Saturday, September 25, 2021

Colin Bailey: Gentleman drummer

Colin Bailey, Monty Budwig and Vince Guaraldi, performing at The Trident — their
favored "home" for a few years — likely during the autumn of 1961.

“I learned so much from Vince: how to be a better jazz player. He made me play good. He inspired me. When I first started playing with him, I was in over my head; I was quite inexperienced with jazz, at that level. To play with him — that caliber of player, every night — was incredible. I got used to it. Vince improved my playing, just by playing with him and Monty [Budwig].”

 

Sigh.

 

It has been a rough summer.

 

We lost Jerry Granelli on July 20, and I just learned that Colin Bailey left us this past Monday, September 20. He’d been hospitalized with a case of pneumonia, after having recovered from Covid-19. At age 87, the poor guy never had a chance. 

 

He was the final link to Guaraldi’s first two classic trios. Monty Budwig died comparatively early, on March 9, 1992: well over a decade before I even considered writing a Guaraldi bio. Eddie Duran was next, on November 22, 2019; Dean Reilly went earlier this year, on March 9.

 

Colin was one of my most gracious interview subjects, and I loved chatting with him. He and Chuck Gompertz were the most candid, enthusiastic and helpful; I’m hard-pressed to determine which of the two I spent more time with, in person and on the phone … but I’m pretty sure it was Colin.

 

I first met him — after a few phone chats — on April 23, 2010, at his apartment in Martinez. It was a lunchtime visit; I stopped at a sandwich shop en route, and picked up a couple of subs. (I was armed with his preference.) I remember wondering, as I parked at the apartment complex, how a drummer could possibly rehearse at home, without driving half a dozen neighbors out of their minds. The answer was an eye-opener: He’d had a special sound-proofed “cubby” installed in one corner of his living room, with clear walls on two sides. It was just large enough for his kit, and his chair. (Such accommodations may be common among drummers, but it certainly was new to me.) We had lunch, chatted for several hours, and then he happily obliged when (of course!) I asked him to strut his stuff … which he did, for a breathtaking 20 minutes.

 

It was a marvelous afternoon, well worth battling Bay Area traffic during the drive home.

 

Colin was born in Swindon, England, and began playing drums at age 4; by 18, he was working with English name bands. He moved to Australia in the late 1950s, and became a staff drummer at Sydney’s TV Channel 9, which allowed him to work with visiting jazz luminaries such as Dizzy Gillespie and Sarah Vaughan. Colin subsequently joined pianist Bryce Rohde’s Australian Jazz Quartet, which soon was hired to tour the United States as the opening act for the Kingston Trio.

 

“My wife and I got green cards, and sold everything we had. We came over not knowing what would happen; we didn’t have a lot of money. We arrived in the States in 1961, and played San Francisco on the final weekend of the tour; it was a Friday night, May 26. Vince and Monty came by and heard me, and Vince said he liked the way I played, and invited me to sit in during their Monday night gig at the Jazz Workshop.

 

“The next week, I was at a drum shop, just hanging out, and the owner said ‘Hey, there’s a phone call for you.’ It was Vince, saying that he’d like to have me in his trio.

 

“I couldn’t believe my luck; I’d only been in the States for seven weeks, and here Vince was offering me a steady gig. Talk about being in the right place at the right time!”

 

Colin joined Vince’s trio in July 1961, replacing Benny Barth. Colin remained with Guaraldi until January 27, 1963, when he left to join Victor Feldman’s band in Hollywood. Even so, he and Monty continued to worked with Vince occasionally, during the rest of the 1960s.

 

I can’t begin to do justice to Colin’s subsequent career in this space, but his web site has an excellent biography.

 

Colin was present for — and recorded — Guaraldi’s two most significant songs: “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” and “Linus and Lucy.”

 

Colin vividly remembered the sharp learning curve “Fate” forced upon him.

 

“It took a lot, getting to know the logistics of that song, from a drummer’s point of view. I had to learn how to get that cymbal bells Latin sound, and I had to do it with the ring at the end of the brush, because there wasn’t enough time to change brushes to sticks. I also had to use the floor toms — on which I usually keep the sticks or brushes, when I’m not using them — because I had a solo. To this day, I don’t remember how I managed to do that. It was one of the hardest logistical things I’ve ever had to deal with.”

 

Dean Reilly, Colin and Eddie Duran.
Colin and I stayed in touch, which wasn’t true of everybody I interviewed. A few months after my book was published, I had the opportunity to assemble a “dream team” for a private concert on June 30, 2012. I gathered Colin, Dean and Eddie — along with “youngster” Jim Martinez, on piano — for a fabulous 90-minute performance in front of an audience of 100 or so. Talk about a night to remember!

Colin and I lost touch when he and his wife moved south to Port Hueneme, in Ventura County, three years later.

 

The first appendix in my Guaraldi bio is a series of personal comments about him, from the many sidemen who played with him over the years. I concluded the several dozen warm observations with a brief, wistful remark from Colin, which seemed the perfect coda for the book. And it’s the perfect way to end this post.

 

“I wish [Vince] were still here, so we could play again.”


I wish all of them were still here.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Bits & bobs

Photo courtesy of Peggy Tillman
Ever more research resources continue to appear online, and each new discovery often adds a tantalizing nugget — or two, or 20 — to Guaraldi’s career. My most recent find is the California Digital Newspaper Collection, which seems devoted primarily to small, late 19th- and early 20th-century regional newspapers. But the database also includes a healthy number of high school and college newspapers, which delivered some nice nuggets. Several more stops on the Guaraldi/Sete Quartet’s October 1965 California college tour were added to my Guaraldi timeline, and — better yet — a few of the colleges publicized and reviewed the performances.

It’s always fun to see how Guaraldi was perceived at the time, and what he played, and — if interviewed — what he discussed.

 

The quartet performed at Sacramento City College on October 12. Five days earlier, the campus newspaper — The Pony Express — published an article to help promote the upcoming concert. Most of the information clearly was lifted from the publicity packet that the college received ahead of time, which must have been the source of this intriguing second sentence:

 

Pianist Guaraldi and Sete were ordered to combine their acts by “President” Dizzy Gillespie, after they appeared at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1962.

 

I possess copies of several Guaraldi publicity packets, which became more informative as the 1960s progressed; I’ve never before seen that statement. It’s true that Gillespie “discovered” Sete in the spring of 1962, while the latter was performing solo at San Francisco’s Sheraton Palace. And yes, Guaraldi and Sete both performed at the fifth annual Monterey Jazz Festival, in late September … but separately. Sete subsequently joined Gillespie’s band long enough to be part of the trumpeter’s next album, New Wave. Sete then flew to New York City and fronted his own trio at the Park-Sheraton Hotel for four months. When that gig concluded, he returned to San Francisco and began a seven-week solo stint at Sugar Hill. According to Fantasy Records’ then-“official” biography of Sete, written by jazz critic Russ Wilson, that’s where Guaraldi caught up with Sete in July 1963.

 

No mention of Gillespie’s helpful “edict,” although it certainly could have been an encouraging suggestion, at some point.

 

Further along in the same Pony Express article, the anonymous author injects a bit of opinion:

 

Guaraldi rose to national attention after KROY (a Sacramento station) disc jockey Tony Bigg played the “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” track from a Guaraldi recording of jazz impressions of the film Black Orpheus.

 

The recording was surprisingly accepted by the teenagers who make or break popular records.

 

You gotta love that second sentence. “Surprisingly”?

 

The article concludes with the following promise of things to come:

 

Recently, Guaraldi composed music for a Mass at the Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, and he will soon complete another composition, “San Francisco Suite.”

 

Alas, we know that didn’t happen.

 

Photo courtesy of Peggy Tillman
The quartet’s performance was reviewed in The Pony Express — again anonymously — on October 21. The writer noted that the set list included “Cast Your Fate to the Wind,” two “Jazz Impressions of Charlie Brown,” a “delightful” rendition of the Jimmie Rodgers tune “The World I Used to Know,” and a “swingy waltz” called “Skating.”

That’s the only reference I’ve found, to “The World I Used to Know”; Guaraldi never recorded it on an album. But the presence of “Skating” is more of an eye-opener, as it likely means that sparkling jazz waltz was a regular part of the entire tour’s set list … a couple of months before it debuted for the world in A Charlie Brown Christmas.

 

One of the tour’s final stops — perhaps the final stop — was at Citrus College, in Glendora, on October 29. The performance was reviewed on November 5 in the Citrus College Clarion, and journalist Frank Cernelli combined that coverage with an interview with Guaraldi.

 

The lengthy article includes these tidbits:

 

[Guaraldi] also plays, but not professionally, the guitar and organ, and is building a harpsichord in his spare time. “I like putting things together,” he declared.

 

……..

 

After finishing a round of 26 California college concerts, [Guaraldi] will tour Oregon. He is also considering the possibility of touring England early next year.

 

……..

 

Summing up his musical philosophy, [Guaraldi] said, “I strive for freedom of musical expression, and clarity of thought.”

 

That final remark is a bit … well … pompous, and seems to have more to do with Zen meditation than performing jazz. But, whatever.

 

Building a harpsichord, eh? Could be true; if so, he may even have used it during local gigs.

 

He may well have toured Oregon in November 1965; I have absolutely no information about his movements that month. (I need to find a comparable Oregon digital newspaper collection!) But he definitely never made it to England in early 1966, or any time thereafter.


And that’s it for now. 

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Vinyl madness 2021

Well, they clearly see us coming.

The "vinyl variants" of A Charlie Brown Christmas must be selling quite well each holiday season, because this promotional gimmick has been going strong since 2015. By my count, we've seen slightly more than two dozen, with more to come this year.

I'm curious ... has anybody reading this blog faithfully purchased all of them? If so, let me know; I'd love to acknowledge your devotion.

Anyway...

The fun begins this year in an unexpected manner, with Craft's (believe it or not) pumpkin-shaped orange vinyl edition of its recently issued soundtrack for It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. It's expected to ship September 17. (I'm pleased to see they found a clever way to include the liner notes I wrote for that release.)



Moving on to A Charlie Brown Christmas, Wal-Mart's offering -- a red glitter vinyl disc packaged in silver foil -- is available now:


Barnes & Noble will offer an exclusive limited-edition picture disc, packaged in silver foil, and with an embossed jacket, expected to be available on October 1:



Urban Outfitters is unleashing a clear vinyl disc with red and green splatters, also scheduled for October 1 (Actually, this is merely new packaging; it's the same "exclusive LP" as 2020, but in a foil sleeve instead of last year's lenticular sleeve):


Target has a metallic gold swirl vinyl, along with a new art poster. It's also available now:

And you have to love the peppermint vinyl soon to be available from RSD Essentials, due out October 15:


Newbury Comics also will unveil their variant on October 15, with green swirl vinyl:



Craft will hit us with a "glitter-infused clear vinyl" LP, scheduled for October 1. But I can't help quoting the caveat the label includes, in the description of this one: "Please note that vinyl additives such as glitter may, but should not, affect sound quality." 

Is this what we've come to? "Exclusive" LPs that aren't (necessarily) designed to be played?


Anyway...

In addition to these vinyl variants, numerous retailers also will offer the standard LP — which is to say, plain black vinyl — in a "silver foil" edition with the foil "wrapped" onto the outer sleeve, and the Peanuts characters embossed. This short video gives a better sense of how that will look, than any of the still photos I've found.

And here's a late entry from vinylmeplease.com, in "red and green marble vinyl" ... although -- be advised -- the price point on this one is much higher than the others.



This is all I know about at the moment, but it's entirely possible that one or more other outlets will jump on board, as autumn arrives. If so, I'll add them to this post ... so keep checking back.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Number one no more

For more than half a century, it has been assumed true.

And — of course — we’ve wanted to continue believing it was true.

 

Alas … no.

 

When the Rev. Charles Gompertz contemplated the notion of a Jazz Mass to help celebrate the completion of San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral — the first major Anglican cathedral to be consecrated in the United States — he knew this notion was radical. Indeed — as he told me more than once, during our numerous interviews — to his knowledge, no American church had ever employed jazz in a worship setting. Gompertz was aware of only one earlier near-miss. Geoffrey Beaumont, a London priest, had composed a Jazz Mass in 1956: a work scored for a cantor and a jazz quartet. Beaumont and his composition made the news in 1957, but the vicar’s performances of this work always took placed after his regular services at St. George’s, in Camberwell.

 

During preparation and the lengthy rehearsals that went into Vince Guaraldi’s Grace Cathedral Mass, and thereafter for the rest of his life, Gompertz firmly believed that it was the first Jazz Mass presented during an American church service of any kind. During the extensive research for my Guaraldi biography, back in 2010 and ’11, I found nothing to contradict this belief.

 

Ah, but my good friend Bill Carter — reverend of the First Presbyterian Church in Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania — had “inside tipsters” and access to better resources: most crucially, Derick Cordoba’s 2017 doctoral dissertation, Liturgical Jazz: The Lineage of the Subgenre in the Music of Edgar E. Summerlin, presented at the Graduate College of the University of Illinois, at Urbana-Champaign. 

 

Bill, this blog’s readers will recall, officiated a 50th anniversary presentation of Guaraldi’s Mass at his Clarks Summit church on September 6, 2015; the jazz elements were performed by his Presbybop Quartet: Bill (piano), Al Hamme (sax and flute), Tony Marino (bass) and Tyler Dempsey (drums). In addition to the lengthy rehearsals preceding this presentation, Bill also had spent many months transcribing the Mass: something that hadn’t ever been done (and a process made even harder by the fact that Vince never played the Mass’ music the same way twice, as proven by the few recorded excerpts that exist in addition to Fantasy’s At Grace Cathedral album).

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.)