Well, jello again. It’s ME, Jack Benny. No, but seriously, after a lengthy pause, I’m back, and boy do I have a lot of albums that I’m excited to share with you all. Lots. But before taking that plunge into the sea of the new and exciting, here’s an old and familiar album that I’ve loved for a while by an artist that I’ve loved for a while. To the music!
The Tune: “The Jitterbug Waltz”
- Vince Guaraldi – Piano
- Fred Marshall – Bass
- Colin Bailey – Drums
The Tune: “Forgive Me If I’m Late”
- Vince Guaraldi – Piano
- Eddie Duran – Guitar
- Fred Marshall – Bass
- Colin Bailey – Drums
- Benny Valarde – Guiro
Recorded: 4 December, 1962 in Sausalito, CA
Vince Guaraldi’s music is like that favorite sweater, or that item you always get at your favorite restaurant. Solid, dependable, and a guaranteed good choice. That’s how I’d describe this record. Recorded at the end of 1962 live at a rather hip club named The Trident, Guaraldi and his merry men are captured by Fantasy’s microphones swimming in multicultural waters. Guaraldi, perhaps taking a cue from his former boss Cal Tjader, neatly divides his brain and his band into Latin (read bossa nova) and straight-ahead jazz, alternating between gently lilting bossa nova tunes like “Forgive Me If I’m Late” and shouting steamers like “Misirlou”. Between these opposite poles of music, Guaraldi sprinkles the set with a couple of waltzes and some hard-grooving bossas, making for a fun, stimulating set of jazz.
At the end of 1962, Guaraldi was grooving high off of his surprise hit album ‘Black Orpheus’, recorded earlier that year and featuring his jazz impressions (shoutout to Dave Brubeck) of the movie of the same name’s soundtrack. In that album, which I wrote about a couple of years ago, Guaraldi stayed largely in the swinging modern jazz idiom, with only brief hints of the music’s Brazilian roots. By the time Guaraldi appeared at the Trident at year’s end, he had synthesized the bossa nova into his own style and proved to be quite the successful purveyor of the new Brazilian import. His singing, melodic piano playing was perfectly matched to interpret the sunny, expressive music of Brazil’s “new thing”.
That the album opens with a rousing bossa nova is no accident. Featuring the shouting block chords that spurred one writer call Guaraldi the “west coast Red Garland” (ok, I was the writer that said that), “Zelao” also has Eddie Duran, a long-time associate of Guaraldi’s, quietly strumming on guitar while Benny Valarde, a brief associate of Cal Tjader’s, on auxiliary percussion. Other highlights include a freshly lyrical and caressing waltz treatment of that jazz warhorse “On Green Dolphin Street”, a jaunty run through Jobim’s classic “Outra Vez”, a bouncing slow-cooking original from Guaraldi entitled “Freeway”… The whole album really is its own highlight. The only downer is that some of the tracks were jarringly edited, ending just as Guaraldi is about to cook.
I picked the two tunes above for sentimental reasons. “Jitterbug Waltz” was a tune I discovered back in high school and went through a phase where I looked up different versions of it and played it nonstop. One of the versions I found was Vince Guaraldi’s, which surprised me at the time because I had no idea he ever played it. It’s a swinging, meaty cut that actually lets Guaraldi stretch out a bit. Modern jazz musicians seemed to neglect the tune (Miles Davis a la Michel Legrand being a notable exception), an oversight that continues to this day, making this track a gem. “Late” is another track I discovered -separately- in high school, and I described it to a friend as a song that’s like shopping in a hip grocery store. I suppose it sounded like the music that they used to play in grocery stores back in the day, but I liked that visual image. It’s a neat, tasty little performance, nothing crazy but in its two-minute length it makes your head bob and foot tap. Of course, “Outra Vez” was the true gateway to this album, having been included on a cherished ‘Greatest Hits’ Guaraldi CD that my mother got me when I was in the 5th grade. See, I told you I loved Guaraldi and this album for a while.
Down Beat Digs?
From 1956 to 1963, Down Beat Magazine compiled and published its jazz record reviews as stand-alone publications. Now that I finally collected all 8 volumes, I thought it’d be interesting to include those then-contemporary opinions and reviews of these records when they were initially released, as recorded in Down Beat. Down Beat used to be the Bible of jazz, salacious and grandiose as it could be in those days. The critics writing for Down Beat often took it upon themselves to be the gatekeepers of jazz (which is a blog post in and of itself), which resulted in some hilarious, amusing, and frequently head-scratching reviews and critiques. So let’s hear what they had to say!
Reviewing Guaraldi’s ‘In Person’ record in 1963, John S. Wilson wrote that “In a period when there seems to be a plethora of bland, sound-alike jazz pianists, Guaraldi is a refreshing relief.” He continues:
“He distinguishes himself not by undertaking stylistically identifying mannerisms but simply by digging in and playing strong, melodic, and rhythmic piano. There are no curtseys to fashion here unless one counts the use of bossa nova as such. It might be, but Guaraldi plays a bossa nova as though he means it and feels it, not as though he is doing what he thinks is expected of him.”
He closes his review by declaring that “This is honest piano playing with no phony soul, no gimmicks, no pretense.” He gave the album four out of five stars, which equated to a very good record. I agree. What about you?
Raggy Waltz Rating: A
The cover is as delightful as it is double-take inducing. Oh, the powers of photography. Many praises to Jim Weckler for the photography and Balzer Shopes for the design. The photography is excellent and in glorious full-color, and the yellow print compliments the picture. The seriousness of Guaraldi’s expression makes this all the more whimsical.
Ralph Gleason is again on hand for the liner notes, as was his custom for Fantasy Records, contributing some prose that mentions everything but the music within. Well, it sorta makes a glancing reference to the music. “So now on this LP, I really can’t write about ANY of the tunes. I don’t want to jeopardize their hit possibilities.” And he was serious. So all you have is a commercial for Vince Guaraldi.
Pressed in 1963, Fantasy was just beginning to move away from their trademark red and blue vinyl pressings. Interspersed with the colorful records were standard black records. It was the end of an era and the beginning of a new one. Interestingly, this record has a deep groove on both sides.
This record is in mono, which, the more I listen to records, is really how you’d hear a live performance anyway, unless it was completely acoustic and without amplification. Fantasy Records could be iffy when it came to their sound mastering and recording, especially live recordings. Luckily, this album was well-recorded, and my copy plays almost perfectly.
The Place of Acquisition
Luckily, I have friends in high places. Geographically speaking, anyhow. One of those friends is how this record came to me. My pal Rich, the gentleman who runs the excellent site Deep Groove Mono, found this album in the wild up in New York City. Knowing I dig Vince, he pulled it aside, and yada yada, here it now is. Thank you Rich!