Sunday, November 27, 2022

A jolly Guaraldi holiday 2022

It's time once again for this annual round-up of Guaraldi-themed concerts taking place between now and the end of the year, most of which (of course!) are tied in to his music from A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Following 2020's much smaller list of streaming-only performances, things initially looked more promising last year. Numerous artists and groups optimistically scheduled live performances, most of which took place as planned. Some, alas, were derailed by Covid's mid- to late December "winter bounce." 

Although we definitely aren't out of the woods yet — with hospitals and caregivers currently getting slammed by the terrible trio of Covid, annual flu and RSV — we seem to have decided, to borrow that wonderful phrase from the British, to keep calm and carry on. This year's roster of performances already is approaching the impressive pre-pandemic numbers. Some musicians no doubt will be masked; some clubs likely will insist that patrons take similar precautions. That said — to borrow yet another famous phrase — the shows will go on. Indeed, some groups have booked impressively lengthy schedules.

Even so, it'll be best to keep an eye on the web site(s) of any artist and/or venue that catches your fancy, to determine if the schedule has shifted.

I first traced the history and growth of this delightful annual tradition back in 2012, with a modest schedule that now seems quaint. This year's post will serve as a clearinghouse for any and all 2022 concerts that come to my attention. As always, I'll add to this schedule as new information becomes available, so you'll want to check back frequently. New entries and listings will be tagged as UPDATES

Let's dig in!

• The Eric Byrd Trio — Byrd, piano and vocals; Bhagwan Khalsa, acoustic bass; and Alphonso Young Jr., drums and percussion — has made a cottage industry of Guaraldi's Charlie Brown Christmas music, having thus far released two cover albums: a 2009 studio project, and a 2021 live performance. Both are available here. Byrd's combo began its 10-show run on November 26, with upcoming performances in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., concluding Friday, December 23, at the Weinberg Center for the Arts, in Frederick, Maryland. Details.

Doc Watkins and his Orchestra began their month-long Christmas in Jazz tributes to the music from A Charlie Brown Christmas at San Antonio's JazzTX, Texas, on November 25. Upcoming shows include December 1-4, 8-11, 15-18 and 20-22. Details. They also scheduled a December 14 performance at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, also in San Antonio. Details. The icing on the cake: By mid-December, you'll be able to buy Watkins' terrific new album, The Music of A Charlie Brown Christmas. Be on the lookout!

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Publicity galore!

(Please forgive the total lack of modesty in what follows. I'll try to keep the bubbling enthusiasm under control, but — really — this is new territory.)

The recent — and still upcoming — releases of the new-and-improved score for It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown, along with the Super Deluxe five-disc collection of music and studio sessions for A Charlie Brown Christmas, have generated a wholly unexpected degree of interest from some high-profile web and print publications.

I suddenly found myself in demand as a "hot get" interview subject ... which is to say, folks came after me, rather than — as was the case when my Guaraldi biography was published, back in 2012 — my having to cold-call jazz radio stations across the country, hoping to find sympathetic DJs willing to plug the book.

To borrow a marvelous line from Chuck Mangione back in the day, when confronted by a massive sold-out venue that he couldn't have imagined, even a few years earlier: "Mother never said there'd be a day like this."

Taking them in publication order:

I had fun chatting with Tony Sokol, at Den of Geek; some of his questions were a bit silly and arch — as befits their style — but they were just as fun to answer, as his more serious queries.

Erik Adams, at Indiewire, probed deep into the back-story of It's the Great Pumpkin, and he emerged with one of the best-researched, engaging and superbly written stories I've ever encountered.

Next up was something I didn't even realize was on my bucket list, until it occurred: Getting interviewed by Variety was an honor all by itself. The fact that the interviewer was Jon Burlingame — The Man, when it comes to soundtrack history and analysis, and author of numerous books including TV's Biggest Hits, The Music of James Bond, and the upcoming Music for Prime Time (all of which I own, or will own) — was akin to getting an audience with the Dalai Lama. Like, wow...


On a more local level, I shared microphones with Sean and Jason Mendelson for a captivating episode of the public affairs radio show Davisville, hosted by Bill Buchanan. (It's a shame the show couldn't have expanded to include the lively chatter before and after taping, which was just as entertaining and informative.)

And Fate had one more surprise in store. When I received the LP copies of Great Pumpkin and the double-disc Charlie Brown Christmas highlights, I was astonished to see that the promotional sticker, attached to the plastic wrap, cited me for the liner notes. How often does that happen?

My understanding is that one more major publicity/promotional event will live-stream toward the end of this month. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Playing for Peanuts

Sunday afternoon was way too much fun.

Constant Companion and I were among the full house present at Santa Rosa’s Luther Burbank Center for the Arts this past Sunday, October 9, for the world premiere of Playing for Peanuts: The Music of Vince Guaraldi.

 

Jazz pianist David Benoit, well regarded as the primo torchbearer for Guaraldi’s Peanuts legacy, along with his trio — Roberto Vally, bass; and Dan Schnelle, drums — were joined by the impressively large Santa Rosa Symphony. (Honestly, I’m not quite sure how all those musicians fit onto the comparatively small stage.) The Symphony was directed by Francesco Lecce-Chong, although Michael Berkowitz earned the spotlight as Principal Pops Conductor (beginning his final season with the Symphony).

 

Berkowitz was an ideal choice as conductor; he’s almost as animated as Bill Melendez’s TV special renditions of Charlie Brown and his friends.

 

This ambitious project has been a collaborative effort, for the past couple of years, between Benoit, Sean Mendelson and Jason Mendelson. Designing, developing and fine-tuning these new orchestrations of Guaraldi’s music — all arranged by Benoit — kept all three occupied while they were sequestered by Covid.

 

Their approach was quite clever: blending Guaraldi’s iconic themes — along with equally delightful, but lesser-known score cues — into themed “medleys.” The long-term goal is to take these new orchestrations “on the road,” and also to make them available for orchestral units across the United States (and anywhere else in the world). For the most part, the medley sequencing is immaterial, as is the decision on how many to include in a given performance by an ensemble of any size. Two, three or four medleys could serve as one-third of an orchestral performance; alternatively, many could be blended to make a two-hour Peanuts Guaraldi extravaganza.

 

Sunday’s Santa Rosa performance, at slightly more than an hour, came somewhere in the middle.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Orpheus rising ... again!

Between the new and improved score for It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (released on August 26) and the five-disc “Definitive, Super Deluxe Edition” of A Charlie Brown Christmas (coming on October 14), this already has been a banner year for Guaraldi fans.

 

As the old television advertising catch-phrase promised … But wait, there’s more!

 

Craft Recordings will release two enhanced editions of Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus in the next several months.

 

First up is the two-CD Deluxe Edition, scheduled for release on November 18. It also will be available in a digital configuration, and a three-disc vinyl format, the latter expected to ship by February 24, 2023. This edition features oodles of bonus tracks.

 

It will be followed by a Small Batch, One-Step Pressing vinyl edition of the original album (no bonus tracks), also expected to ship by February 24, 2023.


Additional details about both can be found here, and do check out this sleek promotion video.

 

I’ll also supply some pertinent data.



The Deluxe Edition features 16 bonus tracks, 12 released for the first time, with outtakes and alternate takes of nearly every track on the original 1962 LP. The package is produced by Nick Phillips, and includes new in-depth liner notes by Andrew Gilbert, a veteran jazz writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Jose Mercury News, KQED Arts and other outlets.

 

The track list is as follows, in the two-CD configuration:

 

Disc 1:

“Samba de Orfeu” 5:42

“Manhã de Carnaval” 5:50

“O Nosso Amor” 4:56

“Felicidade” 4:49

“Cast Your Fate to the Wind” 3:10

“Moon River” 5:21

“Alma-Ville” 5:00

“Since I Fell for You” 4:23

ALTERNATE TAKES

“Samba de Orfeu” (Short Version: Take 1, Set 3, Previously Unreleased) 3:29

“Samba de Orfeu” (Long Version: Take 1, Set 3, Previously Unreleased) 5:48

“Manhã de Carnaval” (Take 1, Set 3, Previously Unreleased) 6:32

“Manhã de Carnaval” (Take 2, Set 3) 6:17

 

Disc 2:

“O Nosso Amor” (Take 1, Set 3, Previously Unreleased) 5:08

“O Nosso Amor” (Take 2, Set 4) 5:00

“Felicidade” (Take 2, Set 2) 4:55

“Felicidade” (Take 4, Set 3 Previously Unreleased) 4:58

“Cast Your Fate to the Wind” (Take 2, Previously Unreleased) 3:02

“Cast Your Fate to the Wind” (Take 3) 3:04

“Cast Your Fate to the Wind” (Take 5, Previously Unreleased) 3:00

“Alma-Ville” (Take 2, Previously Unreleased) 5:03

“Since I Fell for You” (Take 3, Previously Unreleased) 4:21

OUTTAKES

“Jitterbug Waltz” (Take 1, Previously Unreleased) 6:53

“Jitterbug Waltz” (Take 1A, Previously Unreleased) 6:25

“Jitterbug Waltz” (Take 2A, Previously Unreleased) 6:36


Preview "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" (Take 5, Previously Unreleased) here.


(As wonderful as all these freshly released takes are, it's a shame this package doesn't include Ella Jamerson's vocal version of "Cast Your Fate to the Wind," backed by Guaraldi's trio, which still remains unreleased. That would have been a particularly delectable bonus.)

 

********



The Small Batch edition is limited to 3,000 copies worldwide. Each pressing is individually numbered and encased in a foil-stamped, linen-wrapped slipcase featuring an acrylic inset of the original artwork. The vinyl disc — extractable through a frictionless ribbon pull-tab — is housed in a reproduction of the album’s original, tip-on jacket and protected by an archival-quality, anti-static, non-scratching inner sleeve. 

 

This edition has new liner notes by Yours Truly, who is jazzed to note (apologies for the lack of modesty) that Craft’s publicity regards me as “the foremost Guaraldi historian.” That’s pretty cool.


So … fatten up your bank account, because it’s gonna be an expensive couple of months! 

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Vinyl madness 2022

Here we go again...

The vinyl variants of the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack album — an annual merchandising gimmick that has been going strong since 2015 — obviously have been selling well. Concord must be pleased ... particularly since it's quite likely that these sales helped push the album to its spectacular position on the Billboard charts last December, as detailed in this earlier post.

This year's batch will bring the overall total to somewhere slightly north of three dozen, which is astonishing. (And I wonder how many folks have all of them...!)

Important detail: All of these variants will use the album's original mix and mastering, not the new 2022 mix coming with the Deluxe Edition in October.

Let's take a look at what's in store for this holiday season. All items cited below will hit stores on Friday, September 16.


Concord/Craft will tempt us with this lovely "skating pond" vinyl.



Target's green and gold disc will be packaged with a special poster.


Barnes & Noble has a gorgeous picture disc, with different images on the two sides.




Urban Outfitters features this tantalizing red and green "splatter" vinyl.

Walmart has this intriguing red vinyl, with gold flecks.





This "snowstorm" disc is a Record Store Day "Essential."



Finally, vinylmeplease was a late entry, with this olive-green disc.

(I dunno ... olive green just doesn't say "Christmas" to me!)

This is all I know about at the moment, but it's entirely possible that one or more additional outlets will jump on board, as autumn proceeds. If so, I'll add them to this post ... so keep checking back.



Saturday, August 20, 2022

The ghost of Christmas past

Sit back, folks. This post has been a long time coming, and what follows is detailed. 

It's also huge.

I was prompted to finally finish this research after noting — with pleasure — the enthusiastic and rapidly expanding chatter in several audio forums, regarding the just-announced release of the 5-disc mega-set of music from A Charlie Brown Christmas. I've also seen a few probing questions, and received a few e-mails on the same subject, regarding what is and isn't included in the set, and (in a few cases) lamenting the apparent absence of tracks such as "Air Music" (aka "Surfin' Snoopy"), "Charlie Brown Theme" and a few others.

Allow me to clarify such issues, while (hopefully) finally putting some theories and speculations to bed.

To repeat the essential details of Craft Recordings' press release, and my previous post, the prize items within this mega-set are five complete studio recording sessions — full alternate song versions, blown takes, false starts and occasional chatter between the musicians — taking place between September 17 and October 28, 1965, which produced the bulk of the Fantasy soundtrack album. This music must be distinguished, in at least some cases, from the music that was used in the TV special itself, which almost certainly involved cherry-picking cues from other (different) recording sessions, very likely involving different sidemen. (Remember, four sets of sidemen have claimed to be involved with this TV score and/or album, and — because Fantasy kept such poor records — it's impossible to positively state who laid down what, and when, and whether it was used, and where. So let's not go there.)

Let's instead start with the bombshell, a detail already known to some of you, but not all:

The version of A Charlie Brown Christmas that we've all been watching for decades, whether via TV reruns, VHS tapes, DVDs, Blu-rays or streaming options, is not what viewers saw on December 9, 1965.

At some point — likely in the spring or summer of 1966, prior to the special's repeat that December — Lee Mendelson and Bill Melendez went back and "spiffed up" the show.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Christmas comes early!



If the upcoming release of the newly discovered Great Pumpkin score made your eyes sparkle...

...as the old Hollywood saying goes, You ain't seen nuthin' yet.

Craft Recordings has just announced what they're (modestly) calling the "Definitive, Super Deluxe Edition of A Charlie Brown Christmas."

And, honestly, the hyperbole for this five-disc set is justified.

While audiophiles likely will salivate over Disc 5's Blu-Ray Audio 2022 stereo mix and 2022 Dolby Atmos mix of the original 1965 album, the set's true buried treasures will be found on Discs 2 through 4: five original studio recording sessions, taking place between September 17 and October 28 that year, during which most of the album's tracks — and particularly Guaraldi's original tunes — were shaped, rehearsed, modified and occasionally fluffed.

The new stereo mix, along with 13 of the best alternate takes, also is available on a Deluxe Edition double-LP and CD.

The release date for everything above originally was scheduled for October 14.

UPDATE: As of October 4, the single-disc edition has been delayed to November 4, and the five-disc Definitive, Super-Deluxe Edition has been delayed to December 2.

Full details can be found within Craft's press release, which debuts today.

Check out the promotional video here.

As I discuss, within the 56-page booklet that accompanies this release, some of Guaraldi's new songs — notably "Christmas Time Is Here" — began life quite close to the version we know and love today. Others, such as "Skating" and "Christmas Is Coming," had a difficult birth, as Guaraldi wrestled with different bridges and ways to conclude them.

These sessions haven't been edited to remove commentary — and occasional bursts of frustration — between Guaraldi and his sidemen; you'll hear everything precisely as it all occurred, as if you were sitting alongside the recording engineer.

Three tracks are available to preview:




Now — in an effort to forestall some pointed questions — let's discuss what will not be found within this set:

These are, almost entirely, album studio sessions — exceptions noted below — which must be distinguished from the additional sessions (likely with different sidemen) that produced the score as heard in the TV special. (I know this can seem confusing, but they are two entirely different animals.) TV versions of some cues display subtle differences, and — thus far — those studio sessions have yet to be located.

On the other hand, Disc 3 does include one session with the young members of San Rafael's St. Paul's Church Choir, who "doubled" the young actors who voiced Charlie Brown and his friends, when they sing "Christmas Time Is Here." The take which ultimately is accepted appears both on the album, and in the TV special.

And yes: Disc 3 also includes Guaraldi's different versions of "Jingle Bells," as an increasingly annoyed Schroeder attempts to please Lucy. (And even Guaraldi doesn't get each version right, the first time!)

Sadly, the reel(s) for the choir's additional session(s) — which produced the vocal versions of "My Little Drum" and "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing — have yet to be located ... and, believe me, folks looked hard. Ergo, you also won't find those in this set.

But that's hardly cause for major complaint, when we have — as just one example — 16 takes (!) of "Christmas Is Coming," as Guaraldi and his sidemen shape this rockin' tune into its final format.

I had a blast, earlier this year, listening to all of this stuff while writing up fresh liner notes.

I'm sure you gentle readers will be just as jazzed.
 

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

This definitely isn't a rock!


I've been sitting on this information since December.

Craft Recordings went public with the news today, which makes it fair game for this blog.

As I describe in my fresh liner notes, this is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow: the sigh of rapturous satisfaction from Guaraldi fans who for decades believed — nay, insisted — that original Great Pumpkin recording session tapes must exist. Somewhere.

(Yes, I had to borrow a note from one of Charles Schulz's most famous quotes: With this set of liner notes, I had to write the same thing without repeating myself. You can tell me whether I succeeded.)

I guess we can thank Covid.

Assuming one managed to escape getting sick, pandemic-enforced isolation had a few benefits, such as encouraging some of us to finally tackle massive, long-postponed projects of one sort or another. Honestly, what else were we able to do with our time?

The folks over at Lee Mendelson Film Productions spent a year and change spelunking in the darkest corners of their voluminous archives. Marvelous Guaraldi artifacts — some believed lost forever — were unearthed.

This is the first.

Craft's official announcement includes quite a lot of detail, so check it out.

Craft also released a short promo video, which can be seen here. (And I was pleasantly surprised by the shout-out.)

This release actually is better than we could have hoped for, because it includes a number of alternate takes ... and, yes, full-length versions of iconic Peanuts themes heard only partially during the TV special.

"The Great Pumpkin Waltz" (Alternate Take 2) can be heard on various digital platforms, including YouTube.

Barring supply-chain issues, all formats should be available on August 26.

The sole vexing note is that the cover of this new release is almost identical to its inferior 2018 predecessor; fans will need to be extremely careful — particularly with online orders — when purchasing a copy. Yes, the 2022 copyright date is helpful; and yes, the presence of the aforementioned alternates takes, in the track list, is a giveaway. But the quickest distinction is that the 2018 release is called "Music from the soundtrack" (above the album title), whereas the 2022 release is an "Original soundtrack recording."

Even so, I do fear that some casual buyers may not look that closely.

To anticipate the obvious next question, yes, there may be more to come. The Mendelson vaults have yet to be fully archived, and future plans also will depend upon this release's sales (so tell all of your friends and family members to buy one!).

Meanwhile, Linus would be pleased: The Great Pumpkin really did show up this time!

UPDATE 8/26: Although CDs are "in the world" as of today, the street date of the vinyl versions has been bumped back to September 9.


Friday, May 20, 2022

Another sales milestone!

Guaraldi’s soundtrack to 1965’s A Charlie Brown Christmas has just been certified quintuple platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

 

Back in the day, such a count would have been tabulated by physical album sales: LPs and CDs. The RIAA included streams beginning in February 2016, so this Charlie Brown Christmas milestone is based on more than 4 million copies purchased over various formats, and 1.14 billion streams.

 

(The formula is 1,500 on-demand audio and/or video song streams = 10 track sales = 1 album sale.)

 

As always gets mentioned in the same breath, this makes A Charlie Brown Christmas the second-best-selling jazz album of all time, behind Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, which went quintuple platinum in 2019. And as I always point out — most recently in this post, when A Charlie Brown Christmas went quadruple platinum in December 2016 — these RIAA figures are based mostly on electronically recorded sales made subsequent to 1991, when Neilsen SoundScan began tracking data. Clearly, Guaraldi’s album sold many, many copies during the previous quarter-century … but because Fantasy’s record-keeping was so sloppy during those earlier years, a precise figure has been impossible to determine.

 

It’s therefore entirely possible that Guaraldi’s album has surpassed Kind of Blue … but we can only speculate. (In fairness, Davis’ album also sold plenty of copies prior to 1991.)

 

Meanwhile, this is merely the latest in a long line of accolades showered upon Guaraldi’s score. The album first was certified platinum in 1996; was inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2007; and was added to the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry in 2012. Just last December, as detailed in this post, the album reached its highest-ever Billboard chart position, 56 years after its original release. Nor can we overlook Billboard citing A Charlie Brown Christmas at the top of its 50-position Greatest of All Time Holiday Albums List (followed, for those who are curious, by Michael Bublé’s Christmas, Mariah Carey’s Merry Christmas, and Mannheim Steamroller’s A Fresh Aire Christmas and Christmas).


Good ol’ Charlie Brown may not have shone during baseball and football place-kicking, but he’s certainly no slouch when it comes to album sales! 

Thursday, April 21, 2022

More great stuff from the magazine archives!


My previous post concerned the exciting discovery of a searchable online archive for Record World, during its time one of the three primary U.S. weekly music industry trade publications.

 

In my delight over focusing on Record World entries related to Guaraldi, I initially neglected to investigate more about the host site: worldradiohistory.com

 

Oh. My. Goodness.

 

Record World is just one of dozens of magazines and journals offered with similarly searchable archives; you’ll find the list here.

 

Alternatively, clicking on the “Music Magazines” button, along the top row, will open a sub-menu allowing quick access to a given magazine’s entire archive.

 

The depth and scope of this site are simply jaw-dropping.

 

It remains a work in progress; some archives aren’t complete, and occasional issues have missing pages. But it’s still astonishing.

 

Having thoroughly examined Record World, I subsequently turned my attention to BillboardCash Box and Down Beat (as it was known, in the early days). 

 

Billboard began publishing in 1894. The entries are spotty until 1936, after which each year is pretty much complete. (Most crucially, it’s much easier — and more reliable — to search here, than in the Google Books Billboard archives, which return only some hits for a given search term.)

 

Cash Box ran from 1942 to 1996, and its archive is solid.

 

Down Beat, which debuted in 1934, is the most haphazard. 1934-36, 1938 and 1963 are entirely (or mostly) missing, and the entries are thin in 1971-77, and 1979-83.

 

All three magazines yielded plenty of fresh information about Guaraldi. I was particularly pleased by bits and bobs in the early 1950s, a period where information about his activities is quite scarce.

 

That said, the absence of 1963 in the Down Beat archive was vexing, since that was a busy year for him. Additionally, several of the Down Beat entries are weeks — even months — out of date, in terms of the information presented, which also is frustrating.

 

Some highlights:

 

• Thanks to Down Beat, I now have this earliest known photo (by far!) of Guaraldi performing with a combo. The quality isn’t terrific, but that’s him at far left. Until now, I was aware of Guaraldi performing with this quartet solely in the spring of 1951, but this photo ran in the November 16, 1951, issue. That’s intriguing, because Guaraldi had joined Cal Tjader’s trio as of mid-September. Was he simultaneously moonlighting with Chuck Travis? Unlikely, as the schedule with Tjader was full. But Guaraldi’s activities were sparse for most of 1951, until he joined Tjader, so it’s entirely possible that the gig with Travis was off and on throughout the summer. (Regardless, this Down Beat photo and caption obviously ran months after Guaraldi had left Travis.)

• This gig was new to me: On March 9, 1955, Down Beat reported that “Jerry Dodgion now leading the house band at the Black Hawk [sic], with Dottie Grae on drums, Dean Riley [sic], bass, and Vince Guaraldi, piano.” (Dodgion was part of the Guaraldi Quartet, with a different bassist and drummer, on Modern Music from San Francisco, recorded in August of the same year.)

 

• On December 28, 1955, Down Beat reported that “Vince Guaraldi drawing a lot of comment for his piano playing these nights at hungry i.”

 

• On March 7, 1956, Down Beat gave a thorough review of the Woody Herman band’s performance at New York’s Basin Street. (Guaraldi had joined Herman’s band the previous New Year’s Eve.) The lengthy piece includes this comment: “In the rhythm section, Woody has a find in pianist Vince Guaraldi, a San Franciscan recommended by Ralph Gleason. Guaraldi plays with rare economy of means, much warmth and taste, an excellent beat, and a real feeling for the blues vein in jazz.”

 

• Billboard gave a very nice review of Guaraldi’s first album, Vince Guaraldi Trio, on September 29, 1956: “Altho sales are unlikely to be spectacular, this is one of the pleasant surprises of the month. Guaraldi is a young San Francisco pianist who has been getting rave notices with the Woody Herman band. Evidence here says he’s a tasteful, authoritative and facile modernist, and that he swings. Further, he has a sense of humor. Guitarist Eddie Duran and bassist Dean Reilly are worthy colleagues. Try their version of John Lewis’ ‘Django’ for a real delight.”

 

• On May 2, 1957, Down Beat reviewed Introducing Gus Mancuso; Guaraldi performed on three of that album’s tracks. The review includes this comment: “Guaraldi is a particularly stimulating soloist (and isn’t it time for another LP by him?)” And, indeed, Guaraldi next album, A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing, arrived a few months later.

 

• On February 19, 1959, Down Beat reported that “Pianist Vince Guaraldi, scheduled to leave the Cal Tjader Quartet this month, is planning a musical partnership with drummer Johnny Markham and bassist John Mosher.” Guaraldi actually split with Tjader on January 18 or 19, and his next known booking followed immediately: at Lenny’s, in Oakland, every Tuesday evening, as part of tenor saxman Harold Wylie’s Quartet, alongside Markham and bassist Jerry Goode. I’ve no evidence that Guaraldi ever headed a trio with Markham and Mosher.

 

• Billboard noted the rising interest in Guaraldi’s Black Orpheus album on December 15, 1962: “Vince Guaraldi on San Francisco’s Fantasy label is grabbing solid sales action. Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus has gone over 7,000 in album sales within six weeks, and is spreading to other areas. The single ‘Cast Your Fate to the Winds' [sic], a segment of the album, started in Sacramento, spread to all of Northern California with 10,000 discs out, and is now moving strongly in Southern California.”

• Fantasy ran a cute ad in Cash Box, on February 2, 1963; check it out at right. (Note Fantasy's address: As I’ve said elsewhere, it’s Treat Avenue, not Street!)

 

• On June 8, 1963, Cash Box tagged the Guaraldi Quintet single “Zelao”/“Jitterbug Waltz” — from the album In Person — as a Best Bet: “Vince Guaraldi, who scored last time out with ‘Cast Your Fate to the Winds’ [sic], could duplicate that success with this top-flight bossa nova follow-up stanza. The tune is a contagious, easy-going lyrical ballad with a danceable, rapidly-changing beat.”

 

• On September 18, 1965, Billboard noted that Guaraldi’s single, “Theme to Grace” — taken from the Grace Cathedral Jazz Mass LP — was “predicted to reach the Hot 100 Chart.” (Alas, it didn’t happen.)

 

• On August 6, 1966, Cash Box tagged Shelby Flint’s vocal cover of “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” — on a single backed by “The Lilly” — as a Best Bet: “Shelby Flint could make lots of playlists with this sweet, lyrical reading of this oft cut ditty. The lark does a smooth, lilting job on the tender lyric. Watch closely.” (Indeed, her single made Billboard’s Top 100 chart for six weeks, peaking at No. 61.)

• Finally, this was an eye-opener: Guaraldi’s first album for Warners, Oh Good Grief, made Billboard’s Best Selling Jazz LPs chart for two consecutive weeks, on June 29 and July 6, 1968. He’s at the bottom of the chart both times … but that’s still charting! 

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Tidbits from Record World

I recently discovered a searchable online archive devoted to Record World, which — during its reign, from 1946 to 1982 — was one of the three primary U.S. weekly music industry trade publications, alongside Billboard and Cash Box. Record World actually debuted under the name Music Vendor, then switched in 1964, and continued under that new name until its final issue (April 10, 1982).

The archive is an obvious labor of love, with (thus far) most of its content running from spring 1964 to end of publication. Guaraldi likely wouldn’t have been more than an occasional blip until 1960 or ’61, but I’m sure he’d have been mentioned a lot in 1962 and ’63; I hope those issues will be added to the archive at some future time.

 

Meanwhile, a search on Vince turned up a couple dozen results, a few of which are worth noting here.

 

Talk about luck: The sole 1962 issue in the archive — June 23 — includes early mention of Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus, as a coveted “Album Pick.” The brief write-up certainly is encouraging:

Pianist Guaraldi has a cleverly swinging, inventively saleable jazz product here. There is Brazilian music blending Latin African rhythms which were featured in tunes presented in this 1959 Cannes Film Festival winning pic. Proper exploitation could make it a chart album; it has the musical ingredients.

 

Mind you, this was a month before San Francisco’s Melody Sales issued a press release extolling the album, and another couple months before the impact of Sacramento radio station KROY’s success with “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” began to have a national impact. That makes Music Vendor quite prescient.

 

Moving ahead…

 

Now as Record World, the 9/25/65 issue’s “Money Music” column includes this brief item: “Much good music play in S.F. on ‘Theme to Grace’ — Vince Guaraldi, Fantasy — plus other areas.” Two months later, on November 27, the same column amplified the message: “ ‘Theme for [sic] Grace,’ Vince Guaraldi, Fantasy, selling well in Chicago and Detroit off good music play (plus California).”

 

These are the only industry mentions I’ve ever seen, regarding this particular Guaraldi tune’s chart and business activity. Pretty cool!

 

Elsewhere in that same issue, Record World says very nice things about Guaraldi’s just-released soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas:

 

Guaraldi plays the jazz score of the new cartoon coming by for Christmas consumption. Most of the album is Guaraldi improvisations on familiar seasonal standards and carols — all getting fresh treatment from the piano player. The movie should give buyers a big push toward counters.

 

(Given publication lead time, this proves review copies were sent out at least two weeks prior to December 4, which has long been assumed the album’s public release date.)

 

Moving forward to December 3, 1966, reviewer Del Shields waxed enthusiastic about Live at El Matador:

Eastern jazz fans have not had a chance to hear Bola Sete. Out on the West Coast, Bola is the “in thing,” and this album could be one of the big sleepers of the year. Guaraldi, whose “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” was a monster chart item a few seasons ago, lends sympathetic support to this Brazilian guitarist, and the result is pure pleasure. Again, the excitement of the crowd helps so much to project the feeling of “you are there” on quite a session. “Black Orpheus Suite” is particularly outstanding.

 

The 10/7/67 issue includes an intriguing little item, buried within an article which discusses the recent sale of Fantasy and Galaxy Records to Saul Zaentz. In a paragraph highlighting future activity, Zaentz mentions an “eight-LP release for October and November, featuring new albums by,” among others, Guaraldi. That never happened, and there’s no indication that Guaraldi had a new album ready to be released on such short notice. (Guaraldi’s final Fantasy album was the aforementioned Live at El Matador, released a year earlier.) And it’s odd that Zaentz would issue such a statement, given that Guaraldi was in the midst of suing to be released from his Fantasy contract, which was indeed dissolved just a few months later, on December 27.

 

Guaraldi didn’t waste any time. Record World’s 4/13/68 issue features a short article headlined “WB-7A Signs Guaraldi,” which reads, in part:

 

Vince Guaraldi, composer of “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” and the musical scores of the Charlie Brown television specials, has been signed to an exclusive contract as an artist by Warner Bros.-Seven Arts Records Inc., announces Joe Smith, Vice President and general manager.

 

Guaraldi, one of the more recent contributors responsible for interpretive jazz in church halls and theater, will produce his own sessions at Warners.

 

It’s nice to see an early article that acknowledges the impact of Guaraldi’s Grace Cathedral Mass.

 

Moving ahead again, the 1/17/70 issue includes one of the very few reviews I’ve seen of Alma-Ville, the final album Guaraldi released during his lifetime:

That subtle, fluid melodic mind of Vince Guaraldi’s is at it again. Vince has come up with some exquisite melodies on this album, and plays them better than anybody else can, or probably ever will. He also does a striking guitar solo. Watch every cut.

 

(Goodness; you can’t ask for better than that!)

 

The final Guaraldi entry is somewhat bittersweet, as it comes more than a year after his passing in early 1976. The 12/24/77 issue features a round-up of “good Christmas records” by columnists David McGee and Barry Taylor. Along with paragraphs devoted to Elvis’ Christmas Album, Phil Spector’s Christmas Album, Merry Christmas: The Supremes and several others, we get this endorsement of A Charlie Brown Christmas:

 

Nothing like it anywhere. Vince Guaraldi fused classical, pop and jazz in writing the mellowest of scores for the Emmy Award-winning television show. Light and lyrical, with boundless good humor, it is enough to make you believe in Santa Claus and man’s inherent goodness.

 

We now take for granted that Guaraldi’s score for that cherished Peanuts special has become a must-play item every December … but it’s nice to see that Record World, way back in 1977, already was trumpeting its merits as a holiday chestnut. 

Friday, February 18, 2022

Bits & bobs

Followers of this blog will recall that the various special releases promised for last year's Record Store Day — on Saturday, June 12 — included Guaraldi's “Baseball Theme,” pressed for the very first time as a stand-alone, 7-inch single. Alas, supply-chain issues and the ongoing vinyl shortage resulted in numerous titles being postponed or canceled; the Guaraldi single was one of the casualties.

Good news, folks: It now has been promised for Record Store Day 2022: Saturday, April 23. Mark your calendar!

By way of a reminder, the A-side features 1964's original soundtrack version of the song, while the B-side is an alternative studio take never before available on vinyl (although it is included on the album's 2014 CD re-release). 

“Baseball Theme” was one of many tunes Guaraldi wrote for the never-released 1964 documentary, A Boy Named Charlie Brown: to be used in a sequence devoted to Charlie Brown’s ill-fated efforts on the ball field. Guaraldi deftly leads his trio through the up-tempo instrumental track, accompanied by bassist Monty Budwig and drummer Colin Bailey. 

The limited-edition single is pressed on white vinyl and housed in a colorful jacket, featuring whimsical, baseball-themed images of Charlie Brown and Snoopy. Visit recordstoreday.com for a list of participating indie retailers. 

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The San Francisco Chronicle recently published an excellent article concerning an honor bestowed to the famous Hyde Street Studios: a bronze plaque recognizing it as a legacy business in San Francisco, for its contributions to the history and identity of the neighborhood, and to the pantheon of pop music.

Way back in the day, when it was known as the Wally Heider Studios (and following his breakup with Fantasy), Guaraldi recorded many of his scores for Peanuts specials within its walls, starting with You're Not Elected, Charlie Brown, and concluding — on February 6, the day he later died — with It's Arbor Day, Charlie Brown

On February 6, 1974, Guaraldi and his trio were in that studio to record a live concert broadcast by KPFA and KPFB, much later released as the CD Live on the Air.

Guaraldi also spent several studio sessions, over the course of his final few years, recording tracks for a never-completed album: among them "Autumn Leaves," "Billie's Bounce," "No. 1 Snoopy Place," "Special Song" and "Your Song."

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This isn't fresh news, but it was new to me.

Back in 2009, Fantasy released the two-disc Definitive Vince Guaraldi, which is a marvelous 31-song collection of Guaraldi's best work for that label, from early tunes such as "Calling Dr. Funk" to later Peanuts efforts, such as the title theme to A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. The package also included two previously unreleased tracks: "Blues for Peanuts" and an alternate take of "Autumn Leaves."

I somehow missed the fact that, in July 2019, Hal Leonard released a massive 216-page book in its "Artist Transcription" series, devoted to the music in this two-disc set, and bearing the same title.

It contains all 31 songs.

Let me assure you, these are not trivial arrangements; as promised by the series, they are "authentic, note-for-note transcriptions." Many of them — I'm looking at "On Green Dolphin Street" and "Manha de Carnaval" — are impressively dense; you'll need serious piano chops to play these puppies.

(But everybody loves a challenge, right?)

This is, without question, the most impressive Guaraldi song book released thus far. Better work on those finger exercises!