In one fell swoop, this exhaustive musical biography masterfully fills the information void on one of the 20th Century's most popular yet under-appreciated jazz pianists, Vince Guaraldi. Best known nowadays for his Peanuts television soundtracks, Guaraldi was an anchor and innovator in the West Coast jazz scene, as well as a Grammy-winning composer, years before his Charlie Brown fame. This definitive written account of his life and career will be a joyful revelation to Guaraldi fans, and belongs in every library that contains materials on musical history, American jazz, San Francisco, or 20th Century popular culture.
It's all in there, in new and greater detail than you've ever seen before, unfurled against the backdrop of the beatnik 1950s, swinging 1960s, and groovy 1970s: Touring with Woody Herman, the Cal Tjader years, the first Monterey Jazz Festival, "Cast Your Fate to the Wind," the Grace Cathedral Mass, the Peanuts soundtracks, the Charlie Brown Suite, Vince's electric rock and fusion experimentation, his sudden death and posthumous acclaim, and so much more.
The success of this book reflects the singular talents of Derrick Bang, whose decades of experience as a California-based entertainment writer, Guaraldi aficionado, and implacable researcher shine through in every page. The text flows merrily along, even when it is chock-full of facts and particulars. Having done some archival research on Guaraldi myself, I am amazed at the breadth of materials that Mr. Bang has discovered, digested, and woven together into a single, cohesive narrative. This is especially the case for Guaraldi's early life and career, which are lacunae no more, thanks almost completely to this book.
The book *really* swings when it gets to Guaraldi's mid-career point, drawing on the recollections of sidemen, collaborators, and friends to flesh out the musical achievements for which he was (and is) best known. This is a musical biography that remains true to Vince Guaraldi's own, personal focus as a driven performer and composer who maintained a relentless work schedule all the way to the end of his (tragically short) life. It left me with a deeper appreciation of a musician whose contributions and popularity have become clear only in the decades after his death.
The book packs a vast amount of information onto 390 large pages, thanks to economical margins and font size. The biography is cross-referenced with over 1,200 endnotes, which make it an invaluable touchstone for jazz historians and fans wanting to dive deeper into primary sources. The three appendices ("Remembering Dr. Funk," "Discography," and "Filmography") are at least as much fun to read as the main text, and have sent me scurrying back to my discs (to listen to old favorites with new ears) as well as to Amazon (to help fill holes in my Guaraldi collection).
Whether by design or happenstance, "Vince Guaraldi at the Piano" has arrived concurrently with the 50th anniversary of Vince's breakout hit, "Cast Your Fate to the Wind." I am grateful for this worthy, anniversary treat, which has better equipped me to understand to the life and times that gave us the timeless music of Vince Guaraldi.