Vince Guaraldi at the Piano
McFarland Press 2012
In Vince Guaraldi at the Piano (McFarland Press, 2012),Derrick Bang chronicles San Francisco jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi’s sojourns into the world of jazz from the late 1940s to his untimely death in 1976. Guaraldi, known to most world-wide as the composer and pianist behind the Peanuts’ animated television specials featuring Charlie Brown and Snoopy, also played in Woody Herman’s “Third Herd” big band; composed and recorded a revolutionary Jazz Mass which he performed live in San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral in 1965; participated in some magical and memorable live and recorded collaborations with Brazilian guitarist Bola Sete; and was a fixture in the bossa nova Latin jazz San Francisco club scene in the 1950s and 1960s.
His “Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus,” based on the soundtrack to the Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Film in 1960, introduced countless people to jazz and the sensuous sounds of bossa nova. His single on the same album, “Cast Your Fate to the Wind,” won a Grammy for Best Original Jazz Composition in 1963 and was a successful cross-over song cover on the US Billboard pop chart. Though Vince Guaraldi died in 1976 at the age of only 47, his legacy was revived decades later by David Benoit and George Winston, both of whom recorded covers of his songs. Bang is circumspect about much of Guaraldi’s personal life and he qualifies up front that his book isn’t a traditional biography. Nonetheless, one gets a great feel for the varied and large body of work of this San Francisco-born musician who carved out a unique and enduring niche in the jazz world. Guaraldi had a wonderful sense of rhythm, and his improvisations were almost always melodic. He could swing and play anything from boogie-woogie to bossa nova but will perhaps most be remembered as a joyful player with a sense of playfulness and uplift. You feel good when you hear Vince Guaraldi’s music. With an extensive discography, filmography, and also a large collection of statements and observations by Guaraldi’s peers about his playing, his distinctive handlebar-mustachioed look, and his entertaining persona at the piano, Bang’s book, which represents a lifetime of listening and appreciation and more than four years of extensive research, is a rich and needed testimony to Guaraldi’s musical legacy.