Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Affectionate nods

Fellow Guaraldi fan Scott alerted me to a pair of just-discovered tributes, which have eluded our sharp little eyes until now (rather surprising, since neither is recent).

Guaraldi's combo and Northern Irish singer-songwriter Van Morrison occasionally appeared together for not quite half a year, from December 1972 through April 1973. These gig dates are certain:

• December 1 — The Alhambra Theater, Sacramento, at a benefit to save that venerable movie palace (an effort that failed, alas)
• December 15 — Berkeley Community Theater
• February 5 — The Lion's Share, San Anselmo
• April 27-28 — Cal-Neva Lodge, North Lake Tahoe

The Lion's Share appearance was broadcast live by KPFA; bootlegs circulate freely, including here.

Unfortunately, as I note in my book, the collaboration proved rocky, at best.

“They went down to Santa Monica once,” Guaraldi's girlfriend Gretchen Katamay recalled. “Vince told me later that he had driven up to the venue, looked at the marquee, and was shocked to discover that his name wasn’t included.

“Another time, Vince was going to record an album with Van. Everybody was sitting in the studio, waiting for Van; an hour and a half went by, so Vince got up and walked out. It was ‘leader’s attitude.’ Even though Vince had it himself, he wasn’t going to put up with it from somebody else. It wasn’t that important.”

Morrison's “rock star” attitude notwithstanding, he obviously thought back fondly on the partnership, as the decades passed. His’s 2016 album, Keep Me Singing, includes “In Tiburon,” a poetic ode that name-checks the hungry i, the Trident, the Cliff House, Lenny Bruce, Chet Baker and Jack Kerouac, among others. 

Dr. Funk gets his own line, sung twice: “Vince Guaraldi would play ‘Cast Your Fate to the Wind’ in the distance.”

Full lyrics can be found here.


This one's a bit unusual.

In February 2012, poet, essayist and literary critic Robert Pinsky — former Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the U.S. Library of Congress — teamed with Grammy Award-winning jazz pianist/composer Laurence Hobgood, for an album titled PoemJazz. Pinsky “performs” his poetry with melody and rhythm, in a harmonic/counterpoint “conversation” with Hobgood’s keyboard work: a style that hearkens back to the 1950s beat poets. 

One of the album tracks, “Ginza Samba,” begins as an ode to the saxophone, and then expands into a wealth of poetic imagery. 

We all know that "Ginza Samba" — sometimes called just plain-vanilla "Ginza" — is one of Guaraldi's early compositions. And, indeed, the tune can be recognized during this March 11, 2013, performance at Boston University; Pinsky is joined by Hobgood, piano; Stan Strickland, saxes; and John Lockwood, bass. Pinsky acknowledges this collaboration's origins: "This next poem, 'Ginza Samba,' is taken from the name of an actual jazz tune." (No, he didn't cite Guaraldi by name.)

That said, the version on the 2012 album doesn't sound at all like Guaraldi's tune.

Pinsky subsequently published the piece in a 2014 collection titled Ginza Samba: Selected Poems. (The full text of the title poem can be read here.) He and Hobgood frequently performed the piece thereafter, and I suspect the latter's keyboard accompaniment varied each time; after all, that's the nature of jazz.

You just never know when — or where — another reference to Guaraldi will pop up...