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.)

 

What I did not mention in that post — but also had learned — was that it appeared as though one or two “master tapes” were held in the LoC’s American Archive of Public Broadcasting. Despite the obvious excitement resulting from this potential breakthrough, journalistic prudence dictated verification; I therefore shared my information with Doug, who renewed his email correspondence with LoC staff.

 

They replied quickly. On May 18, we got confirmation of a 2-inch videotape containing the fills for the first seven episodes of Stories of Guy de Maupassant … but no others. Thanks to his relationship with LoC staff, and after explaining the rarity and significance of this footage, Doug persuaded them to mark the videotape for digital preservation.

 

I’ll turn the rest of the saga over to Doug, as he was the “man on site” from that point forward:

 

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Library of Congress staff confirmed in late May 2020 that the fills had been flagged, but explained that it would take awhile, because the machines employed to transfer old 2-inch videotapes can only be used during the low-humidity months of fall and winter. The initial estimate, therefore, was that I might be able to view the transfers sometime in mid-autumn. 

 

But as you may recall, by May the global pandemic had thrown a monkey wrench into everything, including the closing of all LoC public facilities. Even so, some work continued behind closed doors. 

 

I finally received word on November 18, that the tape had been successfully digitized … but LOC facilities still weren’t open, so there was no way to viewit. I pestered the helpful and patient librarians intermittently for the next seven months, until finally receiving word in mid-June that facilities soon would open to researchers, on an appointment-only basis. 

 

When I finally made it in, on June 21, I was the first post-Covid researcher to visit the Recorded Sound Division.

 

Special thanks therefore go out to both Bryan Cornell (of Recorded Sound) and Zoran Sinobad (of Moving Pictures), at the Library of Congress, for their assistance in making all of this happen. Many thanks also to the tech (whose identity I don’t know) who did the expert conservation and transfer of the aged 2-inch videotape.


The roughly hour-length footage I viewed consists of nine separate performances, listed below. According to the film slate displayed before each performance, all nine were recorded on August 21, 1964, at San Francisco’s KQED-TV: the studio where the Vince/Bola Jazz Casual TV session with Ralph Gleason had been recorded several months earlier. (However, parties unknown apparently channeled their inner Alexander Calder, and filled the studio with a mid-century sculptural thang twisting its way through space, with spiky appendages dangling menacingly down.)

All concerned obviously knew, at the time of recording, how NET planned to use the performances, since the slate reads “De Maupassant Music Fillers.”

 

The video quality is wonderful: some of the best performance footage of Guaraldi in existence. It’s the closest we’re ever going to get, to catching a mid-1960s Guaraldi set at El Matador or another West Coast watering hole. Unlike the informal attire evident in their Jazz Casual set, Vince, his sidemen, and Bola suited up for these performances, as they did for the era’s nightclub gigs.

 

In this particular incarnation, the members of the Vince Guaraldi Trio were Tom Beeson (bass) and John Rae (drums). The performances are as follows, numbered as designated on the film slate shown prior to each segment:

 

Segment 1: Bola Sete, “My Dear”/“Little Fish” (4:40)

This is a solo performance of a two-song medley, as announced by superimposed titles. (The latter song is the same as the track “Little Fishes,” plural, found on the Guaraldi/Sete album From All Sides.)

 

Segment 2: Bola Sete, “Sevillana” (5:02)

A second solo performance.

 

Segment 3: The Vince Guaraldi Trio and Bola Sete, “Star Song” (5:03)

The only fill that features Vince and Bola together, this is a gorgeous, lilting rendition of one of Guaraldi’s most charming compositions. A full 5 minutes in length, it shows Vince and Bola at their most synced and simpatico, and gives each an opportunity to solo. They’re both deep in a shared groove, and it’s magical to see their musical complementarity in motion. Unlike in the Jazz Casual footage initially broadcast six months earlier, Vince’s ubiquitous cigarettes are nowhere to be seen, but he’s visibly getting his money’s worth out of some chewing gum in the performance’s opening shots. 

 

Segment 4, Take 1: The Vince Guaraldi Trio, “Linus and Lucy” (4:45)

Vince gives a confident and playful reading of his iconic Peanuts title tune, which is made all the more remarkable by the fact that this probably is the earliest known recording of “Linus and Lucy.” Most Americans wouldn’t hear this song until December of the following year, with the broadcast of A Charlie Brown Christmas. Vince’s solo excursions in the middle of this performance underscore the fact that this tune wasn’t mere “cartoon music,” but genuine, bona fide jazz.

 

Segment 4, Take 2: The Vince Guaraldi Trio, “Linus and Lucy” (4:45)

Not sure why they needed another take, as the first was excellent. But this is another great reading — spirited and confident — and I’m glad to have heard it. How does he maintain that left-hand vamp so accurately and effortlessly? During both takes, he wraps things up with a mock fade-out, increasingly sotto voce, capped by a pointed cue for the single cymbal strike that concludes the song.

 

Segment 5: The Vince Guaraldi Trio, “The Twilight of Youth” (5:01)

This is one of the two biggest highlights of the NET fills: a Guaraldi composition that I’d never heard before, and that hasn’t been recorded elsewhere (that we’re aware of). Beginning with a gentle cascade of raindrop-like trills, “Twilight” is a languid, wistful tune, as the title suggests. Although the song and the performance are all Guaraldi, the cadence and vibe conjure up the feel of the jazz classic, “On Green Dolphin Street,” if I had to cite a musical analogue. The song’s middle section builds to a minor crescendo that provides dynamic contrast and a sense of narrative direction, before resolving back to the original tune and a dusk-like fade. One downward progression reminds me of a similar spot in Vince's “Theme to Grace,” but “Twilight” is a wholly different and wonderful composition.

 

Segment 6: The Vince Guaraldi Trio, “Water Street” (5:01)

The other highlight: the second unavailable-anywhere-else Guaraldi composition. “Water Street” opens with a back-and-forth volley between two sets of minor chords before resolving into the tuneful bop of the main melody. The song is pure Guaraldi, circa mid-1960s: a sunny, finger-snapping melody with hints of modal melancholy around the edges. It moves and grooves until it bursts into a passionate crescendo of block chords, before wending its way back to a happy nonchalance. It easily could have made an anchor theme for a Peanuts TV special, and it’s a surprising shame that Guaraldi never recorded it for an LP.

 

Segment 7, Take 1: Vince Guaraldi, “Treat Street” (5:00)

The final song for the NET fills — repeated for two takes — finds Vince playing solo, sans Trio. This performance of “Treat Street” is discernibly more up-tempo than the LP recording on Latin Side, with Vince energetically filling the space that would typically be occupied by sidemen. My favorite parts were the close-ups of the keyboard, when you could see the machine gun-like rapidity of Vince’s playing style (with pinky ring, of course!). It underscored the complexity of this particular tune, which I’ve long imagined was a mainstay of nightclub performances from that period (perhaps influenced by the fact that Lee Mendelson used it as the background for a montage of music club footage in his 1965 short film — San Francisco, San Francisco, San Francisco — promoting travel to that iconic city).

 

Segment 7, Take 2: Vince Guaraldi, “Treat Street” (3:44)

A second solo take of the same song, noticeably briefer. Each performance has a couple of very minor missteps, but nothing hugely problematic. As with the “Linus and Lucy” performances, I'd have a hard time choosing a favorite from between the two takes.

 

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Many, many thanks, Doug. Until this footage gains wider exposure — if ever! — you’ve granted us the next best thing to being at your side.

 

A few observations:

• Doug probably is correct, in that this could be the earliest known recordings of “Linus and Lucy.” Mendelson’s documentary, A Boy Named Charlie Brown, was announced in April 1964, and he didn’t settle on Guaraldi right away, having first pitched the scoring assignment to Dave Brubeck and Cal Tjader. (Both turned him down.) Ergo, Guaraldi likely didn’t come on board until May, and several more weeks passed (putting us into June?) before he excitedly debuted “Linus and Lucy” during a phone call with Mendelson. The August 21 KQED fills session occurred two full months before Guaraldi — with bassist Monty Budwig and drummer Colin Bailey — laid down the soundtrack LP, on October 26 in Southern California’s Whitney Studio. And this is important: The finished documentary score employs some of the LP tracks, but other cues — particularly “Oh, Good Grief,” “Schroeder” and “Baseball Theme” — are unique to the film, and obviously were recorded elsewhere, likely with different sidemen. Alas, I don’t know when, where or with whom. Doug covered this topic extensively in an earlier blog post, and he couldn’t determine with certainty whether the documentary’s sole — and brief — use of “Linus and Lucy” was the LP version. 

 

• The above details aside, this isn’t the only time Guaraldi was filmed, while playing “Linus and Lucy.” Mendelson’s 1969 documentary, Charlie Brown and Charles Schulz, includes fleeting footage of Guaraldi’s combo performing the tune at the 1968 Monterey Jazz Festival.

 

• Comparing the run times above, with the data provided by the NET Microfiche Special Collection (see below), you’ll notice quite a few differences. The data entries could be incorrect, but it’s more likely — given the varying lengths of the de Maupassant episodes — that some fills were faded out prematurely, as necessary, during broadcast.

 

            1) War — “Linus and Lucy,” Vince Guaraldi Trio, 3:50

            2) Women and Money — “My Dear/Little Fish” (medley), Bola Sete, 4:40

            3) Fathers and Sons — “Sevillana,” Bola Sete, 4:55

            4) Getting Married — “Water Street,” Vince Guaraldi Trio, 4:55

            5) Secrets — “Treat Street,” Vince Guaraldi (solo), 5:00

            6) Yvette (no fill necessary)

            7) Wives and Lovers — “Star Song,” Vince Guaraldi/Bola Sete Quartet, 3:55

            8) The Inheritance — “Linus and Lucy,” Vince Guaraldi Trio, 3:55

            9) Husbands and Wives — “Twilight of Youth,” Vince Guaraldi Trio, 4:55

            10) Story of a Farm Girl — “Treat Street,” Vince Guaraldi (solo), 3:45

            11) Bachelors — “C Major Concerto for Two Trumpets,” Voisin and Ghitalla, 8:10

            12) Consequences — “Star Song,” Vince Guaraldi/Bola Sete Quartet (repeat), 3:55

            13) Foolish Wives — “E Flat Concerto for Two Trumpets,” Voisin and Ghitalla, 7:44

 

• And the biggie: Contrary to the May 18 LoC note, which implied that they possessed fills only for the first seven de Maupassant episodes, I’m convinced that digitized tape contains the entirety of Guaraldi and Sete’s performances. No song is missing, and the doubled use of “Linus and Lucy” and “Treat Street” could explain the two takes of each. We need only assume that the single quartet reading of “Star Song” was used twice, for episodes 7 and 12. (For that matter, we can’t be sure whether one or both versions of “Linus and Lucy” and “Treat Street” were used, unless we eventually find de Maupassant episode tapes with the fills attached.)

 

All things considered, then, this is a massive find. Guaraldi wasn’t filmed much during his career, and — from what Doug has described — this footage sounds far superior to what little is available elsewhere.


Like, wow.


4 comments:

Simón said...

Wow! How I wish I could see it. At the least, it has been preserved while the tape is still in good shape. Any plans for a visit to the Recorded Sound Division to see for yourself?

Derrick Bang said...

I wish! But no, there aren't any trips to D.C. in my immediate future...

Byron S said...

I've always wondered why they don't release these performances. The fans would love "new" material, especially from someone who does not have alot of existing video footage available. And the obvious...they could make money off of it.

Derrick Bang said...

I don't have a good answer, although -- in this particular case -- nobody knew this stuff existed, until Doug and I sleuthed it out. Perhaps, in time, the key rights holders will express interest.