Sunday, August 31, 2014

Big Band Bossa Nova: Stan Getz and Gary McFarland [From the Archives]

The occasion for this re-posting is the copyright Gods granting of the reinstatement of the video that you will find its conclusion. 

On it you can hear the magic of the Getz - McFarland working relationship as Stan performs Gary's big band arrangement of Chega De Saudade which has been translated into English as both No More Blues and Too Much Longing.

From this vantage point, it is difficult to remember back to when the beautiful bossa nova melodies swept the USA in the early 1960s as a prelude to the psychedelic rock craze that closed that decade with The Beatles lodged somewhere in between.

Musical styles moved rapidly during that transitional decade and so did a lot of other socio-cultural developments. 

Many of bossa nova composers explained that the music was intended as a blending of "cool" Jazz sounds with a lighter samba rhythm so as to dial down the intensity of the street Samba which is so noisily characteristic of the Brazilian carnivals.

Unfortunately, the bossa nova did not prevail as an international musical trend, but it was nice while it lasted. 

© -Steven Cerra. Copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Fresh from the sudden success of Jazz Samba and "Desafinado," Stan Getz asked the 28-year-old, strikingly gifted Gary McFarland to arrange a bossa nova album for big band as a follow-up. Getz is always his debonair, wistful, freely-floating self, completely at home in the Brazilian idiom that he'd adopted only a few months before. – Richard Ginell

Getz’s melodic gift was never more evident; even the way he plays "straight" melody is masterful. Few jazzmen have had this gift - Lester Young did - and it has to do with singing by means of an instrument, for Getz doesn't just play a solo, he sings it,… - Don DeMichael

Recorded in 1962, Stan Getz’s Big Band Bossa Nova [Verve V6-8494, CD 825771-2] which features his tenor sax in a series of magnificent arrangements by Gary McFarland is an album from a time when the world was awash in good music. 

Mainly through his early association with composers Antonio Carlos Jobim, João  Gilberto and João’s wife, vocalist Astrud, Getz was to become personified [and made quite wealthy] by his association with the bossa nova music from Brazil that became an international sensation in the early 1960s.

Lyrics were such a powerful and intriguing part of the bossa nova movement that it was initially unusual for instrumental-only versions of the music to succeed.

Big Band Bossa Nova was one of those early instrumental-only success LP’s. Getz, who had such a beautiful tone on the tenor saxophone that some musicians referred to him as “The Sound,” plays beautifully throughout, no doubt inspired in part by McFarland superbly developed and orchestrated arrangements.

Thanks to a friend in New Zealand whose collection of criticism and writings about Jazz appears to be equal to or greater than his [quite vast] collection of the recordings themselves, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles is able to share the following reviews of Big Band Bossa Nova which appeared in the Jazz press around the time of the album’s release.

Also included to further familiarize the reader with the album and its music are Gary McFarland’s and esteemed Jazz author Dom Cerulli’s liner notes to the original LP.

While Stan Getz was to go on and have a long and distinguished career, quite sadly, Gary McFarland passed away, under mysterious circumstances, at the very young age of 38.

For those interested in delving further into Gary’s music please checkout the website lovingly maintained in his honor by Douglas Payne.

Liner Notes to the Verve LP Big Band Bossa Nova [V6-8494]

“My first exposure to bossa nova was in the Spring of 1960 when a friend played a recording by João  Gilberto, a Brazilian guitarist and vocalist. I liked it immediately. Naturally, I responded to the rhythm, but it was more than that. There seemed to be more underplay, more subtlety than in other Latin rhythms but with just as much buzz or intensity. The songs had interesting chord progressions, and the melodic intervals were more modern than in traditional samba melodies. I'm sure that Gilberto's singing had much to do with my response to this music. His voice has an indefinable quality- something close to melancholy, but not quite.

I asked a Brazilian friend about the bossa nova, and he explained that it is a variation of the samba with modern harmonies and more syncopation than the traditional samba. He also told me that the first reaction in Brazil to this new music was similar to the American public's reaction to be-bop in the 40's- it was misunderstood by the traditionalists. However, it is now more widely accepted.
When Stan asked me to write an album for him, he told me to do anything I wanted. I had written a few bossa nova arrangements for Cal Tjader's group, and Stan had recorded a jazz samba album with Charlie Byrd. We both enjoyed working with this music, so we decided to do a big-band album with four songs by Brazilian composers and four songs of mine.

MANHA DE CARNIVAL (Morning Of The Carnival) is a theme from BLACK ORPHEUS. When I saw the movie, 1 was deeply touched by the gentle melody. In keeping with this mood is Jim Hall's treatment of the introduction on unamplified guitar. Following Stan's statement of the theme is an interlude in 5/4 leading into the guitar solo.

BALANCO NO SAMBA (Street Dance) was inspired by the film BLACK ORPHEUS, particularly the street scenes with the marching bands romping, the people dancing and yelling. This is more like a traditional fast samba. 1 think the band got a real happy feeling on this song.

MELANCOLICO (Melancholy) is another tune of mine. Stan plays the verse, the band enters, and he states the melody. The piano solo is by Hank Jones.

ENTRE AMIGOS (Sympathy Between Friends). Stan's phrasing on this tune is, as always, extremely lyrical. After Stan's solo the trumpets play a 16-bar figure that is typical of the high level of their performance on the entire date.

CHEGA DE SAUDADE (Too Much Longing) was also written by Jobim and is one of the best-constructed songs I have ever heard. Notice the restatement of the original minor theme in major during the last 16 bars of the song. Doc Severinsen introduces the melody in the opening statement. Stan begins his solo and is joined by Bob Brookmeyer for 32 measures, leading into the complete statement of the melody. Doc's sensitive handling of the introduction and the interplay between Stan and Bob are high points.

NOITE TRISTE (Night Sadness) is a song of mine. The melody is first stated out of tempo by Hank Jones and then restated by Stan leading into his solo. Drummer Johnny Rae plays Chinese finger cymbals on the first 16 bars of the solo.
SAMBA DE UMA NOTA SO (One Note Samba) was written by Antonio Carlos Jobim, a composer-arranger who works with Gilberto on most of his albums. I have a lot of respect for Jobim's work. This is a song I heard Gilberto sing, and I thought it would be a good ensemble piece.

BIM BOM, by Joao Gilberto, is a lilting melody in the lighter spirit of bossa nova. Solos by Stan and Jim sustain this happy feeling.

I am indebted to the whole band for making the always difficult task of recording much easier. Drummer Johnny Rae did a wonderful job of heading the rhythm section; his experience in Latin music made him an invaluable asset to the band.

About Stan - well, his is a unique talent. In the strong romantic quality of his playing, in his regard for the melody and the spirit of a song, he is perfectly in tune with bossa nova.”


DOWNBEAT 1962  Rating:*****

This is one of the most musical albums I've ever heard. And, please, let's drop the pigeonhole bit- it doesn't make a great deal of difference if this music is called jazz, bossa nova, or what.

And Getz. . . . His playing is flowing, lyrical, inventive, beautifully songlike -commonplace words all, and none describe adequately or even come close. Those words don't capture that sad-glad feeling he achieves on Melancolico or Entre Amigos. Nor can they substitute for hearing his tenor line rise like a dove from a descending trumpet figure on Melancolico; it lasts but a moment, but it's just one of many little diamonds strewn through this record.

Getz’s melodic gift was never more evident; even the way he plays "straight" melody is masterful. Few jazzmen have had this gift - Lester Young did - and it has to do with singing by means of an instrument, for Getz doesn't just play a solo, he sings it, as can be heard on any of these tracks, most evidently on Noite Triste and Chega De Saudade.

The most remarkable performance in the album is Chega De Saudade, a lovely tune by Antonio Carlos Jobim. It begins with Severinsen's unaccompanied trumpet and gradually builds, like a flower unfolding its beauty. Following Getz1 first solo, he and Brookmeyer engage in a twining duet, as if they were dancing around each other's phrases- it's a wonderful moment.

McFarland shares in the artistic success of the album. His writing is peerless. With what he's shown on this effort and his own adaptation of 'How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying' released earlier this year, he looms large as an outstanding writer. He knows the proper combination of instruments to achieve certain sounds, and he has the taste not to use all the instruments at hand all the time. His sparing use of the ensemble allows the beauty of the soloist and the material to shine through.

Perhaps McFarland's mastery of writing in song form explains his taste in orchestration, for the four songs he contributed (Balanco No Samba, Melancolico, Entre Amigos, and Noite Triste ) are much, much more than record-date lines. Others deserving credit for their work on the album are Jim Hall, for his sensitive unamplified accompaniment and for his solos on Manha De Carnival and Bim Bom; Hank Jones, whose taste matches that of Getz and McFarland. as can be heard on his out-of-tempo Noite Triste theme statement; and Johnny Rae, for general excellence (his use of finger cymbals behind Getz on Noite Triste is a perfect touch).

But it's still Getz who is most responsible for the beauty of the album. This record, 'Focus', and 'Jazz Samba', all issued this year, plus the quality of his 1962 in-person performances - well, most of them - lead me to believe Getz is at the height of his creative powers. And he sure wasn't a slouch before.”

Don DeMichael


“Gary McFarland, who arranged all the numbers here and conducted the band, wrote Balanco No Samba, Melancolico, Entre Amigos, and Noite Triste in the style of such native Brazilian bossa nova composers as Antonio Carlos Jobim and Louis Bonfa. In recent months McFarland has been the arranger on a number of records and has contributed several pleasant melodic themes, but it is still too early to detect any very clear personality in his work.

The bossa nova is, to all intents and purposes, a samba played with jazz overtones, the themes using more 'modern' chord progressions and the rhythm being more subtle than is the case with most of the older sambas. I find the work of Bonfa in particular very interesting in the compositional field but while the idiom provides an attractive means of varying the content of a jazz LP I suspect that too many records solely devoted to it will prove a little wearisome. This is by the way, of course, for this present release is the best of its kind that I have heard to date.

Stan Getz is a particularly good choice to carry the main solo role, for his style, although it has developed more strength over the past few years, is notable for a melodic awareness that fits aptly with the thematic content to be heard in the best of bossa nova. The lightness and grace of his work on Chega de Saudade and Bim Bom is immensely attractive - these are perhaps the best tracks on the LP- but one must not overlook the fact that graceful as the outlines of his solos may be they do not lack, as was sometimes the case in his earliest records, the necessary swing. Throughout this LP the impressive aspect of Getz's playing is the balance between refinement and rhythmic strength, illustrated very well on his finely constructed solos on the two tracks already mentioned and on Manha De Carnival and Balanco No Samba. The only other soloist to be heard at length is Jim Hall who is also playing better than before, with a continuity previously lacking, and he is heard to best advantage on Manha De Carnival and Bim Bom.

Two points which bossa nova can claim credit for is far superior themes than one hears in the case of the average jazz 'original' and the guiding of guitarists to the potentialities of their instrument in its unamplified form. Bossa nova may be something in the nature of a gimmick in its exploitation by the record companies but when a musician of Getz's talent uses it this LP proves that it can be stimulating and melodically attractive. I think that most readers will find this a very worthwhile LP, the playing time being rather short at 33 1/2 minutes, and the recording excellent.”

Albert McCarthy

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Mingus, Balliett and Dinosaurs In The Morning

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Mingus has never had a substantial following, and it is easy to see why: he courts only himself and his own genius. A one-man clique, he invents his own fashions and discards them when they are discovered by others. The content of his compositions is often repellent; it can be ornery, sarcastic, and bad-tempered. His own overbearing, high-tension playing pinions its listeners, often demanding more than they can give.”
- Whitney Balliett, Jazz essayist, author and critic

Whitney Balliett, the dean of Jazz writers, at least as far as I’m concerned, never explains the title of the anthology of his essays collected from The New Yorker magazine and published in 1962 by the J.B. Lippincott Company of Philadelphia and New York as Dinosaurs In The Morning.

The meaning needs to be inferred from this excerpt from the piece of the same name that gives the book its title - Dinosaurs In The Morning.

“The best thing that ever happened to Jazz - the most evanescent of all arts - is the recording machine. Without this means of preservation, the music might simply have bumbled on a while as a minor facet of American life and then vanished.”

Vanished like the dinosaurs?

No recording machine - no Jazz?

The answer is most assuredly “Yes” for without the recording machine, Jazz, “... the most evanescent of arts,” could have vanished like the dinosaurs.

Instead, we can listen to Jazz recordings in the morning while sipping our favorite beverage which, I would imagine is far better than discovering dinosaurs in the morning through our breakfast nook window!

Copies of Dinosaurs In The Morning can still be had through online booksellers in various editions for reasonable sums of money and its 41 essays make for unsurpassed reading on the subject of Jazz.

Judge for yourself; here Whitney’s narrative on bassist Charles Mingus.

© -  Whitney Balliett, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


“UNTIL 1939, when Jimmy Blanton appeared, the bass fiddle had occupied the position in jazz of a reliable tackle. It had, a decade before, replaced the tuba in the rhythm section, and its best practitioners—Pops Foster, Al Morgan, Wellman Braud, Milt Hinton, Walter Page, and John Kirby—had become adept at rigid timekeeping and at itemizing the chords of each tune. These bassists also boasted tones that could be felt and even heard in the biggest groups. But they rarely soloed, and, when they did, restricted themselves to on-the-beat statements that were mostly extensions of their ensemble playing. Blanton, who died in 1942, at the age of twenty-one, abruptly changed all this by converting the bass into a hornlike instrument that could be used both rhythmically and melodically. Since then, the bass has taken over the rhythmic burdens once carried by the pianist's left hand and by the bass drum, and it has added a new melodic voice to the ensemble. At the same time, a group of Blanton-inspired bassists have sprung up to meet these new duties, and have included such remarkable performers as Oscar Pettiford, Ray Brown, Red Mitchell, Wilbur Ware, Paul Chambers, Scott LaFaro, and Charlie Mingus.

All are first-rate accompanists and soloists, and all possess exceptional techniques. The youngest have even begun to wander toward the fenceless meadows of atonality. Chief among these bassists is Mingus, the greatest pizzicato player the instrument has had. He is also the first modern jazz musician who has successfully combined virtuosity, the revolutions brought about by Charlie Parker, and the lyricism of such pre-bebop performers as Ben Webster, the boogie-woogie pianists, and Billie Holiday.

Like many contemporary jazz musicians, Mingus is far more than an instrumentalist. He is a formidable composer-arranger and a beneficent martinet who invariably finds, hires, and trains talented but unknown men. A big, loosely packed man of thirty-eight, with a handsome face and wary, intelligent eyes, Mingus is an indefatigable iconoclast. He is a member of no movement and vociferously abhors musical cant. He denounces rude audiences to their faces. (A recent scolding, administered in a New York night club, was tape-recorded on the spot, and has been printed in an anthology of jazz pieces. It is a heartening piece of hortatory Americana.) He unabashedly points out his colleagues' shams and weaknesses in his album-liner notes or in crackling letters to magazines like Down Beat. When tongue and pen fail him, he uses his fists. Mingus compresses all this dedication into his playing, which is daring, furious, and precise. Despite the blurred tonal properties of the bass, Mingus forces a kaleidoscope of sounds from it. However, much of the time he uses a penetrating tone that recalls such men as Foster and Braud, and that is especially effective in his accompanying, where it shines through the loudest collective passages. (It sometimes shines so brightly that Mingus, in the manner of Sidney Bechet, unintentionally becomes the lead instrument.)

Mingus's supporting work is an indissoluble mixture of the rhythmic and the melodic. By seemingly playing hob with the beat— restlessly pulling it forward with double-time inserts, rapid tremolos, or staccato patterns, reining it in with whoa-babe legato figures, or jumping stoutly up and down on it—he achieves the rhythmic locomotion of drummers like Sid Catlett and Jo Jones. Yet he carefully fits these devices to each soloist, lying low when a musician is carrying his own weight, and coming forward brusquely and cheerfully to aid the lame and the halt. It is almost impossible to absorb all of Mingus at a single hearing. In addition to carrying out his rhythmic tasks, he simultaneously constructs attractive and frequently beautiful melodic lines. These may shadow a soloist, or they may be fashioned into counter-lines that either plump the soloist up or accidentally upstage him. Mingus is a dangerous man to play with.

He is also an exhilarating soloist. Because he is the sort of virtuoso who has long since transcended his instrument, his finest solos are an eloquent, seemingly disembodied music. The pizzicato bass was not designed for the timbres Mingus extracts from it. He may hit a note as if it were a piece of wood, getting a clipped thup. He may make a note reverberate or, rubbing his left hand quickly down the fingerboard, turn it into an abrasive glissando. Sometimes he fingers with the nails of his left hand, achieving a rattling sound. Or he may uncoop a string of whispered notes that barely stir the air. He will start a solo in a medium-tempo blues with a staccato, deck-clearing phrase, cut his volume in half, play an appealing blues melody that suggests the 1928 Louis Armstrong, step up his volume, line out a complex, whirring phrase that may climb and fall with a cicadalike insistency for a couple of measures, develop another plaintive a-b-c figure, improvise on it rhythmically, insert a couple of sweeping smears, and go into an arpeggio that may cover several octaves and that, along the way, will be decorated with unexpected accents.

Mingus's solos in ballad numbers are equally majestic. He often plays the first chorus almost straight, hovering behind, over, and in front of the melody—italicizing a note here, adding a few notes there, falling silent now and then to let a figure expand—and finishing up with an embossed now-listen-to-this air. There are only half a dozen jazz soloists skilled enough for such complacency.

Mingus the bassist is indivisible from Mingus the leader. He conducts with his bass, setting the tempos and emotional level of each tune with his introductory phrases, toning the ensemble up or down with his volume or simply with sharp stares, and injecting his soloists with countless c.c.s of his own energy. His methods of composition are equally dictatorial and are a fascinating variation of Duke Ellington's. Mingus has explained them in a liner note:

My present working methods use very little written material. I "write" compositions on mental score paper, then I lay out the composition part by part to the musicians. I play them the "framework" on piano so that they are all familiar with my interpretation and feeling and with the scale and chord progressions. . . . Each man's particular style is taken into consideration. They are given different rows of notes to use against each chord but they choose their own notes and play them in their own style, from scales as well as chords, except where a particular mood is indicated. In this way I can keep my own compositional flavor ... and yet allow the musicians more individual freedom in the creation of their group lines and solos.

Most of his recent work can be divided into three parts—the eccentric, the lyrical, and the hot. His eccentric efforts have included experiments with poetry and prose readings and attempts to fold non-musical sounds (whistles, ferryboats docking, foghorns, and the like) into his instrumental timbres. The results have been amusing but uneasy; one tends to automatically weed out the extracurricular effects in order to get at the underlying music. The lyrical Mingus is a different matter. His best ballad-type melodies are constructed in wide, curving lines that form small, complete etudes rather than mere tunes. Their content dictates their form, which resembles the ragtime structures of Jelly Roll Morton or the miniature concertos of Duke Ellington, both of whom Mingus has learned from. But Mingus has been most successful with the blues and with gospel or church-type music. The pretensions that becloud some of his other efforts lift, leaving intense, single-minded pieces. More important than the use of different tempos and rhythms in these compositions, which repeatedly pick the music up and put it down, are their contrapuntal, semi-improvised ensembles, in which each instrument loosely follows a melodic line previously sketched out by Mingus. The results are raucous and unplanned, and they raise a brave flag for a new and genuine collective improvisation.

Mingus’s most recent records—"Mingus Ah Urn" (Columbia), "Blues & Roots" (Atlantic), and "Mingus Dynasty" (Columbia)—offer some spectacular things. Most of the compositions are by Mingus and are played by nine- or ten-piece groups (a size beyond the budgets of most of the offbeat night clubs in which Mingus generally performs), which employ his collective techniques with considerable aplomb, thus pointing a way out of the box that the big band built itself into before its decline. Mingus delivers a fireside chat on the problem in the notes to the second Columbia record:

The same big bands with four or five trumpets, four or five trombones, five or six saxophones, and a rhythm section . . . still [play] arrangements as though there were only three instruments in the band: a trumpet, a trombone, and a saxophone, with the other . . . trumpets . . . trombones . . . and saxophones there just to make the arrangement sound louder by playing harmonic support. . . . What would you call this? A big band? A loud band? A jazz band? A creative band?

I’d write for a big sound (and with fewer musicians) by thinking out the form that each instrument as an individual is going to play in relation to all the others in the composition. This would replace the old-hat system of passing the melody from section to section . . . while the trombones run through their routine of French horn chordal sounds. ... I think it's time to discard these tired arrangements and save only the big Hollywood production introduction and ending which uses a ten or more note chord. If these ten notes were used as a starting point for several melodies and finished as a linear composition—with parallel or simultaneous juxtaposed melodic thoughts—we might come up with some creative big-band jazz.

The Atlantic record provides several first-rate demonstrations of this approach. On hand with Mingus are Jackie McLean and John Handy, alto saxophones; Booker Ervin, tenor saxophone; Pepper Adams, baritone saxophone; Jimmy Knepper and Willie Dennis, trombones; Horace Parlan or Mal Waldron, piano; and Dannie Richmond, drums. There are six numbers, all blues by Mingus. One of the best is the fast "E's Flat Ah's Flat Too." The baritone saxophone opens by itself with a choppy ostinato figure, and is joined, in madrigal fashion, by the trombones, which deliver a graceful, slightly out-of-harmony riff. The drums, bass, and piano slide into view. The trombones pursue a new melody, the baritone continues its subterranean figure, and the tenor saxophone enters, carrying still another line. Several choruses have elapsed. Then one of the alto saxophones slowly climbs into a solo above the entire ensemble, which, with all its voices spinning, becomes even more intense when Mingus starts shouting at the top of his voice, like a growl trumpet. Solos follow, giving way to the closing ensemble, which pumps off into twelve straight choruses of rough, continually evolving improvisations on the shorter opening ensemble. Near the end, Mingus starts bellowing again, and then everything abruptly grows sotto-voce. The trombones dip into a brief melodic aside, and the piece closes in a maelstrom, with each instrument heading in a different direction. New tissues of sound emerge in this number and all the others at each hearing—a shift in tempo, a subtle theme being carried far in the background by a saxophone, a riff by the trombones that is a minor variation on one used in the preceding chorus.

The Columbia records, which include eighteen numbers (all but two by Mingus) and pretty much the same personnel, are not as headlong. "Mingus Ah Um" has a couple of ballads, more blues, and, most important, generous amounts of the satire that is present in almost everything Mingus writes. This quality is most noticeable in "Fables of Faubus," which concentrates on two themes—an appealing and rather melancholy lament, and a sarcastic, smeared figure, played by the trombones in a pompous, puppet like rhythm. At one point, the two melodies—one bent-backed, the other swaggering—are played side by side; the effect is singular. Mingus's needling is more subdued in pieces on Lester Young ("Goodbye Pork Pie Hat"), Ellington ("Open Letter to Duke"), and Charlie Parker ("Bird Calls"). But it emerges again in a delightful twitting of Jelly Roll Morton, called "Jelly Roll," which manages to suggest both the lumbering aspects of Morton's piano and his gift for handsome melodies. "Mingus Dynasty" has pleasant, reverent reworkings of a couple of Ellington numbers; a somewhat attenuated selection called "Far Wells, Mill Valley,' written in three sections for piano, vibraphone, flute, four saxophones, trumpet, trombone, bass, and drums; and a fresh version of one of Mingus's gospel numbers, "Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting,' this one called "Slop."

Mingus has never had a substantial following, and it is easy to see why: he courts only himself and his own genius. A one-man clique, he invents his own fashions and discards them when they are discovered by others. The content of his compositions is often repellent; it can be ornery, sarcastic, and bad-tempered. His own overbearing, high-tension playing pinions its listeners, often demanding more than they can give. In happier days, Mingus's music might have caused riots.”

Here’s one that you don’t hear everyday: a video on which The Rotterdam Jazz Orchestra performs Charles Mingus’ Bird Feathers.”

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Vince Guaraldi at the Piano by Derrick Bang

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

"When I met him, he immediately liked the feeling I had, even though I wasn't experienced. So I would go to his house for lessons, whenever he was available: once a week or so. We would listen to music, and then talk about it, and then he'd show me things: harmonies of tunes, and changes.

"A lesson would take place at the keyboard: He would improvise and play single lines, like bebop lines. I would listen, and then I would ask about chords and stuff. Vince didn't have a system of different exercises; he just did it by playing for me.

"The other part of a lesson — the important part — was listening to records by the great players: Bud Powell, Sonny Stitt, Art Tatum and Lester Young ... always the masters. We'd listen and then talk about the music. One time he played an album by Los Angeles bebop pianist Hampton Hawes, and Vince said, 'You and I have this feeling, and a lot of players don't get it.'
-Larry Vuckovich, Vince Guaraldi’s former student and Jazz pianist [Emphasis mine]

"Vince was a very positive player. I don't know if that can be analyzed. The rhythmic component obviously is part of it, and the fact that he created melodies that tended to be sunny, not neutral or morose. But also, you can sense a musician's personality and attitude when they're playing,and anybody who hears most of Vince's music will sense a positive quality. He was a good, solid musician. Anybody who listens to his music 50 years from now will appreciate it for the same things we appreciate it for today. He wanted to be a success, in a very profound way, and to be remembered for the happy quality of his music. He succeeded."
- Doug Ramsey, Jazz author, essayist and blogger

"I enjoyed everything we ever played; it felt great every night. I dug Vince's playing; he was a swinging piano player, and he made it feel really good. I could hear a little Bud Powell influence, and a little Red Garland influence, but Vince had his own style. If somebody put one of his records on, I could always tell it was Vince. He had a distinct style, that's for sure; it was the way he'd do the phrasing and the chord changes on his solos. He was very rhythmic, and he swung so hard.
- Colin Bailey, Jazz drummer

In the span of a few months, two of my favorite Jazz musicians who have been gone from the Jazz scene for many years suddenly “reappeared” in my life.

Both were based in San Francisco, CA but each developed national recognition through their concerts club appearances and recordings. Some of their earliest success in the music came while working together.

The first to make their “presence” felt again was vibraphonist, percussionist and bandleader, Cal Tjader, in S. Duncan Reid’s excellent biography: Cal Tjader: The Life and Recordings of the Man Who Revolutionized Latin Jazz. Duncan’s work is published by McFarland and Company. Here’s a link to my review of the book.

And now, along comes Derrick Bang’s Vince Guaraldi at the Piano, also published by McFarland. Order information about Derrick’s book can be located via this link.

A professional writer and editor for many years, Derrick has specialized in writing about the work of Charles Schultz, the late cartoonist who created the Peanuts strip.

In talking with Derrick by phone, I gathered that like many others, he was adversely affected by the employment meltdown that followed the Great Recession of 2008. I closed my consultancy as a consequence of it and retired.  

But thank goodness for Jazz fans everywhere that Derrick didn’t retire from writing.  Instead, he used the “free time” to pour his considerable talents as a writer into producing one of the best researched and well-written biography of a Jazz musician that I have ever read.  And all this excellence in service of a Jazz musician whose professional career actually spans little more than two decades [Vince Guaraldi died on February 6, 1976 at the age of 48].

Vince Guaraldi at the Piano takes the reader through the formative years of Vince’s career with Cal Tjader, Woody Herman and the Lighthouse All-Stars, the many manifestations of Vince’s own trios with his early success thanks to the hit recording of his original composition, Cast Your Fate to the Wind and the writing and staging of his Jazz Mass at San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral, and though to the banner years associated with the original music that Guaraldi composed for many of the TV specials based on Charles Schulz’s Peanuts comic strips centered around the forlorn Charlie Brown.

In many ways, the work can be seen as essentially a two part treatise on Vince’s professional career: [1] BC = Before Charlie Brown and [2] AC = After Charlie Brown.

Prior to the detailed documentation that Derrick’s biography provides about every aspect of Vince’s career, this dualistic “before and after Peanuts” view was the impression many of us had about Guaraldi’s accomplishments in music.

But after reading the Prologue, 15 Chapters, Epilogue and three [3] Appendices which contain remembrances of Vince by the musicians who worked with him, a discography and a filmography, the reader comes away with a fuller appreciation of a very complicated and complete musician who expressed his art in a style that was simple, direct, and yet, at the same time, powerfully rhythmic and emotionally charged.

Because of his small statute, relatively quiet and easy-going demeanor and physical limitations [he had small hands and was a poor reader of music], Vince was easy to overlook or take for granted.

But as Derrick’s book irrefutably proves, Vince was a force of nature and one to ultimately be reckoned with in whatever the musical circumstance.

Irrespective of the musical setting, Vince Guaraldi prevailed.

I had the opportunity the observe this quality about Vince first-hand after he joined the Lighthouse Cafe All-Stars [LHAS] in late summer of 1959.

During that time, I frequented the Hermosa Beach, CA club on a weekly basis and when Vince first arrived, the long-standing quintet featuring Frank Rosolino on trombone, Bob Cooper on tenor sax, Victor Feldman on piano and vibes and Stan Levey on drums was in the process of disbanding.

They had been together for almost three years and their breakup left something of a void in the routine of the regular patrons of this beach haunt.

Over the years, bassist Howard Rumsey, who also served as the Musical Director of the LHAS [in other words, it was Howard’s gig] had put together an impressive book of complicated and intriguing compositions written by the likes of Shorty Rogers, Jimmy Giuffre, Bud Shank, Sonny Clark, Bob Cooper, Bill Holman, and Victor Feldman, among many other West Coast Jazz notables, all of whom had passed through the band at one time or another.

It was a complicated book as the West Coast style of Jazz tended to be an arranger’s music which placed a heavy premium on a musician’s ability to read music.

Enter Vince Guaraldi, a notoriously poor reader, who pretty much had a deep-set, look of confusion on his face during his first month or so on the Lighthouse gig as he tried to find his way through this mirage of notes and chords.

No problem, for not only did the LHAS undergo a personel change - Conte Candoli returned on trumpet, Art Pepper came aboard on alto and Nick Martinis on drums completed the rhythm section changes along with Vince on piano - but the music this group performed change, too, to music that was largely influenced by … wait for it … Vince Guaraldi!

Did I mention that Vince prevailed?

Instead of the finger-poppin’, complicated arrangements that previously made-up the LHAS “book”, the tunes became more simple melodies played at medium tempos, many of which were blues-inflected when they weren’t composed as outright 12-bar or 16-bar blues by Vince or Vince in conjunction with Conte Candoli or tenor saxophonist Bob Cooper [who rejoined the band due to Pepper’s frequent absences].

You can hear this format on Little Band, Big Jazz [Crown LP-5162; Fresh Sound CD FSR1629].  Although the record is under the nominal leadership of trumpeter Conte Candoli and he is listed as the composer of four of the six tunes on the album and co-composer on the remaining two with Vince, I heard this music come together at the Lighthouse over a six-month period of time prior to its recording in February, 1960 and there is little doubt in my mind that Vince was responsible for all of it!

It’s just too Vince-sounding and Conte was not known for his interest in writing original compositions. Of the 40 tunes on four of Conte’s signature LP’s from this period in his career - Powerhouse Trumpet, The Conte Candoli Quartet on Mode, Mucho Color and West Coasting - Conte only wrote three original compositions, two of which are based on mambo’s riffs and one is an adaptation of Dizzy Gillespie’s Groovin’ High.

From the detailed information provided by Derrick throughout his book, the reader learns that Vince performed with just about everybody of significance on the West Coast Jazz scene from about 1950-1965. The list is staggering.

But what Derrick also makes clear in his book is that Vince was most comfortable when he was performing his own music, especially in the classic piano-bass-drums Jazz trio setting that he preferred and continued with throughout his career despite numerous changes in bassists and drummers.

Like many self-taught musicians, Vince didn’t know what he couldn’t do. He didn’t know the “right way” or “the wrong way” or that “you can’t do that” or “that’s not the legitimate way to get that sound” or whatever.

Vince heard it in his head and felt it in his heart and somehow got it out of his hands.

Whatever the technical limitations about his musicianship, Vince was driven to bring out his own style in his music.  In this sense, as Derrick underscores time and again, Vince was a true original and this is why his music has stood the test of time.

Derrick frames his biography of Vince with his own insights and those of the people and musicians associated with Vince whom he interviewed and both of these help to bring out key characteristics of Guaraldi’s personality and style.

- “Vince had “the urge,.’the desire to really make something of himself in the music business. He was persistent, and he had the chops.” [Tom Hart, saxophonist, p. 22]

- “Vince had a unique style, unlike any other: pure Jazz. His sense of rhythm was flawless. He was always fun to play with, too, because he knew how to back up a soloist.” [Hart, p. 23]

- In the beginning, Vince was so excited in his playing, it was like trying to hold back a colt or a stallion. … He had a tendency to play too much behind me sometimes [but] eventually he became aware of the fact that you don’t play every tune like a bebop express running 120 miles an hour.” [Cal Tjader, p. 25]

“He fingers [the piano] all wrong when he makes runs and plays chords. All wrong that is, from the standpoint of efficiency and ‘piano technique.’ … But  I've noticed over the years in Jazz that almost all the good ones do it all wrong, because it is the sound that matters - and the sound with Vince, is beautiful and moving.” [Ralph Gleason, columnist, p. 37]

“He was known as Dr. Funk … because he played with such an earthy feeling.” [Doug Ramsey, Jazz historian, p. 43]

“One time he played an album by Los Angeles bebop pianist Hampton Hawes, and Vince said: ‘You and I have this feeling, and a lot of other players don’t get it.’” [Larry Vuckovich, Vince’s student and Jazz pianist, p. 44].

- “Guaraldi reading of Django [on The Vince Guaraldi Trio LP, 1956] marked the dawning of the classic ‘Guaraldi sound,’ demonstrating his ability to paint an impressive musical portrait with a deceptively simple arrangement of notes and chords.” [author, p. 50]

- "Vince is more than an interesting pianist. He is not ridden by an unconscionable demon to prove something; he just loves music and loves playing and swinging. This uncomplicated approach allows him to poke fun at himself (‘I’m just a reformed boogie woogie pianist'), which is refreshing; it enables him to play simple, emotionally pure piano, as on the ballads, and to get pixieish, funky and hard-swinging, as on [his] original and some of the standards." [Ralph J. Gleason, p. 56]

- "Guaraldi reveals himself as one of the most astonishingly lyrical pianists in the field: as delicately sensitive as John Lewis. Much the same can be said of Eddie Duran ... who emerges here as certainly the co-star of the album. The truth is that here is one of the really great lyric jazz combinations: great as the Brubeck-Desmond combination is great, in the sense that the whole is equal to twice as much as the sum of its parts." [C.H. Garrigues, columnist, p. 71]

- “Guaraldi looks like a pixie … but has the muscles of a giant.” [Russ Wilson, columnist, p. 85]

- “He swung his ass off; he reminded me of Red Garland. And working as the house rhythm section [Outside at the Inside, Palo Alto, CA] with Vince’s band was one of my favorite Jazz gigs of all time.” [Benny Barth, drummer]

- "What Vince has got in his playing is feeling. This is a quality that money can't buy, practice cannot make perfect and technique tends to defeat rather than enhance. Vince sings when he plays. I don't mean he grunts or hums or even makes a noise at all. I mean his fingers sing, the music sings, and he writhes and twists on the piano stool like a balancing act in the circus.” [Ralph, J. Gleason, p. 113]

- "It's easy to throw art — music — in front of the public, but then the artist has no control over how the work will be taken in. But I've always thought that Vince knew precisely how he wanted the public to 'hear' his music, and he performed it in such a way to maximize that response." [drummer Jerry Granelli, p. 134]

- “... [Theme to Grace] became vibrant proof of Guaraldi’s long-standing ability to weave a lovely new melody into an improv session.” [Reverend Charles Gompertz who worked closely with Vince to create the Jazz Mass that was performed at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco in May, 1965, p. 155]

- “There was no logical progression with Vince, …. He was a very spontaneous person; he didn’t approach things in a linear, methodical, systematic kind of way. It was like getting caught up in a zeitgeist.” [Reverend Charles Gompertz, p. 149]

“In a sense, I met a saloon player ... and, during the time we knew each other, he I became a nationally and internationally known celebrity. I played a part in all that, which is humbling. It's an extraordinary story: how one person can have an idea that involves you, and then can pursue that idea, and help put together what needs to take place, to bring the idea to fruition, and then push it beyond that, into a whole different category of existence. It's a magical kind of thing." [Reverend Charles Gompertz, p. 157].

"Vince had this joyous drive, and remarkable melodic improvisation. You heard it in his tunes. He was a rare and wonderful combination of melody, power and jazz swing. His 'time feeling' was just wonderful; he was like a freight train. You just had to climb aboard, hold on and hope for the best.  It was really scintillating, playing for him." [Fritz Kasten, drummer, p. 227]

"It was always fun to play with Vince. He always had such a great feel, immediately; it was never like getting into the music gradually. It was just bap, we had it.” [Colin Bailey, drummer, p.249]

The second half of Derrick biography of Vince details the many manifestations of Vince’s music in the Peanuts television specials that are based on the characters created by cartoonist Charles Schulz.

Producer Lee Mendelson chose Vince for this career-changing endeavor. Why? Derrick offers this background on how it all came to pass.

“But how did Mendelson settle on Guaraldi?

Mendelson knew that he wanted a jazz score —"’I had always loved jazz, going back to Art Tatum’—but he needed a composer.

‘I first called Dave Brubeck, who's an old friend, but he was busy. He suggested I call Cal Tjader, with whom I went to high school, but he was busy. Years later, they both said they wished they hadn't been busy!’

The important part of the saga came next, and it'll sound familiar to those who remember, from the previous chapter, how the Rev. Charles Gompertz came to select Guaraldi for his high-reaching idea [the May, 1965 Grace Cathedral Jazz Mass].

‘I was driving over the Golden Gate Bridge,’ Mendelson recalled, ‘and I had the jazz station on —KSFO —and it was a show hosted by Al 'Jazzbo' Collins. He'd play Vince's stuff a lot, and right then, he played [Vince’s] Cast Your Fate to the Wind. It was melodic and open,and came in like a breeze off the bay.  And it struck me that this might be the kind of music I was looking for.

‘I found out that Vince lived in San Francisco, so I got in touch with Max Weiss, at Fantasy Records, and we put the deal together.’

Mendelson and Guaraldi got together shortly thereafter.

‘We met at a restaurant called Original Joe's, in San Francisco,’ Mendelson continued. ‘He had a great smile and a great laugh, and we hit it off right away. I was struck by his very short, stubby fingers, and I remember wondering how he played the piano with hands like that.

‘He told me he loved the Peanuts strip, and that he never missed it.

‘I didn't have a lot of money at the time; my company was brand new, and didn't have huge budgets. It was a mutual trust thing, and we worked out an arrangement.’

If Mendelson had any doubts about Guaraldi's suitability for the assignment, they vanished after what happened next ... particularly because it happened so quickly.

‘About two weeks later, Vince called me on the phone,’ Mendelson continued. ‘He told me, “I gotta play something for you; it just came into my head.” I said, 'I don't want to hear it on the phone, because you don't hear the highs and lows; let me come down to the studio.' And he said, “I gotta play it for you, before I forget it, so at least you'll remember it.” So I said, 'Okay, fine; play it.'

"And that was the first time I ever heard Linus and Lucy.

‘It just blew me away. It was so right, and so perfect, for Charlie Brown and the other characters. Something deep inside me said, This is gonna make the whole thing work. Vince's music was the one missing ingredient that would make everything happen.’

Looking back on that electrifying moment, decades later, Mendelson insists that he knew —really knew— that Guaraldi had been the right choice.

‘I have no idea why, but I knew that song would affect my entire life. There was a sense, even before it was put to animation, that there was something very, very special about that music.

‘There's no doubt in my mind, that if we hadn't had that Guaraldi score, we wouldn't have had the franchise we later enjoyed.’” [p. 161]

Although, Vince’s association with the various iterations of the Peanuts television specials would ultimately provide him with a degree of financial security accorded to few Jazz musicians, he continued to work gigs for the remainder of his life.

Indeed, he died of a heart attack while working one - Butterfield’s - a club/restaurant located in Menlo Park, CA.  Vince was only forty-eight.

Vince Guaraldi at the Piano is a fascinating reading experience, not only because of the wealth of detailed information it contains about Vince Guaraldi and his music, but also because of the very skillful way in which it is written.

Derrick Bang writes clean and compelling prose. There is a clarity and a warmth to his style that are the hallmarks of all great writers.

What stands out about Derrick Bang’s writing is that while experiencing it, one quickly appreciates that one is in the presence of an artist.