Thursday, 8 December 2016

An artist called Vince... with two ears (you'll find him on Kickstarter!)

Not every creative genius has lost an ear in pursuit of their art, of course.

But that header above is not a cryptic crossword clue. This is my attempt to help Andrew Thomas and Toby Gleason realise their dream of releasing their long-awaited feature length documentary: The Anatomy of Vince Guaraldi.

I've long had more than a soft-spot for the music of Vince Guaraldi. There's a cliche about his work, but it's very true: he's the jazz great whose work you've doubtless heard but never connected to him... that is, unless you've never seen any of the first fifteen Charlie Brown animated shows that he scored from 1965 until his death from an aortic aneurysm in 1976, hours after completing the recording session for It's Arbor Day, Charlie Brown. Or more precisely heard. Guaraldi's sound, and his style of keyboard playing, is entirely unique to him Once heard, never forgotten.

I suppose its possible that you might not have heard his music, but I find it unlikely seeing as his scores include the very first instalment - the ubiquitous A Charlie Brown Christmas (which still packs a punch today in even more commercialised times) - through such other classics as It's a Mystery, Charlie Brown; You're not Elected, Charlie Brown; It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (surely responsible for introducing the 'trick or treat' concept to Britain); You're a Good Sport, Charlie Brown and A Charlie Brown Valentine, amongst other classics.

Vince didn't travel much when he toured, preferring residencies at local San Franciscan jazz hang-outs, although his music certainly has done over the years, thanks predominantly to those early cartoon shows. And it's perhaps for that reason that he isn't more well-known beyond the jazz cognoscenti and Peanuts nuts. He's also been poorly treated on record, in some respects.

Although the majority of Guaraldi's albums, both solo and collaborative, have stayed in print on one format or another, it's only in the last decade or so that more compilations have finally started to appear on CD, mopping up other selections of music taken from surviving original masters from the TV recording sessions. These have been haphazard at best, and not always correctly annotated at that, leading to further confusion, but they have coughed up some surprises. Having researched all of his TV scores earlier this year to satisfy my own curiosity on the matter, and to try and pin down the exact episodes that the music on all these CDs actually featured on, I've discovered two other albums whose bonus tracks were previously unknown to have also featured a cue each that belonged to the TV shows.

Until now, there's been almost no way to actually watch Guaraldi in action, either, apart from one mid-1960s episode of Jazz critic Ralph Gleason's own San Francisco-based cable TV show Jazz Casual which eventually escaped on to DVD a few years' back. And with the original 1962 B&W documentary The Anatomy of a Hit, filmed following the breakthrough chart success of his classic Cast Your Fate to the Wind, thought lost until fairly recently, it looked like the half hour 'featurette' about Vince on the Peanuts 1960's Collection DVD - The Maestro of Menlo Park - was going to be the only place to hear those who had worked with him talk about Guaraldi.

This newly expanded version of Anatomy that Thomas and Gleason have loving constructed in their own time, and without any sponsorship or commercial support, includes many new interviews with the likes of Dave Brubeck, Lee Mendleson, Dick Gregory and Charles Gompertz, as well as "an eclectic group of musicians, artists and social activists", all integrated into the original footage from 1962. So far only screened to rapturous audiences at a few arts and jazz festivals, the film promises, says Thomas and Gleason (Ralph's son), to showcase "never-before-seen" performances, with "a soundtrack constructed from previously unheard material gleaned from Vince's live and private studio recordings". It's a mouth-watering prospect when they state that "you won't hear or see this anywhere else".

What they need now is the money to pay for the remaining music clearances to enable the film to be released at last, which is where you come in. If you like jazz music, then this is definitely a worthy cause worth supporting via their Kickstarter campaign (link below).

There's now just ten days to go until the funding rally ends on the 19th at 7.59am, so please spread this post, and maybe we can all make this a really Charlie Brown Christmas!!

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