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. 

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