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 or

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. 



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."

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