Most people probably wouldn’t recognize the name Vince Guaraldi, but most people would immediately recognize his music that ran as the soundtrack to numerous Charlie Brown ‘Peanuts’ television specials. From the classic Charlie Brown theme ‘Linus and Lucy’ to the Christmas standard ‘Christmastime Is Here’, Vince’s music is loved by many, even if they don’t know it. Before his fame as the Charlie Brown music guy, Vince Guaraldi was a respected (if not underground) West Coast jazz pianist, and after numerous sideman gigs in the 1950’s, including a high-profile stint in Cal Tjader’s group, enjoyed fame in the early 1960’s as the writer of a song named ‘Cast Your Fate To The Wind’. The album that tune appeared on also featured jazz interpretations of bossa nova songs from the 1959 movie ‘Black Orpheus’, and was appropriately titled ‘Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus‘. In 1962, the same year that album was released, the bossa nova (Portuguese for ‘new trend’) craze was clobbering the United States. Everyone recorded bossa nova albums, many of dubious quality, many just trying to cash in on the latest fad. Yet, despite the over saturation of bossa nova albums, a few of those albums struck artistic gold. This 1963 collaboration between an American pianist and a Brazilian guitarist was one of those albums.
Recorded early-mid September(?) 1963
- Vince Guaraldi: Piano
- Bola Sete: Guitar
- Fred Marshall: Bass
- Jerry Granelli: Drums
I put a question mark by September because there is no definite recording date. As so often was the case with Fantasy Records, important information like recording session dates, sideman, even song titles were left off. If anything, the liner notes might elusively allude to some of those details. More on that later.
The music on this platter is easy, breezy bossa nova, recorded when it was still fairly new (if not tired). None of the tunes are faster than a walking pace, and features the authentic, non-amplified acoustic guitar of Bola Sete. Bola Sete, born Djalma de Andrade, was a Brazilian musician who spoke little English and came to prominence in the U.S. after a 1962 appearance at the Monterey Jazz Festival. His nickname, Bola Sete, means “Seven Ball”. The moniker arose from Brazilian billiards, where the seven ball is the only black ball on the table; Bola got the nickname when he was the only black member of a small jazz group.
The first selection is an original by an East Coast jazz pianist, the late, great Horace Silver, entitled ‘Moon Rays’. It’s a beautiful example of the synthesis of different idioms that happens in jazz, in this case a hard-bop standard from the East not only getting the light touch of a West Coast pianist, but then getting transformed into the bossa nova style. “Gee, I’d love to know what that sounds like”. Well, for those who asked that question, here’s Horace Silver’s debut of the tune from his 1958 album Further Explorations By The Horace Silver Quintet, for comparison and contrast. Interestingly, in the liner notes to this album, Horace Silver said that he wanted to get a Cal Tjader-ish vibe (pun intended) from the drummer during the melody by getting him to click on the sides of the snare. So, in effect, we have an East Coast jazz pianist synthesizing a West Coast jazz musician, only to have a West Coast jazz pianist in turn synthesize the East Coast jazz pianist while simultaneously synthesizing the Brazilian bossa nova. And you thought jazz was a structure-less free for all? HA.
The second is also an original, this time by Vince Guaraldi himself. In the liner notes, he explains that he wrote the song based off a poem sent to him by a man who worked for Pacific Gas & Electric. The song is simple but pretty. The drummer throughout gets a unique sound due to his using a wire brush in one hand and hitting a cowbell with a mallet in the other. All in all it’s a wonderfully relaxed outing.
An integrated album cover in 1963?!?! Ok, this was the (supposedly) more racially tolerant West Coast, San Francisco to be exact, but it’s still groovy to see black and white people in a normal, relaxed environment. Vince Guaraldi was part of the late-50’s counterculture movement in San Francisco that later turned into the hippie movement of the late-60’s, and his style is clearly evident here, complete with t-shirt, handlebar mustache, slacks and tennis shoes. He could fit right in in 2017 without changing a single thing.
As I mentioned earlier, while Fantasy neglected to include the date of the recording session or a formal list of the musicians, the liner notes allude to both. Concerning the date, Ralph Gleason writes that this album was made shortly before the whole group made an appearance on his TV show. That episode was taped, and fifty years later found its way onto YouTube, complete with the very specific air-date of 25 September, 1963. So then, channeling my inner Charlie Chan, I came to the conclusion that this album must’ve been taped in early to mid-September of 1963. For those who want to see what this group looked like in action, or what they looked like period, I’ve included the episode below. As a bonus, we get to hear Vince talk! For the TV show, they perform two songs off this album, including ‘Star Song’. It’s neat to compare the version here with the version they did in the TV studio, and it’s cool to see and hear Mr. Ralph J. Gleason for a change. Now when I read liner notes by him, I read them in his voice. A word on the cover. It’s in terrible condition. The spine and top are completely torn, so it opens like a book. Add to that the wonderful pen doodles and an autograph by Al, and it’s downright dreadful. Such are the joys of collecting vintage vinyl.
The different label colors are a result of different lighting. This album belonged to a radio DJ at some point in its 50-plus year life, perhaps the guy who autographed the album cover. It’s always neat to add radio/promo copies of vinyl to one’s collection, especially when they’re emblazoned with ‘NOT FOR SALE’. Oops. The vinyl looks fantastic, still retaining its shiny gloss, and the labels look brand new. Another Fantasy Records anomaly, the labels don’t say which one is side 1 or 2. Again, Charlie Chan sleuthing revealed that the record number on one side is lower than the the number on the other. Despite the beautiful-looking vinyl, upon listening to it, there’s evidence of slight groove wear in the form of lost fidelity on some of the louder/higher-pitched passages. The vinyl plays quietly however, with little to no noise. Interestingly, although Fantasy was famous for pressing their albums on brightly-colored translucent vinyl, this mono album was pressed on conventional black vinyl, making me wonder if Fantasy did that for all promo copies. This mono album sounds good, groove-wear aside, and its a deep groove first pressing, which is always nice.
The Place of Acquisition
That global marketplace, eBay. This album, appropriately enough, came to me from California. This album is rather expensive and in limited quantities on eBay and Discogs, which surprised me. In fact, despite the condition of this album, I had to drop about $25 for it, which is pretty expensive in college student terms. That was three years ago. I did a quick search for it today before writing this post, and was shocked to find that there are currently (as of 20 March, 2017) no vinyl copies of this album available on eBay, and only about four for sale on Discogs. Does that make this an affordable rarity? It sure looks like it. It looks like it’ll be a while before I replace my copy with a stereo copy in better condition. I guess I need to find the tape and count my blessings.