Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Jerry Granelli, drumming legend

Jerry Granelli, Fred Marshall and Vince Guaraldi caught on camera, for Ralph Gleason's
film Anatomy of a Hit, during their lengthy run at The Trident, in the summer of 1963.


“I wanted to be a gunslinger, when I was a kid,” Jerry Granelli admitted, during one of the long chats we shared 13 years ago. “The closest I could come was being a jazz musician. The [stand-up] comics and the jazz musicians hung out together. The jazz musicians loved the comics, and vice versa. We were outlaws; we lived in an underworld, at night.”

Jerry Granelli, the feisty hard-charging drummer who — with bassist Fred Marshall — formed Vince Guaraldi’s third “classic” trio, died Tuesday morning in his Halifax home.

 

As readers of this blog know, he’d been ill for months; indeed, he came very close to dying this past December, just before his 80th birthday. Recovery was slow, but that’s the frustrating part; he seemed to be beating it, and regaining his strength.

 

And then, suddenly, he left us yesterday morning.

 

There’s no shortage of laudatory coverage, and I won’t attempt to duplicate that ground here. The CBC has an excellent piece, as does JAZZ.FM91. Others are easy to find.

 

As I’ve said many times, during the past decade and change, nobody tells better stories than jazz musicians. (Nobody tells dirtier stories, either, but very few of those made it into my Guaraldi biography.) One of the most eye-opening came from Jerry, recalling an incident that took place in Southern California in early April 1963. The Guaraldi Trio was booked for a week at Los Angeles’ It Club; Miles Davis was headlining simultaneously nearby, at Shelly’s Manne Hole.

 

“Most people don’t know this,” Jerry told me, “but Miles Davis loved Vince; he even wanted Vince to come work with him. But Vince refused, saying, ‘Naaah … I already got a band, man.’

 

“Typical Vince. He had no fear of anyone, at that point.

 

“Anyway, Miles would come in every night, after his gig, and just sit there. He loved Vince’s tune, ‘Star Song.’ So Miles would have a drink and say, ‘Play that song, man.’ Every night! And it freaked me out, because it was Miles, man!”

 

All these years later, I still vividly remember the enthusiasm and awe in Jerry’s voice, as he concluded that anecdote.

 

Life changed for Guaraldi after A Charlie Brown Christmas, and — to this day — some snobbish critics continue to diminish Dr. Funk’s place in the jazz pantheon, as a result of that commercial success. I brought this up during a chat with Jerry this past March — our last, as it turned out — and his irritation was evident.

 

“The ‘jazz police’ thought that this happening to Vince — the success of A Charlie Brown Christmas, and the TV specials that followed — was some sort of sell-out. Yet when I’m standing around with some famous jazz musician, many of them, they say, ‘Man, I love that stuff; that made me want to play jazz.’ ”

 

Beginning in December 2013, and continuing each subsequent holiday season, Jerry and his trio toured Canada with annual presentations of his Tales of A Charlie Brown Christmas. The concerts blended the iconic music with his memories of working with Guaraldi, along with brief background on how that first TV special came to be. (He never brought his show to the States, more’s the pity.)

 

“A thousand people show up every night, at a different city in Canada,” Jerry told me. “We were playing somewhere, and after the show, this guy came up — obviously a biker, all decked out in leather — and he said, ‘Aw, that was great, man; that was fuckin’ great. I gotta go home and get my dad, because he fuckin’ loves this.’ And then, right after him, up comes a little kid from out west, who still writes to me.”

I mentioned that, in my own experience, I’ve encountered many, many people who remember where they were, how old they were, who they were with, when they saw A Charlie Brown Christmas the first time.

 

“Oh, I know they do,” Jerry agreed, “because they tell me about it.

 

“It’s like that show — that music — is alive; it changed a lot of things for a lot of people.”

 

And you changed a lot of things for a lot of us, Jerry.


The drum section in Heaven’s really big jazz band just got a lot stronger. 

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Archival gold

Hang onto your hats; this one is 
huge.

The first tantalizing seed was planted at some point in 2009, during the research phase of my Guaraldi bio (a few years before I began crafting the actual text). One of San Francisco Chronicle music critic Ralph Gleason’s columns — on July 16, 1964 — briefly mentioned that Guaraldi and Bola Sete soon would record some short programs, known as “fills,” for National Educational Television (NET) member stations. That’s all I would know for more than a decade, despite extensive investigation.

 

In early 2011, I began what quickly became a warm and friendly email and phone correspondence with a fellow Guaraldi fan named Doug, who worked (still works) on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. His proximity to the Library of Congress — and his willingness to lend his investigative talents — proved quite helpful, on numerous occasions. In mid-June, I mentioned the NET fills, wondering whether there might be any reference to them in the Library of Congress (LoC), and/or whether any leads might point to former NET (now PBS) stations possessing additional information … or, better yet, copies of old tapes. During the next several years — to my grateful surprise, when he later detailed this effort — he exchanged more than 180 emails (!) with “various and sundry folks” while trying to confirm existence and contents. A few individuals provided encouragement and direction, although — alas — every potential lead went nowhere.

 

My Guaraldi bio was published in April 2012. The filmography (Appendix C) includes a listing for the NET fills, along with a frustrating final sentence noting that “no tapes have been found thus far.”

 

And that’s where the matter remained, for nearly a decade. I re-checked the LoC databases every year or so, to no avail.

 

Then, in early May 2020, I stumbled upon the LoC’s recently added NET Microfiche Special Collection … and the picture rapidly expanded. I learned that the Guaraldi/Sete fills had been made specifically to accompany an imported 13-episode Granada-TV anthology series titled Stories of Guy de Maupassant; I even was able to determine which episodes were attached to Guaraldi and/or Sete performances. (The full story of that discovery is detailed in this earlier blog post.)

Thursday, June 24, 2021

FYI: Behind-the-scenes change

Greeting, loyal readers!  

If you receive updates from Impressions of Vince by email, this is a heads-up to let you know that the blog is changing to a new email delivery service.  No action is required on your part.  You will be moved automatically to the new service, and will continue to receive email updates as usual.  The blog emails will look slightly different, and you'll notice that the name of the service at the bottom of the email has changed, but otherwise it should be business as usual; this is just an FYI.

Google, which owns Feedburner — the former service — will discontinue support for sending email blog updates, as of July.

The new service is called Feedblitz.

If you notice any problems or have any questions, let us know.  But we've run some tests and expect everything to switch over smoothly.

If you keep up with the blog in some other way, then nothing at all is changing for you.  (But if you'd like to subscribe to email updates, look for the little subscription form on the upper right-hand side of this blog's webpage.)

Thanks for continuing to read Impressions of Vince!

Friday, June 18, 2021

More bits and bobs

My ongoing dive into newspapers.com continues to reveal all sorts of informational nuggets. Most wind up in my Guaraldi Timeline, which is expanding at an exponential rate, but others are worthy of a few paragraphs here.

Enjoy!

********

San Francisco Chronicle columnist Ralph J. Gleason interviewed Guaraldi while the pianist still was a member of Cal Tjader's Quintet, for a feature story that appeared November 30, 1958. Vince's comments included these revealing passages:

"I first heard boogie woogie on Bing Crosby's Kraft Music Hall [a radio variety program that aired from 1933 to 1949]. Some guy played it and explained the different basses. I learned my first tune in G-flat, played on the black keys. It's an easy way to learn to play the piano. At first I just played in the house, though.

"Boogie woogie has helped me a lot, for a blues taste. Those cats had a good time; I still have their albums, and I still play them. You can adapt a lot of what they do to Latin music, for instance."

And, when asked to name his favorite musician, Guaraldi replied, "Zoot Sims is my favorite saxophone player. He can make me cry. He's a guy that it's in his soul to play. It's beautiful. It's not out-of-the-book-let's-go-to-school. He's a human being."

********

The national tour with Dick Gregory and vocalist Margie McCoy, in late 1963, hit quite a few colleges and universities. One such stop, on October 31, was at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, in California. In anticipation of that visit, a journalist for the campus newspaper — the El Mustang — ran a feature article that included this intriguing information about Guaraldi, along with a few quotes:

The pianist is one of the few recording artists to double as both recording director and producer.

"I plan to record new talent as well as established artists," Guaraldi says, "and will make a special attempt to discover the unknown artist of today."

The director-composer calls a great deal of this country's music put out under the label of bossa nova "sheer nonsense."

I have to say "Do tell!" to the first comment. The sole A&R (Artists & Repertoire) credit Guaraldi possesses, to my knowledge, is for Bola Sete's 1965 Fantasy album, The Incomparable Bola Sete. And Guaraldi can hardly claim to have "discovered" Sete.

The second comment generates a raised eyebrow and thoughts of sour grapes...

********

When the Gregory/Guaraldi/McCoy show was reviewed by El Mustang's Lynne Prindle a few days later, on November 5, she gave a droll opening to the paragraph devoted to the trio:

Vince Guaraldi's Trio, headed by a little man covered with a handle bar mustache, banged out its impressions of such songs as "Limehouse Blues," "Fly Me to the Moon" and their interpretation of Henry Mancini's "Mr. Lucky." Highlight of the trio set was the song Guaraldi wrote and recorded, "Cast Your Fate to the Wind."

Think we should give Prindle credit for intentionally including the word impressions?

********

The Gregory/Guaraldi/McCoy tour subsequently stopped at the University of California, Davis, on November 3. In the review that ran November 5 in the campus newspaper, the California Aggie, the unnamed critic concluded the paragraph about Guaraldi thusly:

The trio finished up with their popular "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" and the Fats Waller tune, "Litter Bug Waltz."

(Oopsie!)

********

Richard Haddock's terrific interview with Guaraldi, in the San Francisco Examiner on March 29, 1964, includes these highly informative quotes:

"I listen to everybody," Vince replies, to the usual question about musical influences. "There were really only three main departure points in jazz piano: James P. Johnson, Earl Hines and Bud Powell. They're all great, but Powell had the biggest influence on me.

"I also like the awkward grace of Thelonious Monk very much. And then there are Art Tatum and Duke Ellington: each in a class by himself, over and above the rest. I hear Chopin in Tatum, and the classical composer in Duke."

********

Finally, Herb Caen's April 17, 1964, column — which appeared in numerous San Francisco Bay Area newspapers — had this to say about an upcoming documentary about Charles M. Schulz:

Producer Lee Mendelson's TV special about Charles Schulz, A Boy Named Charlie Brown, will have Vince Guaraldi playing the piano for Schroeder, and Cal Tjader beating the vibes as Snoopy."

Well, we know that turned out to be half correct...!

Friday, June 11, 2021

Memo from Mena

Social media has become a home for all manner of celebrity-focused “publications” that entertain visitors with short (and often shallow) interviews often built around a particular hook. Most are a waste of time; a few are clever, entertaining and genuinely informative. The latter include Talkhouse’s “Three Great Things,” which encourages various artists to share three things that they adore, and have great meaning in their lives.

 

Actress Mena Suvari — who has been busy ever since her (impressively distinctive) breakout roles in American Pie and American Beauty, both in 1999 — is starring in the just-released biographical drama Grace and Grit, adapted from Ken Wilber’s book of the same title. That gave Talkhouse an excuse to get in touch. Her three great things? The beach, Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams and — wait for it — Vince Guaraldi.

 

Now, countless major and minor talking heads have extolled Guaraldi during the past few decades, usually waxing enthusiastic about his score for A Charlie Brown Christmas … and nothing else, which indicates a rather shallow awareness of our Main Man. But Suvari is different: She clearly knows her stuff, and speaks informatively about his career.

 

Among her comments: 

 

“His style of playing just blew me away. … I grew up with the Peanuts cartoons, and I loved those holiday specials when I was a kid, but there’s so much more to him than that.

 

“He came up with his own technique of playing the piano, because his fingers weren’t as long as you would expect for a pianist. He’s just the coolest man, and what he contributed to the jazz scene — and the music that he made — is just incredible.

 

“My husband and I recently went up north … to Menlo Park, where Vince Guaraldi lived, and visited the cemetery where he and his mother are buried. I brought him some flowers, and I was happy to be able to stand by his grave and say, ‘Hey, Dr. Funk, you’re amazing. Thank you for everything that you contributed!’ ”


And thank you, Mena; that’s a truly awesome and heartfelt sentiment!

Friday, June 4, 2021

Playboy visits San Franciso ... back in the day

This post has very little to do with Guaraldi himself, but it does concern his San Francisco environment, and specifically many of the jazz clubs where he performed.

During the first decade and change after its debut issue in December 1953, Playboy magazine ran an occasional “On the Town” feature designed as a “cosmopolitan’s guide” to national and international cities — Paris, Tokyo, New York, London and others — that were becoming accessible to the publication’s upwardly mobile male subscribers, thanks to the rapidly expanding network of airline travel. The June 1958 issue was highlighted by a lengthy focus on San Francisco: where (and how) to lodge, dine, drink and be entertained. 

 

Since Hugh Hefner was an avid fan of mainstream and progressive jazz, the exhaustive article included a generous coverage of Baghdad-by-the-Bay’s then boisterous nighttime jazz scene. (The action probably was richer and more extensive right then, than at any other point in time; many of the clubs cited would close, change hands or go bankrupt within the next few years.)

 

Although the article makes fascinating reading as a time capsule, one must, ah, tolerate the wincingly archaic “dating tips” sprinkled throughout, such as…

 

[San Francisco] is a place of beautiful women, characterized (more than in any other city) by independence, good jobs, a friendly love of pleasure, hideaway apartments of their own, unpretentious poise, and an utterly charming knowledge of how to dress and behave, to please a man.

 

…and…

 

Your first stop, preferably just before sunset, should be the Mark Hopkins, up at the glass-enclosed Top o’ the Mark. Relax, have yourself a drink, take time to watch the sunset, and get the feel of the city here. Many a San Francisco visitor settles for the first girl he meets — only to rue it later, when finer prospects cross his path.

 

(Ouch!)

 

Further along, having offered suggestions for the best dining and dancing, we finally come to the late-evening options. I’ve extracted those with a strong — or even fleeting — connection to Guaraldi’s career, at that moment or soon to occur:

 

Friday, May 28, 2021

A memorable piano lesson

As the years have passed, and this blog’s status has risen via Google searches, I’ve occasionally heard from first-time visitors eager to share their long-ago “Guaraldi encounters.”

This is a good one, courtesy of a lovely woman named Peggy Tillman, who — way back in the day — unexpectedly found herself seated alongside Guaraldi, on his piano bench.

 

But that’s getting ahead of things.

 

Sonoma State College — in Rohnert Park, California, just a few minutes south of Santa Rosa — opened to 274 students in the fall of 1961. Because the campus still was far from completed, many of the classrooms and other key activities took place in leased buildings within the city.

 

Peggy transferred into Sonoma State in the fall of 1963, her sophomore year; she remembers the still-gestating state of affairs. “Our ‘library’ was built as a grocery store,” she laughs, “and after we moved out, a few years later, it became a grocery store.”

 

The student body, still quite modest, included a disproportionately large percentage of adults: either working folks looking to secure credits for a long-delayed graduation, or retired individuals with the time to enhance their knowledge. “The joke,” Peggy recalls, “was that the average age of the student body was higher than the average age of the faculty. When school administrators sought input on the creation of a school mascot or symbol, somebody suggested a rocking chair.”

 

Jokes aside, these “returning students” were a challenge. “They were tough competition: far in advance of us, because they had life skills, better study habits, and often were taking only one or two classes, whereas we younger students were taking a full load.”

 

Peggy entered as an education major, with an eye toward teaching, but — as luck would have it — California changed its academic requirements that year, mandating a fifth year of post-graduation instruction in order to obtain a teaching degree. Preferring to graduate in the planned four years, Peggy switched majors and entered the psychology department.

 

Toward the end of her junior year, the campus Concert and Lectures Committee booked the Guaraldi/Bola Sete Quartet for a performance on April 5, 1965. Since Sonoma State did not yet have a performance hall, the gig was scheduled into the nearby Cotati Veterans Memorial Auditorium. Admission was free to students, and $2 for the general public.

By this point, Peggy had become one of the three people who made up the college’s fledgling audio/visual department; thanks to her experience as campus photographer during her high school career, she stepped into that same role for Sonoma State. One of her psychology department professors, Dr. Frank Siroky, was doing research on the body postures of people, as they listened to music; he hired Peggy to take pictures of the audience during the upcoming Guaraldi/Sete concert.

 

(Ah, such innocent times. It’s an intriguing research premise, to be sure, but it’d never fly in today’s hyper-vigilant era of privacy concerns.)

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

An appeal for Jerry Granelli

“Jazz isn’t a style; it’s a way of life.”

The speaker is Jerry Granelli, evoking singer/activist Nina Simone, who famously said, “Jazz is not just music; it’s a way of life, it’s a way of being, a way of thinking.”

 

Granelli makes this comment toward the beginning of Colin MacKenzie’s 2002 documentary, Jerry Granelli: In the Moment. The 51-minute film can be viewed at Granelli’s richly informative web site, which traces the deservedly famous drummer’s impressively varied career.

 

Right now, Jerry could use our help.

 

Just before his 80th birthday, this past December, Granelli suffered a near-fatal case of internal bleeding while at home in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He spent the next two months in a hospital ICU, followed by almost two more months in hospital, while being stabilized. He finally was able to return home a few weeks ago, but he now faces six to eight months of recovery that will involve extensive physical therapy, at-home caregivers and special intravenous feedings.

 

It’ll be expensive, and his family has set up a GoFundMe campaign. Details are here.

 

Regular visitors to this blog are quite familiar with Granelli, as the drummer in the third of Vince Guaraldi’s early great trios. Alongside bassist Fred Marshall, Granelli can be heard on Vince Guaraldi/Bola Sete/And FriendsThe Latin Side of Vince GuaraldiFrom All Sides, portions of The Eclectic Vince Guaraldi, and the soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas. Granelli can be seen in the Jazz Casual episode that features Guaraldi and Sete, which debuted September 25, 1963 (the audio of which was released in 2001 by Koch Jazz). Granelli also gets considerable screen time in 1963’s Anatomy of a Hit, when he anonymously stands in for Colin Bailey, during a Fantasy studio sequence where Guaraldi pretends to record “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” for the first time.

Marshall already was working with Guaraldi when Granelli joined the trio in early 1963 — replacing Bailey — during a February 21-23 gig at a Sacramento venue dubbed The Berry Patch. They remained together until the end of May 1965, which also encompassed most of the time that Sete transformed the combo into a quartet. And although Granelli then became a member of Denny Zeitlin’s trio for the next few years, he continued to work occasionally alongside Guaraldi until the end of the 1960s; Granelli even did some of the drum work for 1969’s big-screen Peanuts film, A Boy Named Charlie Brown.

 

Granelli’s approach to his craft was quite Zen; as the years passed, he would come to think of himself less as “just” a drummer, and more as “an artist.

 

“The people I really learned from,” he acknowledges, also in MacKenzie’s film, “were the people I was willing to surrender to.”

 

I find it ironic — for a guy who spent the bulk of his later career embracing free jazz, acid jazz, psychedelic and experimental jazz, alongside talents such as Zeitlin, Mose Allison, Bruce Frisell, Ornette Coleman, Jamie Salt and Anthony Braxton — that Granelli’s first lengthy gig was as a member of Guaraldi’s mainstream, gentle bossa nova combo.

 

But hey: We’ve all gotta start somewhere, right?

 

I spent several lengthy sessions with Jerry back in 2010, while preparing for my Guaraldi biography; he was, by far, one of my most articulate and passionate interview subjects. And, much more recently, he chatted with me again — while still hospitalized — to bring me up to date on his more recent activities.

Which, as Canadian fans know, have for the past several years included an annual “Tales of A Charlie Brown Christmas” concert tour each December.


Granelli is one of the very few sidemen still with us, from Guaraldi’s early days. Let’s help ensure that he’ll again be where he belongs: seated at a drum kit, once more rejoicing in his “lust for being on the cutting edge.” 

Friday, May 14, 2021

Exploring BMI (and no, I don't mean body mass index)

I recently took another deep dive into Guaraldi’s entries in the Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI) Repertoire database; far too much time has elapsed, since the last time I investigated.

Quite a lot has changed.

 

A bit of background first, for readers unfamiliar with this organization. BMI was founded in 1939, with the belief that all songwriters, composers and publishers have the right to be paid for the use of their intellectual property, no matter how that property is used. Thus, BMI is a music performing rights organization, which represents songwriters — even when they’re also performers — as well as film, television, musical theater and classical music composers and, of course, music publishers. BMI collects money from the entities and businesses that use such music in the course of a given time period, and then pays out that money as royalties to the composers and publishers of the songs and compositions that have been played. 

 

BMI maintains an ongoing list of any composer's work, and Guaraldi is no different. The information is fascinating, both from the standpoint of what is on the list, and what is not. It also has become obvious that Guaraldi's selections live on, and continue to be used extensively long after his death. He certainly wasn’t with us, for example, when some of his themes wound up as background cues for Live with Regis and Kathy Lee. And, of course, bits of “Linus and Lucy” have turned up on numerous TV commercials, most famously for MetLife.

 

The BMI database includes most of the songs and themes Guaraldi wrote during his career. You’ll find most of the familiar Peanuts themes, along with “Cast Your Fate to the Wind,” “Star Song,” “Treat Street” and many, many more. But not everything; quite a few aren’t registered here. (Further details can be found at this web page.)

 

You’ll also spot several unfamiliar titles: songs that Guaraldi is known to have performed during his career, and which he copyrighted via the U.S. Library of Congress, but which he never got around to recording. They include “The Big Movie Theme,” “Lethargy,” “My Loneliness,” “Sand and Sea” and “Twilight of Youth.”

 

Other entries are simply unusual. What are we to make of “Eddie Bone,” “Lanza Tus Penas Al Viento” or “Sunset Music”?

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Calling Dr. Funk

By the late 1950s, Vince Guaraldi was known by two nicknames: The Italian Leprechaun, and Dr. Funk. Indeed, "Calling Dr. Funk" is a Guaraldi composition that debuted on the 1956 album, Modern Music from San Francisco.

As it happens, a Dr. Funk is a popular libation at tiki bars and restaurants. 

Are the two related?

At first blush, it seems possible; San Francisco's Tonga Room and the Bay Area-based Trader Vic's — initially in Oakland, later in San Francisco and Emeryville — were well-established by the mid-1950s. These and many other bars and restaurants constantly competed with each other, to concoct popular drink recipes. Guaraldi was quite a presence in the greater Bay Area, with his distinctive mustache and vibrant piano chops, and he certainly wouldn't have been the first celebrity to have a drink named after him.

But no.

The drink actually is quite old, and was named after a German doctor by the name of Bernard Funk, who practiced privately in Apia, Samoa, in the 1890s. We know this thanks to an entry in Frederick O'Brien's 1921 book, Mystic Isles of the South Seas

“[The potion] was made of a portion of absinthe, a dash of grenadine -- a syrup of the pomegranate fruit -- the juice of two limes, and half a pint of siphon water. Dr. Funk of Samoa, who had been a physician to Robert Louis Stevenson, had left the recipe for the concoction when he was a guest of the club. One paid half a franc for it, and it would restore self-respect and interest in one’s surroundings when even Tahiti rum failed.”

Whether Bernard Funk developed the potion on his own, and how it transitioned from a sort of patent medicine to tiki libation, remain unknown. But it became a staple on the Trader Vic's drink menu, where Vic Bergeron re-named it Doctor Funk of Tahiti, and modified the recipe thusly:

• 1 cup crushed ice
• 1 ounce gold rum
• 1 ounce dark rum
• 1/2 ounce lemon juice
• 1/4 ounce lime juice
• Dash of grenadine
• Dash of simple syrup (sugar syrup)
• Dash of Pernod
• 2 ounces sparkling water
• 1 sprig mint and squeezed lime half, for garnish

Bergeron never claimed to have created this drink, but he did invent a droll relation that he dubbed Doctor Funk's Son, which he insisted was far superior. It's built as follows:

• 1 cup crushed ice
• 2 ounces dark rum
• 1/2 ounce lemon juice
• 1/4 ounce lime juice
• Dash of grenadine
• Dash of simple syrup
• 2 ounces sparkling water
• 1 sprig mint and squeezed lime half, for garnish
• 1/2 ounce 151-proof rum, floated atop the drink once all other ingredients have been mixed

That 151-proof float was a rite of passage. Timid drinkers bypassed it with a straw, allowing the rum to dilute via blending; braver souls gulped.

I guess the remaining question, then, is whether our Dr. Funk ever ordered a Doctor Funk of Tahiti ... or his Son. I suspect chances are very high; how could he have resisted?

(Thanks to the Mountain of Crushed Ice blog, for the passage from O'Brien's book.)

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Take us back to the ball game!

Grab your wallets; Craft Recordings is about to spend a lot of your money again.

The label recently announced a vinyl reissue of the classic album, A Boy Named Charlie Brown. Its nine evocative cues by the Vince Guaraldi Trio have been newly remastered from the original analog tapes by Kevin Gray, at Cohearent Audio.

In stores July 16 and already available for pre-order, the LP  includes a special bonus: eight collectible baseball cards that showcase Charlie Brown’s team of misfits: Snoopy, Woodstock, Peppermint Patty, Linus and Lucy Van Pelt, Franklin Armstrong, Schroeder, and, of course, manager and pitcher, Charlie Brown. The back of each card reveals key stats for each player, including  field position and favorite sandwich.

A Boy Named Charlie Brown will also be offered in three colorful variants: a green-grass pressing at Target; a sky-blue version for VinylMePlease; and a baseball mitt-brown edition at the Craft Recordings Store, limited to 350 units (and, alas, already sold out). 

Additionally, one of the album's most memorable tracks, the up-tempo “Baseball Theme,” will be available for the very first time as a stand-alone, 7-inch single, exclusively for Record Store Day 2021. The A-side features 1964's original soundtrack version of the song, while the B-side is an alternative studio take never before available on vinyl (although it is included on the album's 2014 CD re-release). 

“Baseball Theme” was one of many tunes Guaraldi wrote for the never-released 1964 documentary, A Boy Named Charlie Brown: to be used in a sequence devoted to Charlie Brown’s ill-fated efforts on the ball field. Guaraldi deftly leads his trio through the up-tempo instrumental track, accompanied by bassist Monty Budwig and drummer Colin Bailey. 

The limited-edition single is pressed on white vinyl and housed in a colorful jacket, featuring whimsical, baseball-themed images of Charlie Brown and Snoopy. Visit recordstoreday.com for a list of participating indie retailers. 












Monday, April 19, 2021

Orpheus Rising

My friend Scott recently posed an intriguing question:
 
Was Guaraldi the first jazz artist to cover the music from Black Orpheus in an album?
 
The initial assumption is to say yes, due to the timeline. Although the film debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in May 1959 — where it took the Palme d’Or — it didn’t reach the States until a screening at the San Francisco International Film Festival, on November 24 that same year. General release came a month later, on December 21; it went on to win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film on April 4, 1960.
 
Guaraldi likely had seen the film several times by then. “I dug the soundtrack, and I dug ‘Samba de Orpheus,’ the tune and that scene in the movie,” he said to Ralph Gleason, several years later. “I was playing ‘Samba de Orpheus’ for a long time before I ever put [the notion of an album] together.”
 
That means he must’ve been performing that tune (and others from the film?) since early 1960, because he “put the notion together” in the summer of ’61, when he cut a demo tape of the four primary Jobim/Bonfa selections — “Samba de Orpheus,” “Manha de Carnaval,” “O Nosso Amor” and “A Felicidade” — with bassist Monty Budwig and drummer Colin Bailey. He shopped the tape to Capitol Records and then Columbia Records, both of which turned him down; he then snagged a one-album contract from Fantasy in early autumn. The resulting album, Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus, was recorded in November 1961 and February ’62, and released on April 18, 1962.
 
So … could somebody else have moved faster?

Flautist Herbie Mann certainly came close. His album Right Now, which includes a cover of "Manha de Carnaval," was recorded in March and April 1962. Alas, it wasn't released until November.
 
Mann aside, the most likely suspect, at that point in time, was Stan Getz. He grew infatuated with bossa nova in the early 1960s, and devoted several albums to that rapidly emerging genre. (That said, his iconic collaboration with Astrud Gilberto on “The Girl from Ipanema” wasn’t released until May 1964, although it had been recorded a year earlier.) And yes, his album Big Band Bossa Nova includes a cover of “Manha de Carnaval.” But the tracks were recorded August 27-28, 1962, and the album didn’t debut until October. Guaraldi beat him by half a year.
 
Next up for consideration: Quincy Jones. His album, also confusingly titled Big Band Bossa Nova — most famous these days for having introduced “Soul Bossa Nova,” now better known as Austin Powers’ theme — also includes a cover of “Manha de Carnaval.” Ah, but — once again — the tracks were recorded between June and September of 1962, and the album was released in November.

Trombonist Bob Brookmeyer's Trombone Jazz Samba includes covers of "Samba de Orfeu," "Manha de Carnaval" and "A Felicidade." Alas, the tracks were recorded in August and September 1962, and the album didn't appear until November.
 
This brings us to Ramsey Lewis, a veritable music-making machine by this point in his career. His trio’s Argo album, Bossa Nova, includes covers of both “Samba de Orpheus” and “Maha [sic] de Carnaval.” But he, too, came later to the party; the tracks were recorded on September 22 and 25, 1962, and the album also was released in November.

(On a sidebar note, during the research for this post, I noted — with delight — that this Ramsey Lewis Trio album also includes a cover of Guaraldi’s “Whirlpool,” with which I was previously unaware. And which immediately prompted an update of this post.)

Guaraldi's colleague Bola Sete seems a logical candidate, and yes: His album Bossa Nova includes a cover of "Manha de Carnaval." But it was recorded in October 1962, and not released until February 1963.

As 1962 drew to a close, George Shearing hit the studio in December, to record the tracks for his album Shearing Bossa Nova; it also includes a cover of "Manha de Carnaval." But, again, the album wasn't released until May 1963.

December 1962 also found Luiz Bonfá in the studio, no doubt wanting to take advantage of the music craze he helped ignite. Luiz Bonfá Plays and Sings Bossa Nova — arranged by no less than Lalo Schifrin, early in his career — includes a cover of "Manha de Carnaval." The album debuted in April 1963.
 
“Samba de Orfeu” popped up on Bud Shank’s Brasamba!, also released in April 1963. That tune also appeared on Bill Perkins’ Bossa Nova with Strings Attached, released the following month.
 
By this point, you must be remembering that Guaraldi’s friend and former “boss,” Cal Tjader, had gravitated toward Latin music in the late 1950s; surely he would have gotten a jump on his one-time pianist. But no: Although Tjader’s album Soña Libré includes a cover of “Manha de Carnaval,” the tracks weren’t laid down until January 28-30, 1963; the album didn’t drop until May that year.
 
Paul Desmond was next; his album Take Ten includes covers of both “Samba de Orfeu” and “Theme from Black Orpheus.” The tracks was recorded in June 1963, and the album debuted in October.
 
Interest subsequent expanded exponentially:

• “Manha de Carnaval” is on Gerry Mulligan’s Night Lights (December 1963).

• “Manha de Carnaval” is on the Modern Jazz Quartet’s The Sheriff (April 1964).

• “Samba de Orfeu” is on Ray Anthony’s Hit Songs to Remember (May 1966).

• “Samba de Orpheus” and “Manha de Carnaval” are on Charlie Byrd’s Byrdland (January 1967).

• “Manha de Carnaval” and “Samba de Orfeu” are on Oscar Peterson’s Soul Español (March 1967).

• A lengthy Black Orpheus medley — with “Manha de Carnaval,” “A Felicidade” and “Samba De Orfeu” — is on Bola Sete at the Monterey Jazz Festival (July 1967).
 
And so forth. Both “Manha de Carnaval” and “Samba De Orfeu” have become jazz standards.
 
So, does that mean Guaraldi scored first?

Emphatically ... not!

Harry James and his Orchestra released an MGM single in February 1961 (!). The A-side selling point is "Jersey Bounce," and the B-side is -- drumroll, please -- "Theme from Orfeu Negro (Manha de Carnaval)." James therefore wins the lottery.

And, indeed, Guaraldi wasn't even second. Hard bop saxophonist Rocky Boyd and his quintet hit the studio in March 1961, to record their album Ease It; the six tracks include a cover of "Samba de Orfeu." The album hit stores later that same year (month not specified, but definitely 1961).
 
Finally, I'm still uncertain about saxophonist Wayne Shorter’s third album, Wayning Moments, which includes a cover of the Black Orpheus theme. (The digital re-release features a second take.) The original LP was recorded on November 2 and 6, 1961; it hit stores in “1962.” Despite my best efforts, I’ve not been able to discover which month. If we assume the usual three- to four-month lead time, that means the album could have dropped in February or March, which indeed would have beaten Guaraldi by just a bit.
 
I can’t say for certain. Shorter’s album doesn’t appear to have been mentioned in any 1961 or ’62 issue of Billboard — which is unusual — nor could I find any reviews published during its debut. 

But that no longer matters. We now know that Harry James and Rocky Boyd did indeed beat Guaraldi to the punch.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Plenty of respect!

Following up on my January 24 post, I issued an open request for help in creating a list of jazz artists who've recorded a) original tribute compositions honoring Guaraldi; and b) covers of Guaraldi compositions other than "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" and the Charlie Brown Christmas quartet ("Linus and Lucy," "My Little Drum," "Christmas Is Coming" and "Christmas Time Is Here"). I also asked that David Benoit and George Winston not be included, since both are well known for having released several full albums of Guaraldi covers. (In other words, they're too obvious!)

The response was quite helpful. Scott, Chad and Ryo each supplied several suggestions; I also got more creative with Web searches, thanks to iTunes, Spotify and discogs. Then there's Paul, who was inspired by my post to establish a dynamic Wikipedia database that does include the five popular tunes I left out above. (Obviously, he has far too much free time on his hands!) He and I also have been trading information.

My result follows, and — given that new covers are apt to pop up every year — I imagine this list will grow, with time. Listenable versions of most entries can be found somewhere on the Web, but others are quite obscure.

Let me begin by citing full (or partial) tribute albums, a few of which are repeats from my earlier post. French horn player Aaron Brask's 2010 album, The Guaraldi Sessions, has 20 covers. (I've not included his efforts in the following list; just buy the album!) Jazz pianist Terry Disley and his quartet cover five tunes on their 2011 album, Brubeck vs. Guaraldi. Former Guaraldi drummer Jerry Granelli has three covers on his 2020 album, Plays Vince Guaraldi and Mose Allison.

Newer discoveries include the Ku Il Oh Quartet's 2011 album, Holiday Songs Volume One, which — despite its somewhat misleading title — actually is entirely devoted to Guaraldi covers and fresh arrangements of material from A Charlie Brown Christmas. And speaking of misleading, the quartet known as Jake — Tony Mason, piano; Steve Rashid, horn; Gregg Emery, bass; and Hugh Barlow, drums — released a 1984 LP titled A Tribute to Evans & Guaraldi, but only two of its 10 tracks are Guaraldi tunes. On the other hand, pianist Bruce Polson's 1997 album, The Music of Vince Guaraldi, does justice to an even dozen of Vince's songs. (I have included those in the list below, because you'll never find the album; it's woefully out of print.)

One final caveat: I make no comments regarding quality here. Some of these tracks are sensational; some are ... well, not such a much. Most fall somewhere in between. Accept this as the thrill of discovery.

So let's move on, starting with new compositions that pay tribute to Vince:

• “Frisco (Dedicated to Vince Guaraldi),” Jim Emmons, 88


• “Guaraldi,” Bill Heller & Jeff Kashiwa, Find the Way


• “Have Yourself a Vince Guaraldi Christmas,” John Stowell/Michael Zilber Quartet, Basement Blues


• “Mountain View,” John Zorn, Alhambra Love Songs


• “Peanuts (An Ode to Vince Guaraldi),” Robert S. Bradley & Collin Oliver, Identity Crisis


• “Vince Guaraldi,” Diane Monroe and Tony Miceli, Alone Together


• “Waltz for Vince,” Jim Martinez, Good Grief! It’s Still Jim Martinez

Friday, March 26, 2021

More information!

San Francisco Chronicle music critic Ralph Gleason and Guaraldi stroll
outside Basin Street West in early 1965, during the filming of an episode
of the BBC's Inside America that profiled Gleason.
My lengthy dive into the San Francisco Chronicle archives has concluded.

It certainly was worthwhile.

Although I didn't find any other articles worth quoting in full or part, as with this Ralph Gleason column, the raw data was substantial. My Guaraldi timeline is considerably richer and more precise, particularly during the late 1950s and most of the '60s. Numerous club gigs have been added; many others have been fine-tuned.

You'll also find lots of new photos, newspaper display ads, club matchbook covers and other ephemera.

Aside from the enhanced information about Guaraldi, the Chronicle helped me nail down (in most cases) precisely when San Francisco's significant jazz clubs opened and closed. Since that information now is so much more complete, I've enhanced such entries in red; they're now much easier to find. After all, Guaraldi's career (for the most part) neatly paralleled the rise and fall of the greater San Francisco area's jazz scene.

The hunt is never over, of course. My next challenge is to identify more venues and cities during the tours Guaraldi took outside of California: from the early trips with Cal Tjader, to the 1964 tour with Benny Goodman, to the "Eastern tour" Guaraldi's trio took in the summer of 1965 (which was, I believe, the last time he toured outside the West Coast).

Research is like housework (but much more fun) ... there's always another corner to investigate!

Friday, March 19, 2021

Dean Reilly: Gentleman bassist

Damn, we just lost another one: the final member of Guaraldi's original trio.

Dean left us a week ago Tuesday, March 9, at the youthful age of 94: the same age as Eddie Duran, who we lost back in November 2019. And, like Eddie, Dean kept performing almost to the very end. Unlike Eddie, who had only a guitar to keep track of, Dean was famous for lugging his massive double bass from car to stage (and back again, at the end of a gig).

They met in the early 1950s, because Dean "stalked" Eddie.

"I saw a guy with a guitar case going into an apartment across the street," Dean told me, during one of our many chats in 2010, "and I waited for him, and introduced myself. And it went from there."

Eddie, in turn, introduced Dean to Vince; the friendship blossomed to include all three. Their casual "garage band" sessions turned serious with an offer from Enrico Banducci in 1954.

"I was jamming with Eddie," Dean explained, "and somehow Vince got word that we could have a job at the hungry i, so we got together for that purpose."

The gig was all-consuming: six nights a week — Mondays were dark — and somewhat unscheduled, because of the club's intriguing layout and arrangements. "Name" acts — the Mort Sahls and Kingston Trios — were booked into the main showroom. It was separate and enclosed, with ticketed, theater-style seating and waiters who circulated and took drink orders. Guaraldi's trio played in the amusingly named "Other Room," actually the rear postion of an extended foyer/lounge area.

"We lived close by, but we drove separately," Dean continued, describing a typical evening. "It was a lot easier to park in those days. We'd start playing at 9 p.m. and continue until 1 a.m. The Other Room was where people lined up to go into the showroom. There were some bar stools, but people mostly stood in line, waiting for the show to begin; we played for their enjoyment, and to put them at ease.

"We were the frosting on the cake. We were on our own; we played what we felt like playing, when we felt like playing it. It was unbelievable, to be so loose. We'd call tunes among ourselves: standards, blues. We didn't have arrangements at first; the arrangements — key changes, that kind of thing — grew out of tunes we'd repeat over time."

This first "classic" Guaraldi Trio co-starred on Vince's first two Fantasy albums: The Vince Guaraldi Trio and A  Flower Is a Lovesome Thing. There was no drummer; as with the Nat King Cole Trio, the set-up was piano, guitar and bass. Dean easily "covered" for the absent drummer.

As you'll read in this lovely San Francisco Chronicle obit, Dean went on to perform alongside just about everybody you could think of.

As mentioned in my post on Eddie, linked above, my fondest personal memory of Dean came early in the summer of 2012. The Gods smiled upon me; I was able to hire him, Eddie, drummer Colin Bailey and pianist Jim Martinez for a performance at that year’s Beaglefest (an annual convention for fans of Charles M. Schulz and Peanuts). It was a fabulous reunion and blending of Guaraldi's two early trios: an evening of magic.

Godspeed, Dean. Heaven's massive jazz band just got a lot more swing.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Ralph Gleason: Prophet

I've been in the research tank for the past month, thanks to the San Francisco Chronicle finally being available as a searchable online archive. That option didn't exist for most newspapers when I gathered information for my Guaraldi biography, back in 2008 through 2011. Since then, just about every newspaper — large and small — has been granted that sort of Internet presence. Some are free to the general public; some are free when accessed via libraries (particularly university libraries); some are locked behind the paywalls at newsbank.com or newspapers.com.

During the past decade, as the archives of newspapers of particular importance to Guaraldi's career became available — the San Francisco Examiner, the Oakland Tribune, the Los Angeles Times and the San Mateo Times, among others — I added club performance details and other bits of information to my Guaraldi timeline. Sometimes a particularly juicy nugget prompted an entry in this blog.

But, maddeningly, the Chronicle — the most important source of Guaraldiana — failed to enter the 21st century.

Until quite recently.

"Giddy" is a good description of how I felt, upon discovery and subsequent exploration. When the dust had settled, after several weeks, I had downloaded more than 250 PDF newspaper pages. Most contained hitherto unknown information; many amplified — and even corrected — existing data that was either incomplete, or totally wrong. As a result, the Guaraldi timeline has been enhanced significantly, and it will continue to expand as I work my way through all the data.

However, this particular Ralph Gleason column deserves a showcase all its own.

This was published on July 5, 1962. Bear in mind, that was not quite three months after the release of Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus; and two months before fellow Chronicle columnist Hal Schaefer reported, on September 15, that Guaraldi had become "the first West Coast jazz pianist to sell over 50,000 albums in less than five weeks."

Gleason's column is noteworthy both for its prescience, and for the unxpected "confession" he makes in the third paragraph, and for the fact that "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" is not mentioned. 

Enjoy!

********

The question in local jazz circles, these days, is "Will success spoil Vince Guaraldi?"

The diminutive Italian leprechaun seems to have a hit on his hands, with his new Fantasy LP, Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus (Fantasy 3337). Already there is action throughout the country; in some areas, such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, it has "taken off," as the trade describes it.

When Vince asked if I would write the notes for the LP, I was a bit hesitant because, although I had dug the Guaraldi treatment of the Orpheus music when I had heard him play it in the clubs, I had not always dug the Guaraldi trio. So when I had a chance to listen to the tapes, I was delightfully surprised. They were a gas, not only for the Orpheus music, but also for the originals by Vince, and for the great version of "Since I Fell for You."

Some albums have "hit" written on them, or so you think when you first hear it. Vince's LP made that impression on me, and I am delighted to find that it is coming true. A single from the album has been widely played on the air, and might even take off on its own.

Offers for the trio's services are coming in now, though Vince still has bitter memories of last Christmas, when he was out of work. His may be the latest in the line of San Francisco groups to break through the sound barrier and become a commercial jazz property. Along with the money that this brings, there are lots of pressures, so the question, "Will success spoil Vince Guaraldi?", is not as idle as it might sound.

Vince, however, treats it with his characteristic flippancy.

"Of course it will," he says, "but I'll have plenty of company."