by McKuen and Guaraldi.

Finally, one track must be credited to a certain Ludwig Van Beethoven.

The following lists give the LP's "chapter titles" first, followed by the actual compositions employed — which, in some cases, match the chapter titles — and who performs them.

So, let's begin with...


0:00  "A Boy Named Charlie Brown" — vocal, sung by McKuen
2:45  "Cloud Dreams" — performed by the orchestra
3:49  "Charlie Brown and His All-Stars" — actually "Charlie Brown's All-Stars," performed first by Guaraldi's combo, which then is joined by the orchestra
6:30  "We Lost Again" — actually "Baseball Theme," performed first by Guaraldi's combo, and then orchestrated; at 8:00, this segues to an orchestral instrumental version of "A Boy Named Charlie Brown"
9:31  "Blue Charlie Brown" — performed by Guaraldi's combo
13:27  "Time to Go to School" — actually "Linus and Lucy," performed by Guaraldi's combo
14:17  "I Only Dread One Day at a Time" — actually an orchestral version of "Charlie Brown's All-Stars"
15:27  "Failure Face" — vocal, sung by the Peanuts gang
16:12  "By Golly, I'll Show 'Em" — actually "Catatonic Blues," by the orchestra
19:20  "Class Champion" — actually an orchestral instrumental version of "Champion Charlie Brown"
19:42  "I Before E" — vocal, sung by Charlie Brown and Linus
24:36  "School Spelling Bee" — a brief orchestral instrumental reprise, with mouth harp, of "I Before E"
25:14  "Champion Charlie Brown" — vocal, sung by the Peanuts gang


0:00  "Start Boning Up on Your Spelling, Charlie Brown" — dialogue only; no music
1:45  "You'll Either Be a Hero ... or a Goat" — actually an orchestral instrumental version of "Champion Charlie Brown"
2:50  "Bus Station" — also a piano/orchestral instrumental version of "Champion Charlie Brown"
4:27  "Bus Wheel Blues" — orchestral version
5:42  "Do Piano Players Make a Lot of Money?" — actually a snatch of the third movement of Beethoven's Pathétique Sonata in C minor, Op. 13
6:18  "I've Got to Get My Blanket Back" — actually a minor-key orchestral version of "Linus and Lucy," which segues (at 7:28) to an orchestral instrumental version of "A Boy Named Charlie Brown," and then segues back (at 9:02) to a slow combo version of "Linus and Lucy"
10:44  "Big City" — actually a slow combo version of "Linus and Lucy"
11:48  "Snoopy on Ice" — actually a combo version of "Skating," which segues (at 13:24) to an orchestral presentation of "Blue Puck"
15:54  "Found Blanket" — actually a combo and orchestral version of "Linus and Lucy"
16:28  "National Spelling Bee" — actually an orchestral instrumental version of "Champion Charlie Brown"
17:03  "B-E-A-G-E-L" — dialogue only, no music, until it segues (at 21:01) to a string-heavy orchestral instrumental version of "A Boy Named Charlie Brown"
21:52  "Bus Wheel Blues" — orchestral reprise, with mouth harp
22:26  "Homecoming" — actually an orchestral instrumental version of "Champion Charlie Brown"
24:17  "I'm Never Going to School Again" — actually an orchestral instrumental version of "A Boy Named Charlie Brown"
24:49  "Welcome Home, Charlie Brown" — a combo rendition of "Lucifer's Lady"
25:45  "A Boy Named Charlie Brown" — vocal, sung by McKuen

And there you have it. If anybody ever untangles the legal rights and re-masters this LP for CD release, let's hope they get it right...

MAY 2016 UPDATE: Although no progress has been made with respect to such a CD, I'm happy to report that gentle nudging has resulted in the AFI database information being corrected, which can be verified via the AFI's online Catalog of Feature Films. We can't do anything about the incorrect information in the print edition cited above, but maybe this more accurate online entry will overtake the existing errors that have been migrating via the Web.