Friday, February 26, 2016

A little of this, a little of that: the early 2016 edition

The greater San Francisco-area jazz community was quite tight in the late 1950s and early ’60s; not only did all the players know each other, they likely all performed together at some point during their careers. It’s therefore no surprise when I come across yet another musician who worked with Guaraldi, even if only briefly.

Dalt Williams
Today’s case in point is Dalt Williams, born and raised in Vallejo, California, where his music interest initially found him playing trumpet and tuba. He enlisted in the U.S. Army following high school, and soon found himself in the 438th Army Band at Camp Stoneman, in Pittsburgh, California. This was in the 1950s.

“They wanted to form a jazz group,” Dalt recalled, during a recent chat, “and a friend of mine was studying theory with Jack Weeks, well known for his work then with Cal Tjader. My friend suggested that I tag along, and I said sure. I’d been playing sousaphone at the time, but thanks to Jack, that’s how I got started on the bass.”

The bass subsequently became Dalt’s instrument of choice. A few years later, after his military service concluded, he resumed his formal education.

“I transferred to San Francisco State, and was playing with groups in the city. I got a call from Vince one day, it probably was some time in 1958, wanting to know if I was available, so I wound up working a few gigs with his trio. I remember the first one very well: It was for a dance at the NCO Club on Treasure Island, which still was a naval base back then.”

Dalt is certain that a few other gigs followed, but details are lost in the haze of more than half a century gone by. But his memory of Vince remains fond.

“He was an amazing player, and a straight-ahead guy. We’d have played standards at that dance; he’d call ’em, and we just played ’em. It was a smooth fit; as a bass player, I remember it was easy to follow along.”

Alas, no photos were taken of this meeting between rising pianist and bassist.

The stint with Vince was brief, and Dalt soon found himself a regular part of the Al Trobbe Trio. Graduation and a degree in music education from San Francisco State followed, after which Dalt happily embraced a 35-year career as a teacher. He never saw Vince again.

Even while teaching, Dalt found time to gig here and there. Today he’s part of a combo that bills itself as Jazz for All Occasions, which promises “swingin’ jazz for your event ... public or private, in the San Francisco Bay Area or Northern California.” Jazz obviously remains a passion.

“The idea is to book the gigs,” he chuckles, “get out, and have some fun!”


The luxurious Japanese magazine Pen devotes its February 2016 issue to Charles M. Schulz and his Peanuts legacy, likely timed to anticipate the April 23 opening of a special Peanuts Museum in Roppongi, Tokyo. (Exhibits are scheduled to shift every six months, but the museum will remain open only for two years ... so if you’re interested, get those plane tickets now!)

A small delegation from the magazine visited Northern California in early December: a reporter and photographer, who flew all the way from Japan; and an interpreter, who lives in Los Angeles and joined them. They spent most of a week in and around the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, California, while also taking in landmarks such as the Peanuts-fied Santa Rosa Airport and Schulz’s grave site.

They also arranged to chat with some fans, which is how we connected. The brief visit was captivating, on both sides, and the interview was intriguing; they hit us with some unusual questions. (I should mention that Pen’s target readership is single male, thirtysomething professionals; the magazine looks like a sophisticated cross between GQ and Harper’s.)

The February issue devotes 72 of its 126 pages to All Things Peanuts, and Guaraldi got his due, with a nice two-page spread devoted to his Peanuts work. I’ve included them here; if any of this blog’s readers know Japanese, I’d love to know what’s written about him!

That same issue of Pen magazine also gives a page to young Japanese pop musician Shunsuke Watanabe, which piqued my curiosity: What, I wondered, was his involvement with Peanuts and/or Guaraldi?

It turns out that Watanabe also fronts Schroeder-Headz, a “post-jazz trio” of piano, bass and drums. To quote the trio’s web site, “The group takes its name from toy piano player Schroeder, from the famous Peanuts comic strip, and a peek inside the mind of a boy influenced by classical, jazz, dance and electronic music. The name also expresses the respect the group has for the Vince Guaraldi Trio, composers of the iconic music from the Peanuts animations.”

The trio’s 2011 EP, Piano a la Carte, opens with a lively pop-jazz cover of Guaraldi’s “Linus and Lucy.” The disc also includes covers of Erik Satie’s “Gymnopédie No. 1” and Young-Holt Unlimited’s 1968 hit, “Soulful Strut,” along with three other tracks.

Schroeder-Headz can be seen in several YouTube videos, one featuring “Linus and Lucy.” U.S. residents can purchase the disc, if so desired, via CDJapan.


I’m always amused when my pop-culture fixations cross-pollinate, and this most recent example was quite unexpected.

I’ve been a longtime fan of author Leslie Charteris’ Simon Templar — better known as The Saint, the “Robin Hood of modern crime” — ever since I was a lad, when my father shared his Triangle Books hardcover editions of the debonair hero’s early adventures. I’ve since devoured The Saint’s escapades in every available medium, from books, comic books and newspaper strips; to radio shows, TV shows and the big screen. (Simon does get around.)

I’ve recently been enjoying Ian Dickerson’s The Saint on the Radio, a pleasurably exhaustive guide to the character’s many appearances in the medium that preceded television. The best-known cycle was the CBS-Radio series that began July 9, 1947, and featured Vincent Price as Charteris’ beloved character. Price continued to voice Templar through May 14, 1951, although after the first season the show moved to the Mutual Broadcasting System, and then to NBC-Radio.

Early in the character’s radio run, Simon adopted a signature whistle: a brief little melody that became his trademark, and later was a recognized element of the title theme to the 1960s TV show that starred Roger Moore.

Imagine my surprise, then, when Dickerson’s book revealed that, starting with Price’s 22nd Saint-ly episode — “Playing with Fire,” broadcast December 3, 1947 — the signature theme was whistled by Maurice “Muzzy” Marcellino.

Muzzy Marcellino, during an appearance on the Lawrence Welk Show
Avid Guaraldi buffs will recognize Muzzy as one of Guaraldi’s mother’s two brothers. Muzzy and Joe, both professional musicians and bandleaders, had a great deal to do with their nephew Vince’s childhood interest in jazz.

Aside from his bandleading career, Muzzy also became quite well known for his whistling skills. As I mention in my Guaraldi bio, Muzzy (among other assignments) dubbed John Wayne in 1954’s The High and the Mighty, when the actor’s character whistled Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington’s memorable main theme. Muzzy repeated that assignment during the March 1955 broadcast of the annual Academy Awards, when the tune was nominated for Best Song; he whistled the open verse as a solo, then stepped aside to allow Johnny Desmond to sing the bulk of the song.

Additionally, and perhaps most famously, an entire generation of children heard Muzzy every week for many years, when he performed Les Baxter’s “whistle theme” to the TV series Lassie.

I had known all about those and various other highlights of Muzzy’s whistling career ... but his involvement with The Saint was a revelation.

So, there you go: Thanks to Marcellino, Guaraldi and Simon Templar are linked by only two degrees of separation! 

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