Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Vince Guaraldi - Is it James or Charlie? *

As Derrick Bang very kindly mentioned on his blog at Five Cents Please just a few hours ago (http://impressionsofvince.blogspot.co.uk/2017/02/the-peanuts-connection-down-to-last-note.html), if you’ve read my essay in the Security Blankets paperback, then you’ll know that it was the Peanuts cartoons which were primarily responsible for switching me on to the joys of Jazz (definitely to be capitalised!) and also of Vince Guaraldi's work in particular.

I’d seen a few of the Charlie Brown specials during the 1970s, in all their grainy, over-played glory, but it wasn’t until the advent of ‘Breakfast TV’ in the UK in the mid-1980s that I would have the chance to video almost all of the early specials, to enjoy them again at leisure, as I’m sure many Stateside fans will also have done in the days before home video releases in stores were common place. I even made up my own audio mix-tape of favourite cues (although I doubt I’m the only one in the world to have done that either) – disruptive dialogue, sound effects and all. Cue strange looks when that was played at work once!

A few years later I chanced upon a review in Record Collector of one of the first Vince Guaraldi CD releases by Fantasy, eagerly snapping up the Trio’s first album and both of the CBS soundtrack albums. These were being imported into the UK through Ace Records at the time, so they came complete with their US long-box cardboard mounting cases (as pictured here), a method of packaging which was later abandoned in the States.

But those two soundtracks hardly scratched the surface of all the potential music which Guaraldi had produced for the shows along with his various sidemen – if any of it still existed, of course (especially from a British perspective of knowing how poor many organisations had been in neglecting to archive their history). Fortunately, we weren’t to be disappointed, it was just that the wait would be a long one. And so it wasn’t until the unexpected release of Charlie Brown’s Holiday Hits in 1998 that it became clear that there was indeed at least some new material still to be released. Disappointingly, that seemed to be it. But then a saviour arose in the mid-Noughties, when Guaraldi’s son David uncovered various recordings, in various states of repair, and started to make this fresh material available; first through Bluebird Records and then by resurrecting his father’s previously formed D&D record label.

By then DVD had surmounted video as a much more versatile (pun fully intended) format for adding additional supporting material to collections of archive TV and films, thus making (what were also much slimmer) box-sets a much more-affordable reality at last. Yet, even with the advent of DVD, there were still a good handful of the first fifteen Charlie Brown specials that were frustratingly not yet available, and those that were would sometimes be placed as extras on those individual discs of later shows that were starting to be made available. It wasn’t until relatively recently that we could finally view all fifteen Guaraldi sound-tracked specials chronologically thanks to the excellent 1960 and the first two 1970s box sets.

You can blame Derrick’s excellent book for what happened next! After a full Christmas 2015 devouring of Vince Guaraldi at the Piano, many months after it had been purchased (and following one previous attempt to find time to read it all the way through that had stalled after reading the introduction and then getting too busy with other things to continue with it), I was suitably inspired to complete the long-planned purchase of just about all the Guaraldi CDs I’d been intending to buy but hadn’t got around to yet, and a few others besides. It was then that I looked back at the web-site, and one of the Music Use Sheets for an episode caught my eye. I knew the first cue listed there wasn’t right at all, as I could clearly recall that show starting with a completely different track instead, one that could be found on the first Lost Cues CD. This got me thinking – always a dangerous sign!

Suitably inspired, I then decided to see if I could work out exactly where all the tracks on the CDs came from, bearing in mind the helpful pointers provided on this website about incorrectly named tracks on some of the compilation albums and the shows they actually belonged to rather than what their booklet and sleeve notes might otherwise say. The results threw up several major surprises, a few revisions to information that had previously appeared on Five Cents Please, as well as some other seriously interesting discoveries, all of which will I hope make it easier to see just what original TV music is now out there on CD. As Derrick has mentioned on his latest blog entry, you'll now need to buy at least two more albums than you previously expected to if you’ve only been purchasing those that so obviously do contain TV music! Had I not had that mad buying spree to fill in the many gaps in my collection whilst everything was available, I'm sure I would never have attempted this when I did.

If you've got this far in, and if you're interested in how I approached this project, then read on.

It seems to me that when these TV shows were originally being compiled, names were often given to the cues as a means of describing their purpose, or as an indication of the mood of a scene, rather than as the sort of firm title that they would have automatically acquired if they’d been planned for commercial release at the time. Because these titles weren’t fixed, as they would have been if they were pop songs or other compositions, they are by no means consistent across all the shows. So much so, that some of the more popular tunes that were re-recorded over and over for each show they appeared – often in increasingly different arrangements until they became almost unrecognisable – also went on to acquire several different names too as time passed. Meanwhile, and muddying the waters further, two completely different pieces of music in the same show turn out to share exactly the same name.

Confusing, isn’t it?!!

Although I’ve kept closely to the style and terminology that was carefully set out for the original on-line episode guides on this web-site, you’ll quickly see that I’ve narrowed the focus here to concentrate on identifying where specific TV cues can be found on CD, adding separate notation in blue type indicating where other, later re-recordings of some of these cues can be found on CD that are not yet available on any Guaraldi album in any of their on-screen TV variations.

As Derrick says elsewhere on his web pages, whilst some of the TV soundtrack recordings that have escaped on to CD can be heard in full within the original TV episode, this is by no means always the case, and in many instances only selected segments of some recordings are utilised within the final cut of the animated shows. In addition, it’s become clear, in listening through all the TV shows, that most episodes had several different versions of the same cues recorded, which came in varying tempos, moods, arrangements and instrumentation (as we’ve heard from the ‘alternate’ versions of familiar cues that keep slipping out on to CD every few years). As you'll have seen, I’ve tried to reflect these variations by adding in some extra descriptions of my own in an attempt to more clearly define these differing versions, such as [brass version] or [guitar version] for instance. Some of the differences are very slight and require several listens to properly identify, but most are much easier to spot.

It was only after embarking on this project that I happened to wander over to his blog, only to discover that Doug Anderson had already helpfully worked his way through the Christmas special, although using far more hi-tech methods than I have at my disposal (but then I’ve spent many decades working in music identification, picking out remixes and alternative versions of songs for other projects, so I have certain methods that I use too). Strangely enough, I’d also marked up the cue sheets by the time positions that they appear on the DVDs. The only difference you’ll find between what Doug set down, and what I’ve assembled here, is that I’ve split some of the cues up further, as to my ears some of them are actually individual tracks separated by the tiniest of gaps.

On the spreadsheets I appended to my previous post Ive highlighted rows in bold type on the TV episodes guide to make it easier to see those cues that can be found on CD, with a note guiding you to the album it appears on, along with its track number. I’ve done the same thing over on the CD album guide to indicate which tracks on each album featured as a cue in an actual TV episode (noting its position within that show by the cue numbers I’ve assigned to each episode). In the final column at the end of each row I’ve added various notes about the music – a mixture of previous posted information and some new additions. But beyond what’s already been posted about some of the tracks, you’ll also find a few suggested corrections in green type where things are not quite what they initially seemed to be.

Thus, after a six month period of comparing the soundtracks to the specials alongside the material scattered across various CDs, swapping headphones between the DVD and the CD players to play and replay the music to run full A/B comparisons, this is what I’ve come up with so far. Oh, and I also took a brief side-trip in to classical-land while I was delving deeper into the TV shows, and managed to lock-down both the precise details of those classical tracks that were documented previously on the original Music Use Sheets compiled for each episode, but I’m pleased to say that I have also managed to identify a few of the other classical works about which there were no details at all, although by no means all – at least one cue of which has unfortunately escaped identification as yet.

But let’s hope this isn’t the final word on this. One can only hope that there’s yet more material waiting somewhere to be discovered and released. It would be great to fill in some more blanks. As it presently stands some specials still sadly remain entirely unrepresented on CD. If I hadn’t already thought so before I started this, a chronological box set of Guaraldi’s music for the Charlie Brown TV specials is now definitely long overdue, although it would be a herculean task to compile, especially with material scattered amongst various archives at present. Nevertheless, I’d love to help trying to identify any material that did surface, as I know others would be too. The fact that Fantasy keeps dipping into Guaraldi’s catalogue convinces me that if a wider audience could be reached then a full-blown collector’s set would be a worthy project. If this research helps in any way to further that possibility, then all the better, but I’m just happy to have finally got to grips with what’s already out there, hence my desire to get this information out to as many of Guaraldi’s admirers as possible.

Happiness is… listening to more Vince!

P.S. In answer to this article's title - referencing one particular TV music cue - the answer is Brown!

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