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Vince Guaraldi at the Piano [Paperback]

Derrick Bang

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Book Description

15 May 2012
Although Vince Guaraldi's playful jazz piano themes for the early Peanuts animated television specials are well known, the composer himself remains largely unheralded. More than merely "the Peanuts guy," Guaraldi cut his jazz teeth as a member of combos fronted by Cal Tjader and Woody Herman and garnered Top 40 fame with his Grammy Award-winning hit "Cast Your Fate to the Wind." This biography gives Guaraldi long-overdue recognition, chronicling his years as a sideman; his attraction to the emerging bossa nova sound of the late 1950s; his collaboration with Brazilian guitarist Bola Sete; his development of the Grace Cathedral Jazz Mass; his selection as the fellow to put the jazz swing in Charlie Brown's step; and his emergence as a respected veteran in the declining Northern California jazz club scene of the 1970s. Throughout, this welcome volume conveys the magic and legacy of one of jazz music's overlooked treasures.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.9 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars At long last! THE definitive musical biography of Vince Guaraldi 2 April 2012
By D. Anderson - Published on
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.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A real Piano Man 25 July 2012
By Tim Crawford - Published on
I jumped at the chance to review Derrick Bang's biography, "Vince Guaraldi at the Piano", having been a fan of Guaraldi since I first heard his song "Cast Your Fate to the Wind". Listening to Guaraldi's music made me think that I would have liked him had I ever met him, after reading Bang's well researched biography I'm sure I would have.

Bang concentrates of Guaraldi's professional life but manages to include the aspects of his personal life that are relevant. For instance two of his uncles are professional musicians, Guaraldi grew up exposed to the realities of the job, the need to always be practicing, the work hours, and the uncertain paychecks. Bang follows Guaraldi's career from playing at school dances and parties for his classmates to summers moving back and forth from lesbian bars and strip clubs, to first occasionally working as a sideman with Cal Tjader to becoming a regular with Tjader's group until finally stepping out with his own group.

Guaraldi's third album was titled for and focused on Guaraldi's interpretations of Latin music from the 1959 movie "Black Orpheus". Since those cuts were not enough to fill an album several of Guaraldi's other compositions were used to fill out the album. Fantasy Records, the company Guaraldi was under contract with, issued a 45 single to promote the album. One of Guaraldi's other compositions was chosen for the B side of the record, "Cast Your Fate to the Wind". Over the next few years and that recording climbed the charts, first the 45, then the albums, Stereo and Monaural, made it into their respective "Best of the Week" charts and Guaraldi's life became very busy.

He became so busy that Bang had to devote separate chapters to events unfolding at the same time. First the rise of Guaraldi's Grammy winning recording of "Cast Your Fate to the Wind". Second, as a direct result of someone hearing that record, he was asked to compose a Jazz Mass for the opening of San Francisco's long awaited Grace Cathedral, a controversial effort to bring, as some said, saloon music, into the church. Third, again directly because of CYFttW,, a struggling local production company asked him to score a documentary they were doing on a local writer.

"Cast Your Fate to the Wind", a jazz instrumental, climbed the pop charts in a year when Elvis and the Memphis Sound was battling it out with the Beatles and the British Invasion. Guaraldi's Jazz Mass changed church music forever. However, it was the third project that became Guaraldi's overshadowing success. I do mean overshadowing. In fact when I saw that Bang's other works were on Charles Schulz I feared that the Peanuts gang would crowd Guaraldi out of his own biography.

I was pleasantly surprised.

Bang shows us the life of a hard working piano man, a determined professional who overcame, spectacularly, his inability to read music. We get a look at what is was like to struggle as a Union musician in the days when a week was a long engagement and as a recording artist when the record companies ruled like feudal lords. He paints a vivid picture of the San Francisco jazz scene and what a small world professional jazz is. Of the few jazz musicians I know most of them turned up at one time or another sharing a stage with Guaraldi. Some names that I never expected showed up, Jerry Garcia was the most surprising.

This is a wonderfully entertaining story that somehow gets even more engrossing after Guaraldi's death in 1976 at age 47. The only negative I can say about this book is that exploring its discography of Guaraldi's recordings is going to be expensive.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jazz in San Francisco 1 May 2012
By corry342 - Published on
Derrick Bang's Vince Guaraldi At The Piano is a wonderful biography of the great pianist. However, those readers who only have a general knowledge or interest in Guaraldi should be aware that the book provides a fascinating narrative of jazz in San Francisco from the 1950s to the 19770s. In many ways it is a story of decline, as jazz is replaced by rock as hip, popular music. Nonetheless, one does not have to be completely embedded in Guaraldi's music to appreciate the scope of the book.

Guaraldi played a part in so much of West Coast jazz, playing with Woody Herman and Cal Tjader, working all the clubs, playing the original Monterey Jazz Festivals, bringing jazz to the masses with "Cast Your Fate To The Wind" (and later, to Mass, but you have to read the book) and then becoming truly mass market with "Peanuts." In between, he plays with all sorts of people, from Anita O'Day to Jerry Garcia. The story of Vince Guaraldi at the piano is also the story of post-war jazz in San Francisco, and provides a rich cultural history of the era.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Vince Guaraldi at the Piano by Derrrick Bang 16 Aug 2012
By Francis C. Cary - Published on
Most of us know Vince Guaraldi as the guy who wrote and performed the piano scores to the Peanuts television specials. The Linus and Lucy theme is forever stored in the memories of countless listeners, whether they know it by name or not. Derrick Bang's biography, Vince Guaraldi at the Piano, offers an in-depth description of Guaraldi's multifaceted musical career - a history most are unaware of. Unfortunately, Bang's outline is a bit overdone, becoming tedious for the reader who was looking forward to a more complete life history. However, to the jazz enthusiast or musician, it is a great chronicle of Guaraldi's musical career.

Bang does cover some of Guaraldi's history and influences. In particular, he takes an interesting look inside the music business at that time, including the development and nature of contracts between record companies and performers. Guaraldi was an active musician and writer during a period when the recording companies received the lion's share of the artists' proceeds. Very little went to the artist. For example, Guaraldi received a mere 5% share of all his earnings - an inequitable sum, comparatively.

Overall, this is a well written study of Mr. Guaraldi's musical career. However, it is not for one who is looking for a comprehensive biography. It is more like an expanded provenance. It is an excellent chronicle of a musician who aspired to reach us, not by writing hits, but rather standards - music that feels comfortable and familiar, "the first time you hear it." Fans of David Benoit, George Winston and Bola Sete will find much of interest in this book, as well.

A post note on behalf of the author and for others reference: the classical guitarist Andre Segovia is erroneously referred to as "Andrew"; and, the State University of New York at Potsdam is said to be in Syracuse where, in fact, it is located considerably more to the North in Potsdam.
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Read! 30 Jun 2014
By Gloria Ensey - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This book is an incredible chronicle of Vince Guaraldi and his musical genius. Author Derrick Bang skillfully takes us on a memorable journey through the jazz scene in San Francisco and other prominent musical places and introduces us to Vince Guaraldi's talents, his struggles and achievements. One also gets exposed to the other creative artists, singers and jazz musicians who worked and influenced him.

We can actually experience the Vince Guaraldi Trio playing in the jazz clubs, such as the hungri i in San Francisco, and feel him playing Gershwin's "Summertime" along with Cal Tjader and the quartet on the Monterey Peninsula during that bewitching midnight hour. With Derrick Bang's gift for accuracy, he archives this period in history and obviously spent countless hours researching and authenticating the material. The book is both scholarly and entertaining and Bang’s passion for detail should be appreciated by all.

As a huge Charles M. Schulz fan, one experiences the production of the Peanuts' cartoon characters on the big screen with Guaraldi's unforgettable piano accompaniments. His energetic piano music makes Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy, Linus, and Schroeder quite memorable as he captures their essence.

Derrick Bang brings to life Guaraldi's personality, temperament and humor in this book and adds some interesting familial influences. I thoroughly enjoyed the addition of the Marcellino family with Carmella and Vince’s ever-talented musical uncles, Muzzy and Joe. Many of the pictures of Guaraldi are delightful throughout the book, especially the 1933 elementary school photo of Vince in San Francisco clutching his teddy bear. This book truly is a classic piece of musical history and is informative and enjoyable.
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