Friday, August 28, 2015

Mass appeal: Chapter 5

We’re approaching the final countdown on the second of this summer’s double-scoop celebration of Guaraldi’s Jazz Mass, with the second 50th anniversary event taking place Sunday morning, September 6, at the First Presbyterian Church of Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania. The jazz elements will be handled by Rev. Bill Carter and his Presbybop combo; during the past several months, Bill quite generously has shared the lengthy listening/transcription process that has been necessary, to replicate the original experience as closely as possible.

In case you’ve missed previous installments, you’ll find them here, here, here and here.

Meanwhile, I’ll once again turn this blog over to Bill, for his final analysis of How Vince Did It ... and how his mass’ rich legacy even extended to other projects!


Reflections on transcribing the Guaraldi Mass: The Instrumental Music

I had a revelation when I heard the Guaraldi Mass tunes in a different sequence. While preparing a reference CD for my quartet, I put “Sanctus” and “Agnus Dei” adjacent to one another, just as they’d be sequenced in an actual mass. I shouldn’t have been surprised to discover that they’re in the same key, with the same tempo and rhythmic feel. They belong together.

Similarly, “In Remembrance of Me” and “Holy Communion Blues” begin in nearly identical fashion. A repeated C in the melody is accompanied by a descending line in the left hand, before each tune develops in a different manner.

Both tunes were part of a long interlude, as the mass participants received the sacrament of communion. Rev. Chuck Gompertz recalls it took 30 minutes for everyone to be served, so Vince did what scores of church musicians have always done: He filled the time. And why not? If you’ve invited a jazz trio into your cathedral to lead a worship service, it’s best to let them play.

Only about half of that music is included on Fantasy’s recording of the event. Chuck spent a lot of time with the recording engineers, carving up identifiable segments into “tunes,” and even providing titles on Vince’s behalf. Sadly, the rest of that music has been lost to us.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

An afternoon of Grace

“Mother never said there might be a day like this.”

First words out of my mouth. Couldn’t help it.

I had just been introduced — and quite warmly — by Grace Cathedral’s Rev. Canon Elizabeth Grundy, and all I could do was look out across the assembled multitude (officially 611 patrons!), and then up-up-up at the way-high ceiling, almost out of view.

Apparently everybody understood, though, because my awe-struck remark drew plenty of sympathetic chuckles.

But I’m getting ahead of things. Let’s start at the beginning.

Constant Companion and I arrived at Grace at about 10:30 Saturday morning; we had left home quite early, not wanting to take any chances with the San Francisco area’s notorious traffic (which, yes, can be ghastly even on weekends). As a result, we were first to arrive, and so killed some time by browsing through the cathedral’s gift shop. I couldn’t help noticing a counter-top rack of CDs that included several copies of Duke Ellington’s Concert of Sacred Music at Grace, recorded live September 16, 1965 ... but no sign of Fantasy’s recording of Guaraldi’s Mass, which had preceded Ellington by four months.

So I wanna know: What’s up with that?


We soon were joined by Marcia and Nancy Goodrich, two of the long-ago St. Paul’s Church choir members who, as children, had rehearsed with Guaraldi for roughly 18 months, while his Jazz Mass came together. They were excited, to say the least: positively bubbling with anticipation.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Mass appeal: Chapter 4

We’re one week away from the first of two Guaraldi Jazz Mass celebrations, with pianist Jim Martinez busily rehearsing with the Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church Choir each week. Last-minute preparations are being handled, from significant matters of musical fine-tuning, to the completely mundane (as in, have you ever tried to find a place to park in San Francisco?).

Somehow, though, all the details and hiccups will be worked out, likely at the last possible second: one of the great enigmas of the performance world. To quote Geoffrey Rush’s marvelous summation, delivered so well in Shakespeare in Love: “Allow me to explain about the theater business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster. Strangely enough, it all turns out well ... [but] I don’t know how. It’s a mystery.”

Meanwhile, at the other end of the country, the Rev. Bill Carter and his colleagues at the First Presbyterian Church of Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania, are preparing for their similar tribute to Guaraldi, with an authentic church service setting of the Mass, to take place starting at 9:30 a.m. Sunday, September 6. Bill has labored intently for the past several months, working up Guaraldi’s jazz-inflected portions of the service by transcribing the few existing snippets of recordings. (Remember, Vince never wrote any of this music down.)

Bill has scored his transcriptions for jazz quartet (he’ll be on piano), two cantors (who will handle the trickier chants) and a small subset of his church’s choir.

He has generously shared details of his efforts in several earlier installments of this blog, and I’ll let him continue in that vein. Take it away, Bill!