Many of us were turned on to jazz before we even knew what it was, thanks to Vince Guaraldi. His soundtracks for the Peanuts
television specials were a novel idea in cartoon scoring, yet seemed to perfectly fit the deceptively sophisticated adventures of Charlie Brown and the rest of the Peanuts
gang. His originals were some of the best jazz to come from the West Coast scene and a tribute to what can happen when a great muse hits a gifted composer.
Of course, Guaraldi recorded other material as well, much of which is still in print thanks to his renown. The word "definitive" gets thrown around a lot with compilations, but this two-CD set, The Definitive Vince Guaraldi, gets it just about right. It skims off the best of the early Fantasy records while featuring a generous helping of selections from the television specials. For most people, this is all the Guaraldi anyone will need.
Guaraldi's earliest trio recordings boasted a Nat "King" Cole-influenced lineup featuring guitarist Eddie Duran, who cuts Guaraldi on almost every track. Guaraldi hadn't quite gotten the knack of writing good originals either, but the standards here are played with a workmanlike efficiency and general enthusiasm, and in many cases an innovative arrangement. However, it wasn't until Guaraldi produced the famous "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" that one can begin to hear his signature sound and knack for writing a memorable melody. It was a hit record, and deservedly so.
While "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" marked Guaraldi's arrival as a serious composer, he really found his stride once he was bitten by the Latin bug. Many were, of course, in the 1960s, but Guaraldi's records avoid sounding dated. A version of "On Green Dolphin Street" is particularly memorable for the way he reworks the head. Like everyone at the time, Guaraldi felt compelled (or obligated) to record "The Girl From Ipanema"; the difference, though, is the presence of Bola Sete, a Brazilian guitarist who not only shared the same sensibilities as the pianist but gave him some street cred in the Latin area.
But it's the Peanuts work that Guaraldi will largely be known for, and for good reason. This compilation focuses primarily on the originals from the specials, instead of the jazzy renditions of carols, and there are several classics: "Skating," "Linus and Lucy" and "Christmas Time Is Here," along with more charming tunes from the other specials.
The Definitive Vince Guaraldi is a terrific tribute to one of the West Coast's shining lights, albeit one whose jazz credentials have always been somewhat suspect. Perhaps this collection will establish Guaraldi as a musician of high calibermaybe not the best improviser, but one with a serious dedication to his craft.
Track Listing: CD1: Calling Dr. Funk; Fascinating Rhythm; Never Never Land; Fenwyck's Farfel; A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing; Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise; Samba de Orfeu; Cast Your Fate To the Wind; Mahna de Carnaval; Moon River; Jitterbug Waltz; On Green Dolphin Street; Star Song; The Days of Wine and Roses. CD2: Mr Lucky; Corcovado; Work Song; Ginza Samba; The Girl From Ipanema; El Matador; Oh, Good Grief; Linus and Lucy; Charlie Brown Theme; Great Pumpkin Waltz; Thanksgiving Theme; Christmas Is Coming; Christmas Time Is Here; Skating; Theme to Grace; Autumn Leaves; Blues For Peanuts.
Personnel: Vince Guaraldi: piano; Eddie Duran: guitar; Dean Reilly: bass; Monty Budwig: bass; Colin Bailey: drums; Bola Sete: guitar; and various others.
Year Released: 2009
| Record Label: Fantasy Jazz
| Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream