Saturday, September 25, 2021

Colin Bailey: Gentleman drummer

Colin Bailey, Monty Budwig and Vince Guaraldi, performing at The Trident — their
favored "home" for a few years — likely during the autumn of 1961.

“I learned so much from Vince: how to be a better jazz player. He made me play good. He inspired me. When I first started playing with him, I was in over my head; I was quite inexperienced with jazz, at that level. To play with him — that caliber of player, every night — was incredible. I got used to it. Vince improved my playing, just by playing with him and Monty [Budwig].”




It has been a rough summer.


We lost Jerry Granelli on July 20, and I just learned that Colin Bailey left us this past Monday, September 20. He’d been hospitalized with a case of pneumonia, after having recovered from Covid-19. At age 87, the poor guy never had a chance. 


He was the final link to Guaraldi’s first two classic trios. Monty Budwig died comparatively early, on March 9, 1992: well over a decade before I even considered writing a Guaraldi bio. Eddie Duran was next, on November 22, 2019; Dean Reilly went earlier this year, on March 9.


Colin was one of my most gracious interview subjects, and I loved chatting with him. He and Chuck Gompertz were the most candid, enthusiastic and helpful; I’m hard-pressed to determine which of the two I spent more time with, in person and on the phone … but I’m pretty sure it was Colin.


I first met him — after a few phone chats — on April 23, 2010, at his apartment in Martinez. It was a lunchtime visit; I stopped at a sandwich shop en route, and picked up a couple of subs. (I was armed with his preference.) I remember wondering, as I parked at the apartment complex, how a drummer could possibly rehearse at home, without driving half a dozen neighbors out of their minds. The answer was an eye-opener: He’d had a special sound-proofed “cubby” installed in one corner of his living room, with clear walls on two sides. It was just large enough for his kit, and his chair. (Such accommodations may be common among drummers, but it certainly was new to me.) We had lunch, chatted for several hours, and then he happily obliged when (of course!) I asked him to strut his stuff … which he did, for a breathtaking 20 minutes.


It was a marvelous afternoon, well worth battling Bay Area traffic during the drive home.


Colin was born in Swindon, England, and began playing drums at age 4; by 18, he was working with English name bands. He moved to Australia in the late 1950s, and became a staff drummer at Sydney’s TV Channel 9, which allowed him to work with visiting jazz luminaries such as Dizzy Gillespie and Sarah Vaughan. Colin subsequently joined pianist Bryce Rohde’s Australian Jazz Quartet, which soon was hired to tour the United States as the opening act for the Kingston Trio.


“My wife and I got green cards, and sold everything we had. We came over not knowing what would happen; we didn’t have a lot of money. We arrived in the States in 1961, and played San Francisco on the final weekend of the tour; it was a Friday night, May 26. Vince and Monty came by and heard me, and Vince said he liked the way I played, and invited me to sit in during their Monday night gig at the Jazz Workshop.


“The next week, I was at a drum shop, just hanging out, and the owner said ‘Hey, there’s a phone call for you.’ It was Vince, saying that he’d like to have me in his trio.


“I couldn’t believe my luck; I’d only been in the States for seven weeks, and here Vince was offering me a steady gig. Talk about being in the right place at the right time!”


Colin joined Vince’s trio in July 1961, replacing Benny Barth. Colin remained with Guaraldi until January 27, 1963, when he left to join Victor Feldman’s band in Hollywood. Even so, he and Monty continued to worked with Vince occasionally, during the rest of the 1960s.


I can’t begin to do justice to Colin’s subsequent career in this space, but his web site has an excellent biography.


Colin was present for — and recorded — Guaraldi’s two most significant songs: “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” and “Linus and Lucy.”


Colin vividly remembered the sharp learning curve “Fate” forced upon him.


“It took a lot, getting to know the logistics of that song, from a drummer’s point of view. I had to learn how to get that cymbal bells Latin sound, and I had to do it with the ring at the end of the brush, because there wasn’t enough time to change brushes to sticks. I also had to use the floor toms — on which I usually keep the sticks or brushes, when I’m not using them — because I had a solo. To this day, I don’t remember how I managed to do that. It was one of the hardest logistical things I’ve ever had to deal with.”


Dean Reilly, Colin and Eddie Duran.
Colin and I stayed in touch, which wasn’t true of everybody I interviewed. A few months after my book was published, I had the opportunity to assemble a “dream team” for a private concert on June 30, 2012. I gathered Colin, Dean and Eddie — along with “youngster” Jim Martinez, on piano — for a fabulous 90-minute performance in front of an audience of 100 or so. Talk about a night to remember!

Colin and I lost touch when he and his wife moved south to Port Hueneme, in Ventura County, three years later.


The first appendix in my Guaraldi bio is a series of personal comments about him, from the many sidemen who played with him over the years. I concluded the several dozen warm observations with a brief, wistful remark from Colin, which seemed the perfect coda for the book. And it’s the perfect way to end this post.


“I wish [Vince] were still here, so we could play again.”

I wish all of them were still here.

1 comment:

Paul I. said...

This has indeed been a rough year.