Monday, December 19, 2016

Christmas Time Is Here for Charlie, Vince and Ralph

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

Christmas time is here.

Both the preparations for this festive time of the year and the song with that title which the late pianist Vince Guaraldi wrote in celebration of it are once again ubiquitous.

Department stores, car radios, television commercials - one can’t go anywhere without hearing some or all of the twelve [12] tracks for the CBS television special “A Charlie Brown Christmas” that pianist Vince Guaraldi laid down on October 26, 1964 at Glendale, CA Whitney Studios with his reunited “classic trio” of Monty Budwig, bass [whom he’d worked with during a stint with Woody Herman’s band in the mid-1950’s] and drummer Colin Bailey.

The full details of how Vince’s role in the television special came about and what went into the development of his score for it can be found in Darren Bang’s masterful biography - Vince Guaraldi at the Piano.

Another perspective on the artistic value of what Vince achieved from the music he wrote for the television program can be gleaned from the following excerpts from the liner notes that respective Jazz columnist RJG wrote for the original Fantasy LP - A Charlie Brown Christmas: Vince Guaraldi Trio.

For those of you who may not be familiar with Ralph and his accomplishments, Ralph along with San Francisco Jazz radio DJ Jimmy Lyons, was the co-founder of the Monterey Jazz Festival which began in 1958.

A long-time Jazz columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle Ralph also covered Rock ‘n Roll for the paper when the “San Francisco Sound” first appeared in the 1960’s. He was the founding editor of Rolling Stone Magazine and authored books on both Jazz and Rock. His work was honored with three Deems Taylor Awards for excellence in music journalism, two Grammy nominations for liner notes and two Emmy nominations for his documentaries on Duke Ellington. He died in 1975. He was only 59-years old at the time of his death.

The note Jazz author and critic Ira Gitler said of Ralph: “... he was both avuncular and avant-garde. He was the younger brother of one of your parents who talked to you about things that they didn't, took you places they wouldn't, and brought you presents other than socks or underwear. I didn't have an uncle like that.”

RALPH J. GLEASON - “The hardest task an artist faces is not just to achieve self-expression; that almost comes by definition even if it's difficult to hone that self-expression into something good enough to be art.

It is another kind of thing altogether (and it strikes me as more difficult) to look at, hear, feel and experience somebody else's artistic expression and then make something of your own which shows empathy, which relates to the other but which still has your own individual artistic stamp.

This is what, is seems to me, Vince Guaraldi achieved with his scores for Charlie Brown. He took his inspiration from the creations of Charles Schultz and made music that reflects that inspiration, is empathetic with the image and is still solidly and unmistakably Vince Guaraldi.

It was natural for him to do this — he's been reading Peanuts for years, as who hasn't? — but he brought some very special talent along to the process.

Vince has big ears, a wide range of feeling and a poetically lyrical manner of playing and of writing jazz music. Off stage he's flip and funny, salty and serious and sometimes stubborn. At the piano, he's all music, all lyricism and all jazz.

In the Educational Television three-part film, "Anatomy of a Hit," Vince was shown as a sensitive introspective little man whose dreams became music. This is true. Ever since he was a student at San Francisco State College he has dreamed music and music has been his dream. In the years of apprenticeship he spent with Cal Tjader and Woody expressed only in their own playing. With Vince, the personal sound, the personal voice and the individual musical personality is expressed not only in his playing but in his composing as well.

All the characters in Peanuts are artists confronted with the illogical, blind and mechanistic world. It was natural that Vince Guaraldi's music should fit so well.

Incidentally, “The Hit” that’s referenced in the title of the 3-part film refers to Vince’s 1962 recording of Cast Your Fate to the Wind from the movie Black Orpheus. Vince was awarded a Grammy for this recording in 1963

It was this tune the producer Lee Mendelson heard on his car radio one day while crossing the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, CA that prompted him to hire Vince to write the music for the TV Special - A Charlie Brown Christmas.  The hiring would begin a long collaboration between Guaraldi and Mendelson that would see Guaraldi compose for numerous Peanuts television specials until his death in 1976.

On the off-handed chance that you haven’t heard the Guaraldi-Peanuts-Christmas music in a while, you can listen to the entire album on YouTube via this link [and skip the commercials rather quickly].

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