Friday, September 18, 2015

A little of this, a little of that ... Take 4

With the flurry of activity leading up to the twin 50th anniversary events commemorating Guaraldi’s Grace Cathedral Jazz Mass, a few items were set aside for commentary at a later date. I guess this is that later date...

A view from the rear at the Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church, during the CD release party
for Jim Martinez's newest album. That's quite a crowd!
First and foremost, I’ve been exchanging some great notes with Louis Judson, who as a teen was a member of the trio — which included pianist Brian Mann and drummer John Terwilliger — that presented the Tamalpais High School “concert version” of Guaraldi’s Jazz Mass on December 13, 1966. Louis finally came across the lengthy blog post I devoted to that performance; when researching that essay, I’d only been able to reach Brian and John. Louis was able to add some details, most significant of which is the fact that he’s the one who recorded the event. His comments have been incorporated into the original post, albeit invisibly ... so you’ll just have to read the whole thing again. (Hey, it’s a great excuse, right?)

Speaking of the Guaraldi Mass, an enterprising fellow named Steve recorded the entire August 15 Grace Cathedral concert, and has posted his efforts. The concert is divided into two YouTube files — Part 1 and Part 2 — divided at the point Rev. Bill Carter gives his short sermon. Unfortunately, a portion of his talk is missing (no doubt when Steve had to switch to a second memory card). The video is reasonably stable — very little shaking — and the audio quality is quite good, given the camera placement. For those unable to attend in person, this will give a solid sense of the event.

Jim Martinez led the combo that performed at Grace on August 15, and he followed that with a combination CD release party — for his new album, Good Grief, It’s Still Martinez! — and post-Jazz Mass commemoration, which took place August 30 at the Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church (home of the choir that performed at Grace on August 15). It turned out to be quite a party, drawing roughly 800 (!) attendees. My wife and I weren’t able to make it, as we were traveling back east that day, but Jim assures me that A Great Time Was Had By All. He tells me the entire event was recorded, but thus far he has posted only one video clip: this performance of “Theme to Grace.” If it’s any indication, I can’t wait to see and hear more ... so get a move on, Jim!

We couldn't help noticing that Jim was placed next to a display case filled with vintage
Barbie dolls. What would Snoopy say?
We may have missed Jim on August 30, but we were able to catch his solo act Thursday evening, September 10, when he performed at Sacramento's California Museum during the grand opening of "Pigskin Peanuts," a traveling exhibit from the Charles M. Schulz Museum. The folks at the California Museum did a sensational job with the exhibit, which features football-themed Peanuts strips and memorabilia. Children can keep occupied at several interactive stations, and a few cute photo ops also are present. (My favorite gives everybody an opportunity to become a lifesize Peanuts-themed football trading card.) Jim played for two hours, blending tunes from his new album with classics from Guaraldi's Peanuts canon.

The final item comes courtesy of Keith Mason, who teaches world languages and culture at New Jersey’s Providence High School. He has written an ambitious article about Charles Schulz, Peanuts and Guaraldi, mostly themed around the upcoming 50th anniversary of the debut TV broadcast of A Charlie Brown Christmas. Mason has a strong interest in immersing grade-school children to the arts, and — in addition to giving some history and background on the three topics above — he offers numerous clever ways in which Guaraldi’s music for A Charlie Brown Christmas, and other Peanuts TV specials, can be integrated into interactive lesson plans. (Hey, Keith; where were you when I was in high school?) I applaud the imaginative effort here, and I hope teachers across the country adopt at least some of his suggestions.

And th-th-that’s all for now, folks!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

East Coast Grace

September 6 dawned sunny and bright in Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania, with an early warmth that anticipated the day’s eventual climb to a humid 88 degrees. The sticky Sunday morning surroundings notwithstanding, things were cool and inviting in the city’s First Presbyterian Church — “The Church on the Hill” — when we entered at 8:30 a.m.

Indeed, as cool and inviting as Rev. Bill Carter’s welcoming smile.

We were an hour early for the morning’s events, knowing that some prep time was necessary. I was accompanied by what came to be known as my entourage: Constant Companion Gayna, our Boston-based friend Scott, and our D.C.-based friend Doug. The four of us unpacked the enlarged photos, facsimile 1965 Grace Cathedral programs and other vintage materials — recently used for Jim Martinez’s tribute concert (see previous post) — that I had shipped to Carter’s office. 

Armed with easels and other display materials, we set up a tableau in the church foyer, designed to give parishioners a sense of what it had been like for Guaraldi and his band, half a century ago.

This actually was my second visit to the church, following a brief appearance the previous morning, during a final rehearsal involving Carter (on piano), Al Hamme (sax and flute), Tyler Dempsey (drums), cantors Susan Kelly and Alan Baker, and members of the First Presbyterian Church choir. I hovered for roughly an hour, mostly checking sound levels and balance by sitting in different parts of the worship hall. The trio initially overwhelmed the choir a bit, so I encouraged Bill to enhance the gain on their microphones (which earned an appreciative smile from the singers). Jon Tichenor, affiliated with the local NPR station WVIA, spent that same time setting up recording microphones in front of all instrumentalists and vocalists.

No, we didn't plan it: Bill and I were amused to discover, at the Saturday morning rehearsal,
that we had worn the same Peanuts shirt: Schroeder at the piano, sporting dark specs,
beneath the phrase "It's okay, I'm with the band!"
(My understanding is that, at some point, portions of the Sunday morning service will be broadcast on WVIA as part of a new “Music from First Presbyterian” radio series; details will follow, as they’re verified.)

During my casual sound check, the band and choir ran through a couple of the hymns that Guaraldi had arranged for his Jazz Mass — “Come With Us, O Blessed Jesus” and the “Nicene Creed” — along with his original composition, “Theme to Grace.” Everything sounded excellent, reflecting the dedicated practice that had taken place during numerous earlier rehearsal sessions. Individual singers queried a couple of fine points, but otherwise Carter seemed quite pleased by the results, as well he should have been. I certainly was.

But back to Sunday morning:

At about 9:15, my little group took their appointed seats in the second row, while I followed Carter into the “ready room” behind the worship hall. We were joined by Hamme, Dempsey and bassist Tony Marino, the latter sharing the eye-watering details of some particularly volcanic salsa/marinara sauce that he had concocted, with hot peppers from his own garden. Carter smiled at the shared memory; I simply shuddered.