Dr. Funk Makes a House Call
The story: Although I was fortunate to have a father who exposed me to swing music when I was a child, my awareness of mainstream jazz came when I was in my early teens through other people. I had a classmate who fancied himself as being a sophisticate who was aware of trends in then-current literature. His awareness of music however was limited to whatever was going on then in the world of rock and roll. But he had an older brother who did have an awareness of jazz. I heard a number of jazz artists for the first time when he played various of his records in his bedroom on his record player. I really didn’t know him, because he was about four years older than his brother and I were, and when you are fourteen, that is a large gulf of separation. But very often the most lovely musical sounds wafted out of his bedroom, and when they did, I began to ask him whose music I was hearing. He wasn’t particularly patient with me, so I backed off, temporarily. On one occasion, when he was going out on a date, I happened to be visiting his brother. After he left, I went into his bedroom, and looked through several of the LP records he had. One that caught my attention was the Fantasy LP entitled: Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus. I picked it up and brought it into his brother’s bedroom. He also had a record player, so I put the record on and began to listen to the music of the Vince Guaraldi Trio. I liked all of the music on that album, but the one track that struck me most strongly was “Cast Your Fate to the Wind.” I played that at least three times that night.
Eventually, I bought my own Fantasy LP of the Vince Guaraldi Trio which included “Cast Your Fate to the Wind.” It is impossible for me to quantify how many times I have listened to that tune since 1964, but hundreds would not be an overestimate. I still love it.
As years and decades passed, and indeed after Vince Guaraldi left us far too soon in 1976 at age 47, I began to notice that whenever or wherever the music from the Charlie Brown television series was played on radio or records, people who had absolutely no musical awareness would invariably recognize it immediately and say “hey, that is the music from Charlie Brown.” They had no idea who created that music, and didn’t care who did. It just affected them, somehow. The person who created that music was Vince Guaraldi, a jazz pianist.
Vince Guaraldi, like very few other musicians, had the marvelous gifts of melody and musical warmth. By that, I mean that by whatever magical means, his playing and his original tunes somehow connected with listeners, and moved them strongly and quickly. Catchy tunes that suggested the sunny climes of California simply flowed out of him. He frequently used bossa nova and waltz rhythms to enhance the sensuousness of his music. And he always swung.
I was able to learn very little about Vince Guaraldi, either as a musician or as a man, until recently, when I acquired and read the wonderfully informative book, Vince Guaraldi at the Piano, by Derrick Bang (2012), McFarland and Co. This book tells the full story of Guaraldi’s life and career, and in the process paints a vivid picture of the vibrant San Francisco jazz scene of the 1950s and much of the 1960s, and explains the unlikely combination of Guaraldi’s unabashed jazz, with what has become the ongoing Charlie Brown “franchise.” It also presents the facts surrounding Guaraldi’s relationship with Max and Soul Weiss at Fantasy Records, starting with the various contracts Guaraldi made with them in the 1950s, through the lawsuit that eventually brought about Guaraldi’s release (really his independence) from Fantasy in the mid-1960s.
Vincent Anthony Dellaglio was born in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood. His father Vincent Dellaglio, and mother, Carmella Marcellino, were soon divorced. Eventually, Carmella married again, to Tony Guaraldi, and Vince took his step-father’s surname. That marriage also ended in divorce. Vince’s childhood was spent bouncing back and forth between his mother’s home and his maternal grandmother’s home. Vince enjoyed being with his grandmother, because her two sons, Joe and Maurice “Muzzy” Marcellino,(*) were professional musicians. Vince was fascinated by the music they made in her house and elsewhere from the time he was a toddler, and early-on he showed an aptitude for music.
The following is a slightly edited summary of Guaraldi’s early life and career based on one prepared by Derrick Bang, and posted on the Vince Guaraldi website http://www.vinceguaraldi.com/: “The man eventually dubbed ‘Dr. Funk’ by his compatriots was born in San Francisco on July 17, 1928; he graduated from Lincoln High School in San Francisco and then San Francisco State College. Guaraldi began performing while in college, haunting jazz performances at San Francisco’s Black Hawk and Jackson’s Nook, sometimes as a sideman with the Chubby Jackson/Bill Harris band, other times working in combos with Sonny Criss and Bill Harris. He also played weddings, high school concerts, and countless other small-potatoes gigs.
His first serious booking came at the Black Hawk, one of San Francisco’s top-line jazz clubs in the early 1950s, where he worked as an intermission pianist, with the headliner being the legendary Art Tatum. ‘It was more than scary,’ Guaraldi later recalled. ‘I came close to giving up the instrument, and I wouldn’t have been the first, after working with Tatum.’ Guaraldi’s first recorded work can be heard on ‘Vibratharpe,’ a 1953 release by the Cal Tjader Trio. Guaraldi then avoided recording studios for the next few years, preferring to further hone his talents in the often unforgiving atmosphere of San Francisco’s beatnik club scene. In 1955 he put together his first jazz trio — with longtime friends Eddie Duran on guitar, Dean Reilly on bass — and tackled North Beach’s bohemian hungry i club. He also returned to the recording studio that year, making his debut as group leader on record, although with different personnel: John Markham (drums), Eugene Wright (bass) and Jerry Dodgion (alto sax). What soon came to be recognized as the ‘Guaraldi sound,’ however, emerged from several recording sessions with his hungry i buddies Duran and Reilly. The original Vince Guaraldi Trio, with Duran and Reilly, can be heard on two Fantasy releases: The Vince Guaraldi Trio (1956) and A Flower is a Lovesome Thing (1957).
The late 1950s were a busy time for Guaraldi. Aside from studio sessions (in L.A.) with trumpeter Conte Candoli (two albums), trombonist Frank Rosolino (one album); and vibraphonist Cal Tjader (at least ten albums), Guaraldi toured in 1956 with Woody Herman’s third ‘Thundering Herd,’ replacing Nat Pierce on piano for one season. Not too much later, just after midnight during 1958’s first annual Monterey Jazz Festival, some 6,000 rabid but by now quite tired jazz fans came to their feet when The Cal Tjader Quintet blew them away, with Guaraldi’s inspired piano prominently featured.
Thanks in no small part to the ‘sound of surprise’ from the feisty Guaraldi, whose extended blues riffs literally had the crowd screaming for more, Tjader’s quintet received a standing ovation.
National prominence was just around the corner. Inspired by the 1959 French/Portuguese film Black Orpheus, Guaraldi entered the Fantasy studio with a new trio — Monte Budwig on bass, Colin Bailey on drums — and recorded his own interpretations of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s haunting soundtrack music. The 1962 album was called Jazz Impression of Black Orpheus, and ‘Samba de Orpheus’ was the first selection from that album released as a single. Combing the album for a suitable B-side number, Guaraldi’s producers chose a modest original composition titled ‘Cast Your Fate to the Wind.’ Fortunately, some enterprising Sacramento, California DJs turned the ”Black Orpheus’ single over…and the rest is history.
‘Cast Your Fate to the Wind’ became a Gold Record winner and earned the 1963 Grammy as Best Instrumental Jazz Composition. It was constantly demanded during Guaraldi’s club engagements, and suddenly jazz fans couldn’t get enough of him. He responded with several albums during 1963 and ’64, perhaps the most important of which was Vince Guaraldi, Bola Sete, and Friends, with Fred Marshall (bass), Jerry Granelli (drums).The Brazilian guitarist Bola Sete is co-featured on this album. That marked the first of several collaborations by Guaraldi with Sete.”
Vince Guaraldi died suddenly on February 6. 1976 of an acute myocardial infarction. He was 47 years old.
(*) Vince’s uncle, Muzzy Marcellino had a long and successful musical career that started in San Francisco, was furthered during his six years (1932-1938) as a violinist/guitarist/vocalist with the very popular dance band led by Ted Fio Rito, and then as a bandleader himself. He started leading his band on Art Linkletter’s network TV show in the early 1950s, a gig that lasted for over fifteen years. He was also a talented whistler, being featured often doing that in many musical settings. His other uncle,Joe Marcellino, led a very successful hotel band in San Francisco for many years.
“Cast Your Fate to the Wind”
Composed by Vince Guaraldi.
Recorded by the Vince Guaraldi Trio for Fantasy in February, 1962 in San Francisco, California.
Vince Guaraldi, piano; Monty Budwig, bass; Colin Bailey, drums.
The music: After a brief piano vamp played against arco (bowed) bass and a subtly brushed snare drum, we hear the signature Guaraldi right-hand voicing that introduces the attractive main theme of “Cast Your Fate to the Wind.” The rhythmic secondary theme provides immediate contrast. The second chorus starts with a rustle of rhythm, and the proceeds with a swinging improvisation. One gets a sense from listening to Guaraldi’s playing in this segment why he was called “Dr. Funk” by his fellow musicians. The third chorus starts with a reprise of the first chorus, and then a piano vamp into the finale. Take note of Monty Budwig’s excellent bass playing throughout.
“Cast Your Fate to the Wind” contains very simple and very effective music making. And it is melodies are memorable.These are reasons why this performance became a substantial hit in 1962-1963 when jazz recordings were being played less and less on radio, and has remained a mainstream jazz staple ever since.
As a bonus, here is something that presents Dr. Funk at his funkiest, and stretching out a bit.
“Willow Weep for Me”
Composed by Ann Ronnell.
Recorded by the Vince Guaraldi Trio for Fantasy in San Francisco April 16, 1957.
Vince Guaraldi, piano; Eddie Duran, guitar; Dean Reilly, bass.
The recordings presented in this post were digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.