Monday, July 22, 2019

A little of this, a little of that: Summer 2019

Guaraldi's pop-culture relevance continues to shine...

The Marvel TV series Legion featured two of his Peanuts tracks on the current third (and final) season's second episode, simply titled "Chapter 21." (Mind you, given the show's deliberately outré weirdness, it's impossible to know why the tunes were used.)

Toward the beginning, the soundtrack featured the seldom-heard vocal version of "Oh, Good Grief." Later into the episode, the Shadow King is shown at the piano, playing "Christmas Time Is Here" ... although the backing combo was nowhere to be seen. (As Guaraldi fan Rob pointed out, the lighting was quite moody, so maybe they were hidden behind a pillar somewhere.)

Given this show's target audience, I can't help wondering if most viewers even recognized one or both tunes...


Following last autumn's CD debut of Guaraldi's score for It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown -- details available in this earlier post -- Concord's Craft Recordings division has announced the upcoming release of vinyl versions. Note that -- as has become custom these days -- various retailers will have uniquely different versions.

According to Concord's press release...

On the eve of Vince Guaraldi being honored with the National Music Council's American Eagle Award -- details here -- Craft Recordings celebrates his 91st birthday by announcing the vinyl edition of his music for It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, scheduled for release on August 30. The disc will include the iconic pumpkin as an etching on side B. The package also includes an introduction from the TV special’s executive producer, Lee Mendelson, and insightful liner notes by Derrick Bang, Peanuts historian and author of Vince Guaraldi at the Piano.

A special limited edition (500 copies only) -- pressed on a glow-in-the-dark vinyl -- will be available exclusively at the Craft Recordings Store.

It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown: Music from the Soundtrack features some of the most iconic tracks in pop culture, including the instantly recognizable “Linus and Lucy,” as well as the languid, lyrical “Great Pumpkin Waltz.” The music was recorded on October 4, 1966, at Desilu’s Gower Street Studio in Hollywood, California, by Guaraldi (piano) and his longtime friends and trio sidemen -- bassist Monty Budwig and drummer Colin Bailey -- joined by Emanuel Klein (trumpet), John Gray (guitar) and Ronald Lang (woodwinds). 

“This is the quintessential Vince Guaraldi for our Peanuts specials ... some of his best atmospheric jazz,” Mendelson notes. “Vince’s score carries the gang with the autumn leaves, through the scary and cold Halloween night. This music comforts the indomitable faith of Linus, still waiting for his hero since 1966: forever in our ears, hearts and memories.”

“Guaraldi had a strong sense of how music could -- and should -- be employed to maximize the viewing audience’s emotional response,” writes Bang. “[He] emphatically established the Peanuts ‘musical personality’ with this third outing, and all subsequent prime-time specials owed much to the groovin’ atmosphere that is so prevalent in Great Pumpkin. Guaraldi had a gig for life ... and his legacy lives on, expand[ing] by the year, thanks in great part to the jazz swagger given to an insecure blockhead and his lovably crazy beagle.”

This announcement comes on the anniversary of Guaraldi’s birthday (born July 17, 1928). We honor a real-life Schroeder, who through his music introduced generation after generation to the beauty of the distinctly American artform of jazz.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Los Gatos memories

I live for letters like this one.

It actually came to my 5CP blog partner Scott, who forwarded it to me; I immediately got in touch with the writer, Mark, who (alas!) wasn't able to offer any additional details. But he readily granted permission to publish both his note and the photo he had sent with it.

I'll turn the rest of this post over to him.


In December 2017, I had just finished my annual viewing of A Charlie Brown Christmas on a new Blu-Ray set I picked up at Costco, and saw Scott on the bonus feature "making of" documentary. That led me to a quick Internet search, and then your pages on Peanuts and Vince Guaraldi. Both were fun to look through, and are obviously labors of love. 

Mom brought home his Black Orpheus LP after hearing "Cast Your Fate To The Wind" somewhere on the radio — perhaps from the public television special about making the record — and we were both big Peanuts fans. My husband isn't, but he does appreciate the music, so I cut him some slack. (Some.)

In October 1967, my folks took me to the Old Town Theater in Los Gatos — we lived just a short ways away in San Jose, at the time — to see Guaraldi and his combo. For some reason we got there early, and ended up in the front row. Being 15, I was waiting for two songs: "Cast Your Fate To The Wind" and "Linus and Lucy." 

During the intermission, I asked someone on the stage if I could get him to autograph my program; they signed first, and then said Guaraldi was outside the theater, downstairs in a place called The Cellar. It was uncharacteristically bold for me, but — Instamatic in hand — I went looking for him. Found him, too ... and took a couple of snapshots, as he signed my program, which I still have, somewhere. Mom and Dad were both surprised that I'd gone off and done that, and so was I. I even asked if he was going to play "Linus and Lucy," and he said he would. When they launched into it after intermission, he looked down at me in the front row and smiled just a bit. It's a fond memory I'll never forget.

I found the snapshots a couple of years ago, and scanned them. Mom passed in January 2017, but I think of her a lot, naturally ... certainly that day, while watching the special for the first time without her.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Loss of Faith

Sad news from San Francisco.

Faith Winthrop played a major role in Guaraldi's early career, working at his side for much of 1955 at the famed hungry i nightclub. She continued to perform during a long and successful career, and her memory was remarkably vivid when she graciously provided a lengthy interview during my book's research phase.

The San Francisco Chronicle honored her with a generous obituary, reprinted here in full:


Faith Winthrop, jazz singer who founded Glide community choir, dies at 87

by Aidin Vaziri
July 10, 2019

Faith Winthrop, the jazz vocalist who founded Glide Memorial Church’s community gospel choir and mentored Bay Area luminaries such as Ledisi, Lavay Smith and Paula West, died on July 1 in San Francisco. She was 87.

Her death was confirmed by Erika Lenkert, her daughter, who said the cause was complications from what was expected to be a simple surgery.

Winthrop moved in the mid-1950s from her native Massachusetts to San Francisco, where the classically trained singer established herself on the city’s vibrant club scene. She worked as the house singer at the hungry i in North Beach, where she warmed up audiences for up-and-coming stars like Woody Allen, Barbra Streisand and Mort Sahl. Her backing band included pianist Vince Guaraldi, guitarist Eddie Duran and bassist Dean Reilly.

Known for her silky voice and dramatic vocal interpretations of the standards, Winthrop was dubbed “San Francisco’s grand dame of song” by Philip Elwood, the music critic for the Examiner. She performed at venerable jazz institutions like the London House and Mister Kelly’s in Chicago, and the Blue Angel and Village Vanguard in New York. She made her television debut on the Today Show, before deciding to settle down in San Francisco to start a family with Hans Lenkert, with whom she had a brief relationship.

Winthrop worked as a faculty member in the music department at Mills College in Oakland, the Jazz School in Berkeley and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. She also taught private lessons out of her homes in the Haight and Cole Valley, tutoring everyone from pop singers like Al Jarreau and Romeo Void’s Debora Iyall to screen stars like Divine and Keanu Reeves.

In 1966, Winthrop became the founding director of the Glide Ensemble, the community choir at the Rev. Cecil Williams’ Glide Memorial Church in the Tenderloin.

In the 1970s, Winthrop joined the Sometime Sondheim Singers performance group. Erika Lenkert, an author and former writer for The Chronicle, recalled sitting under the piano at their Cannery performance space and singing along to her songs.

“My mother was a very spiritual person who lived in gratitude and wonder,” Lenkert said. “She had an incredible ability to help people find and embrace themselves just as they are. She passed away the same way she lived life: surrounded by loved ones, music and song.”

Faith Winthrop was born in Boston on Nov. 18, 1931, to Russian immigrants Sarah Kaplan and Maurice Winthrop.

In the early 1950s, she moved to the West Coast, where she lived in a cottage in Malibu, owned by Mickey Rooney, and scored a record deal. She eventually made her way to San Francisco, living for a brief spell on a houseboat in Sausalito.

Winthrop released a pair of albums featuring standards and original material, 1993’s A Leap of Faith and 2007’s Havin’ Myself a Time!

Winthrop often recounted the tale of meeting Billie Holiday at George Wein’s Storyville Club in Boston in her early years as a performer.

“I was singing ‘Lover Man’ while they adjusted the mikes and lights, and in walked Billie holding her two Chihuahuas,” Winthrop said. “I saw her, stumbled through the song, and she came up and said, ‘Sing the song, girl, sing it!’ and I nearly collapsed, but I did finish it.”

In 2016, Winthrop moved to a retirement community in Mill Valley, where she taught voice lessons to fellow residents and her 13-year-old granddaughter, Viva Wertz.

Until her death, Winthrop performed twice monthly at Fior d’Italia restaurant in the city.

Lenkert is planning a celebration of life event for September. Details will follow and will be posted on her Facebook page.

Winthrop is survived by her daughter, Erika Lenkert, and granddaughter, Viva Wertz.