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.

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