Composed by Vince Guaraldi
Recorded by Vince Guaraldi for Fantasy in San Francisco, California in August, 1963.
Vince Guaraldi, piano, directing: Bola Sete, guitar; Fred Marshall, bass; Jerry Granelli, drums.
The story: Certain places evoke music in me. I will never forget the time when a friend and I visited a professional associate and his wife in Manhattan on a cold, gray December evening for a business meeting. Our business associate was a dapper, erudite man in his early eighties, with a voice and manner of speaking that were exactly like Humphrey Bogart’s. His home and office were in a house on Park Avenue in the 90s. We were asked to arrive at 5:30 p.m., which we did. Darkness had come over New York about an hour earlier. We were admitted to our associate’s office by him. It was on the ground floor of their home, and was entered by going down a couple of steps from the sidewalk. We took care of our business quickly, and then he asked us to stay for awhile to enjoy cocktails and canapés upstairs, in his living room.
We ascended via a small, steel spiral staircase, and were greeted by his wife. She was an attractive, stylishly dressed woman in her forties.The living room was large, with a high ceiling. It’s spacious walls were hung with dozens of paintings our host had collected over a lifetime. Many of the greatest painters of the Twentieth Century were represented: Europeans Pablo Picasso, Paul Cezanne and Marc Chagall; Americans Edward Hopper and Man Ray. (Above left: Le repos Marie-Therese Walter by Pablo Picasso.) I had a couple of very nice martinis and some canapés. The conversation and ambience were stimulating. At 7:30, my friend and I, who had to meet someone else for dinner in midtown at eight o’clock, excused ourselves. Our hosts showed us to the front door, which was a few steps above the sidewalk.
As we began walking down Park Avenue, I looked up at the nighttime sky. It was filled with stars. The towers of Manhattan glittered with their lights. Our breaths created puffs of steam in the cold air. Snowflakes fluttered down. I was almost in a trance. In my mind, I was hearing George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.”
The charms of California are of a different sort. I have been to California many times. I went there first in 1979. I had long before that cultivated my own highly romanticized impressions of what California was like. Those impressions were derived from countless television shows, movies and photos in books that depicted California in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. Whenever I have returned to California since 1979 (I was there most recently in early 2019), I have sought out places that are romantic, at least to me. Almost always, those romantic places are on the Pacific coast. I have been fortunate to have enjoyed seeing the sun set over the Pacific in California locations as far south as San Diego, and as far north as Mendocino. (The sunset shown above was at La Jolla, California – March 2019. Photo: Matthew Zirpolo.) I have watched sunsets from various places in and near San Francisco. These experiences have been memorable. Very often, when I am having these California experiences, the music of Vince Guaraldi, whose primary base of operations was always the Bay Area, is in my mind.
I have commented before on this blog about musicians in and around the world of swing who had the gift of melody. By “the gift of melody,” I mean that in a very real sense, melodies poured out of them. Most of these musicians were composers, like Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, and a bit after those giants, Henry Mancini. Then there were musicians who were primarily performers, like the jazz pianists Duke Ellington,Thelonious Monk and Vince Guaraldi, who also had the gift of melody. (At left: Vince Guaraldi at the 1966 Monterey Jazz Festival.)
One thing that was also true about all of these musicians with the gift of melody: each of them had one or more commercial platforms which were effective in promoting their melodies and bringing them to the attention of wide public audiences. In some cases those platforms were Broadway musicals, or Hollywood movie musicals, or in the case of Ellington, his own touring band, which played his melodies for live audiences, broadcast them over radio, and made permanent record of them on phonograph recordings. Henry Mancini’s melodies were promoted at first on television shows, later in feature films, and of course on recordings.
Vince Guaraldi was very fortunate to be in the right place at the right time with the right tools in front of the right people. At first, he reached a small mass audience on records, and then later a gigantic mass audience on television, where his melodies provided the creative musical background of the various Peanuts TV shows, which were first presented in the 1960s, and have continued to run for decades.
There is irony in the fact that people who know nothing of music, nothing of jazz, and nothing of Vince Guaraldi, almost always will say when hearing Guaraldi’s music “hey, that’s the music from Peanuts, or Charlie Brown,” …or whichever of cartoonist-media mogul Charles M. Schulz characters they remember or identify with. This is but another piece of evidence that proves the pervasive influence of television. Guaraldi himself certainly understood and had lived the joys and sorrows of life as a jazz musician long before his association with Peanuts. After Peanuts, Guaraldi the jazz pianist happily continued to make music more or less as he always had, except that he no longer had to worry about paying his bills.That can be liberating.
In the early 1960s, Vince Guaraldi, became enamored of Brazilian music as a result of seeing the Brazilian film Orfeo Negro. He began to integrate various melodies from that film into his jazz trio’s repertoire. The story of how he was able, with considerable difficulty, to get some of that music recorded, is told elsewhere on this blog.(Click on the link to “Manha de Carnaval” at the bottom of this post to read about that.) Vince also allied himself in the mid-1960s with one of the most authentic and cogent creators of what has come to be known as Bossa Nova music, Bola Sete.
Bola Sete, whose real name was Djalma de Andrade, was born in Rio de Janiero, Brazil on July 16, 1923. His stage name means “Seven Ball” in Portuguese. In the game snooker, which is fairly popular in Brazil, the seven ball is the only black ball on the snooker table. Bola got this nickname when he was the only black member of a small Brazilian jazz group. (Bola Sete is shown above and below with Vince Guaraldi – 1963.)
Sete studied guitar at the Conservatory of Rio. He started performing with his own sextet and local samba groups while he was a student. His early influences were guitarists Django Reinhardt, Charlie Christian, Barney Kessel, George Van Eps, and Oscar Moore of the Nat King Cole Trio. He also admired the big bands from the United States that toured South America In the early 1950s led by Dizzy Gillespie, Tommy Dorsey, and Woody Herman.
His career started in 1952 when he began playing in clubs and hotels in Italy for four years. Then he returned to Brazil and started touring South America, during which time the manager of Sheraton Hotels noticed him and decided to bring him to the U.S. to play in Sheraton hotels. He played in New York’s Park Sheraton, then moved to San Francisco to play in the Sheraton Palace there. Coincidentally, Dizzy Gillespie was staying at that hotel at the time and listened to Sete play frequently. When Gillespie brought his pianist, Lalo Schifrin, to the hotel, he discovered that Schifrin and Sete had played together in Argentina. This meeting was the beginning of Sete’s success in the U.S. In the fall of 1962, Gillespie took Sete to the Monterey Jazz Festival in California, where he enjoyed a huge success.
Sete then toured with Gillespie, then returned to San Francisco, where he joined the Vince Guaraldi trio in 1963. His partnership with Guaraldi yielded several well-received recordings. After staying with Guaraldi for a couple of years, Sete formed his own trio, and went onto continuing success. Sete died on February 14, 1987. (Bola Sete is shown above right in the mid-1970s.)
The music: The melodies of Vince Guaraldi, including “Star Song,” are very often warm and romantic. In this performance, those feelings are heightened by the gentle Bossa Nova rhythm of the guitar, bass and drums. Guaraldi plays his lovely melody through the first chorus, and then he improvises. His playing is relaxed and full of feeling, It is passionate without being aggressive. And it swung. Guaraldi was one of the most individual jazz pianists on the scene in the 1960s. Bola Sete follows Guaraldi playing an equally warm and swinging improvised solo on his unamplified guitar. Guaraldi returns after Sete to bring this lovely music to a conclusion.
The recording presented in this post was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.
The biographical information about Bola Sete in this post was derived from the Wikipedia post that summarizes his life and career.
This link will take you to the marvelous Guaraldi recording of “Manha de Carnaval”:
This link will take you to “Cast Your Fate to the Wind”;