Thursday, March 4, 2010

Vince Guaraldi: The Definitive Vince Guaraldi

Fantasy Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 3.4.10
Buy CD: The Definitive Vince Guaraldi

Vince Guaraldi is the best-known pianist in the world today, and I make that statement without reservation.

The millions of Peanuts fans know him from the musical association with Charles M. Schulz's comic strip characters and their unforgettable TV Specials. But Guaraldi had acquired an impressive fan base long before Schulz and Lee Mendelson — producer and director of all the animated shows — had even met.

Guaraldi, born in 1928, became a noted jazz artist in the early '50s when he joined vibraphonist Cal Tjader's group; Guaraldi further expanded his fame as a member of Woody Herman's Third Herd several years later. Guaraldi formed his own trio in 1955 and, until his death in '76, created numerous now-classic albums while under contract to Fantasy Records.

Guaraldi's own composition, “Cast Your Fate to the Wind,” catapulted him from a “good jazz pianist” to a truly famous jazz artist. That Grammy Award-winning tune was the catalyst that ultimately connected him to Peanuts and guaranteed success for the rest of his career, and a “forever place” up to the present day.

This double-CD album contains 31 tracks from his Fantasy recordings. The first disc features recordings made from 1955 through '63; most were done with his trio, although there's one beautiful solo piano cover of “Never, Never Land” and several other tracks with guest artists. Four are Guaraldi originals — “Calling Dr. Funk,” “Fenwyck's Farfel,” “Star Song” and the masterful “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” — and the rest are covers of familiar standards.

The second disc concentrates on 1964 and '65, with eight tracks devoted to the wonderful melodies from the Peanuts TV specials that the world re-watches annually. Finally, two tracks are previously unreleased: “Blues for Peanuts” and an alternate take of “Autumn Leaves.”

Both wonderful discs present Guaraldi at his finest. He loved playing, and it shows; his style was “light” and truly swinging. After the melody was established, his marvelous right hand would lay down chorus after chorus of groovy solo lines, which made it impossible to keep from moving with his beat. His left hand contributed perfect, light chords that always added, never subtracted.

My reaction to Guaraldi's music is perfectly captured by the members of the Peanuts cast, and particularly Snoopy, as they dance to “Linus and Lucy.” This is a must-have album!

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