Vince Guaraldi – A Bay Area Jazz Master

The Definitive Vince Guaraldi 2-disc compact disc collection is available on Amazon.

Jazz music from a Bay Area master that is suitable for all ages and times of the day.

If there is a more iconic album cover in all of American West Coast jazz history, I have yet to come across it. A nattily dressed man in dark suit, thick rimmed eyeglasses, and an enormous handlebar mustache casually rests one foot on a children’s piano while a beautifully coiffed blond boy in a black and red striped tee shirt, shorts, and potato shaped brown leather shoes looks curiously at the white keys from a short distance away. The boy, of course, is Schroeder from Charles Schulz’s beloved “Peanuts” comics, and the mustachioed man in the dark glasses and suit is – who else? – San Francisco’s own jazz piano master, Mr. Vince Guaraldi. 

Inside, there are not one but two wonderful long playing CDs filled with Vince’s classic compositions and jazz interpretations recorded between 1955 and 1966, all beautifully mastered by Joe Tarantino in Berkeley and released in 2009 by Fantasy Records as a “definitive” anthology. A revealing, well written essay on Vince’s life and musical legacy is provided by jazz journalist, Doug Ramsey, and the liner notes include essential details on the original recordings and the many talented musicians who accompanied Vince over the years, like guitarists Eddie Duran and Bola Sete, bass players Dean O’Reilly and Fred Marshall, and drummers Colin Bailey, John Markham, and Jerry Granelli.

The Definitive Vince Guaraldi gets played more often, all year long, on my home stereo than any album in my jazz, rock, folk, or classical music collections. Maybe it’s because I acquired most of Vince’s music shortly after moving to the Bay Area, or because I feel a special connection to his familiar haunts in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco and in Menlo Park, where he passed away following a heart attack in 1976, while taking a breather between gigs at a local club – a music man to the very end. Maybe because the 2-disc collection works so perfectly well with mealtimes in the afternoon and evening, with California cuisine and local wines. Disc 1 contains some of Vince’s best original works, like “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” and “A Star Song.” Disc 2 has all the Peanuts classics, plus great Latin and Brazilian inspired tunes, and several previously unreleased recordings, such as “Blues for Peanuts” and superb version of “Autumn Leaves.” You cannot go wrong with any of the tracks on either CD. Press play, pour some wine, light a few candles, clink glasses, and prepare to enjoy one of American music’s greatest gifts to humanity.

If you are a true fan of what you hear on this anthology, I highly recommend adding additional albums to your collection, including A Charlie Brown Christmas, A Flower is a Lonesome Thing, The Latin Side of Vince Guaraldi, Vince Guaraldi with the San Francisco Boys Chorus (which has very cool versions of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind’ and the Beatles’ “Elanor Rigby”), Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus, and North Beach (my favorite of his individual albums). 

If you love jazz – even if you are just a casual listener – The Definitive Vince Guaraldi will make you a believer in the power of music to heal, to make happy, and to help dull the pain of daily life. Peanuts songs may be the gateway drug to Vince’s musical treasures for younger listeners, but beyond those wonderful, well-loved tunes, there lies a veritable ocean of possibilities to explore, one poignant song and near-to-perfect piano performance at a time.

Published by Sempervirens117

I am a writer, blogger, and founder of sempervirens117.com, an environmentally conscious Silicon Valley consultancy based in Woodside, California.

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