Monday, February 15, 2021

What's in a word? (Or two?) (Or three?)

You’d think, after slightly more than three decades, that somebody would have noticed and discussed this by now.


But no; it appears to be a recent discovery, brought to my attention by David, a good friend and fellow Guaraldi fan.


Readers of this blog — and probably a good percentage of people throughout the world — undoubtedly know the lyrics of “Christmas Time Is Here” by heart. Goodness, we’ve watched A Charlie Brown Christmas countless times, and played the soundtrack album even more than that.


So we all remember that the show opens with the Peanuts gang ice skating and crooning the tune (actually “ghosted” by young members of the St. Paul’s church choir, from San Rafael, California: a group that included David). It’s a joyous scene, and — following the “Sleigh bells in the air” bridge — this is what we next hear:


Christmas time is here …

Fam-lies drawing near …


A quarter-century passed, before the song was covered by another artist: Patti Austin, on the 1989 compilation album, Happy Anniversary, Charlie Brown!


Following the “Sleigh bells” bridge, this is what she sings:


Christmas time is here …

We’ll be drawing near …


Take a moment. Let it sink in.


Perform an Internet search on the lyricss to “Christmas Time Is Here,” and most results — but not all — show “We’ll be drawing near.” That’s likely due to the way the song is printed — complete with sheet music — on pages 93-95 in Lee Mendelson’s 2000 book, A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition. Because why would anybody assume that Mendelson’s book might be incorrect? After all, he penned the lyrics, back in the day.


“We couldn’t find anybody to write the lyrics,” Mendelson recalled, in a 2008 interview for TV Time Machine. “I called all my Hollywood friends who were songwriters. But nobody took the assignment, so I sat down, and in about 10 minutes wrote the words to ‘Christmas Time Is Here’ on an envelope.


“I sure wish I still had that envelope!”


Well, we may not have the envelope, but we have something almost as good: the song’s copyright deposit, filed with the U.S. Library of Congress on February 7, 1966. You can see the relevant bit at the top of the second page, shown at left:


Fam-lys. Growing (!)


So … what happened?


Did Lee change his mind, at some point between 1965 and 2000? Did he mis-remember? Did he hear and prefer Patti Austin’s slight modification?


(I sure wish I’d learned about this sooner, because he’s no longer around to ask. More’s the pity.)

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Valentine's Day treat

Celebrated solo pianist George Winston, a longtime Guaraldi fan, will devote this weekend's live-streamed concert to compositions from Dr. Funk's catalogue.

It will take place at 7 p.m. (Eastern time) and 4 p.m. (Pacific), on Sunday, February 14.

The performance is in support of Feeding America, and donations can be made here. The concert's direct YouTube link is here, and it'll likely be available via Winston's Facebook page, as well.

The tentative set list will include selections from Winston's two tribute albums — Linus and Lucy: The Music of Vince Guaraldi, and Love Will Come: The Music of Vince Guaraldi, Volume 2 — along with a preview of material from his upcoming album, Count the Ways: The Music of Vince Guaraldi, Volume 3. Following the pattern of those albums, many of the selections will be medleys, with two or three Guaraldi themes weaving in and around each other. One tune, "The Masked Marvel," will be performed in the style of famed New Orleans rhythm and blues keyboardist James Booker, another of Winston's musical inspirations.

Set your reminders!

Sunday, January 24, 2021

The respect of one's peers

My good friend Scott recently called my attention to the fact that jazz vibraphonist Tony Miceli's 2014 album with violinist Diane Monroe, Alone Together, includes an original track titled "Vince Guaraldi."

"For a lot of people my age," Miceli notes, "[A Charlie Brown Christmas] might have been your first exposure to jazz. [Guaraldi] wrote beautiful melodies, and as my musical taste grew, I began to realize more and more how heavy he was. Thinking of him was a great inspiration for me."

Vexingly, the album isn't available for listening on Spotify or Amazon, but you can watch Miceli deliver a live performance of "Vince Guaraldi" here. The Guaraldi vibe isn't exactly obvious, but I do detect the wistful quality of "Rain, Rain Go Away" and "Great Pumpkin Waltz."

This reminded me that I'd earlier written about the 2016 John Stowell/Michael Zilber Quartet album, Basement Blues, which includes an original composition titled "Have Yourself a Vince Guaraldi Xmas." Again, an obvious nod to Vince's work is hard to detect, although (as I said then) "faint suggestions of 'Christmas Time Is Here' hover throughout." You can investigate that here.

And this got me thinking...

Album tributes to Guaraldi's score for A Charlie Brown Christmas have become ubiquitous; I've most recently tabulated them here. All four of Guaraldi's original compositions from that TV special also have gotten heavy coverage, as has "Cast Your Fate to the Wind," which has become one of the most oft-covered anthems in the jazz pantheon.

But what about all of Guaraldi's other original compositions?

The Dan Dance Trio's 2003 album, Live at the PY, includes a reading of "Ginza Samba," which can be enjoyed here. Brad Myers and Michael Sharfe's 2016 album, Sanguinaria, features a tasty arrangement of "Great Pumpkin Waltz," which you'll find here. How 'Bout Now, a 1993 album by the Portland, Oregon, jazz trio Tall Jazz, features a sensational cover of "Red Baron." You'll have to take my word for that one, because the album is woefully out of print, and nowhere to be found online.

French horn player Aaron Brask led a jazz/string combo that covers a whopping 20 compositions on his 2010 album, The Guaraldi Sessions; samples are listenable here. (The instrumentation is unusual, to say the least, and the album doesn't exactly swing. But it's enjoyable nonetheless.) Northern California jazz pianist Terry Disley and his quartet cover five Guaraldi compositions, including "Treat Street" and "Peppermint Patty," on their 2011 album Brubeck Vs. Guaraldi; check his website for more information. And former Guaraldi drummer Jerry Granelli includes a cover of "Star Song" (along with "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" and "Christmas Time Is Here") on his 2020 album Plays Vince Guaraldi and Mose Allison, as I previously mentioned here.

So ... what else is Out There?

To quote the former (and dearly missed!) Los Angeles-based sci-fi radio talk show Hour 25, I'm calling on the Group Mind for some assistance, in order to compile a definitive — or at least, somewhat longer — list of Guaraldi covers. But there are some ground rules:

• Ignore "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" and the four Charlie Brown Christmas compositions ("Linus and Lucy," "Skating," "Christmas Is Coming" and "Christmas Time Is Here"). We're after the less common stuff.

• Ignore the efforts of Cal Tjader, George Winston and Davis Benoit. They're too easy.

• And while we're at it, are there any other Guaraldi tribute compositions, along the lines of the ones mentioned above by Tony Miceli and the Stowell/Zilber Quartet?

So c'mon, gang. Acknowledgement will be given, and I'll amend this blog entry — or prepare an entirely new one, if warranted — as the information rolls in.