329

Vince Guaraldi / Cal Tjader: The Grace Cathedral Concert

Douglas Payne By

Sign in to view read count
Vince Guaraldi / Cal Tjader: The Grace Cathedral Concert

The beautiful Grace Cathedral sits majestically atop San Francisco's famed, and exclusive, Nob Hill. It was the Reverend Charles Gompertz who in 1963 expressed a desire to achieve a "modern setting for the choral Eucharist" (i.e.: make the New Testament sound cool). Along with Barry Mineah, choral director at St. Paul's Church of San Rafael, Gompertz sought out San Francisco resident Vince Guaraldi (1928-1976) to help achieve this goal. At the time, Guaraldi was enjoying the fruits of a recent hit in "Cast Your Fate To The Wind" and was soon to go on to immortal fame as the man behind the music in The Peanuts TV specials. The pianist/composer was an ideal choice. He concocted catchy, memorable themes that sounded deceptively simple and often employed elements of Latin music and unusual time signatures.

On May 21, 1965, Guaraldi's trio (with Tom Beeson on bass and Lee Charlton on drums) and a 68-member vocal choir performed this 14-selection, 40-minute program. Listening to Guaraldi's The Grace Cathedral Concert (released on LP as Fantasy 8367) more than 30 years later, it's easy to imagine the concert as The Peanuts Go To Church. One can picture the characters "oohing" hallelujah as they hum along to the "Theme To Grace" (like "Hark The Herald Angels Sing") or solemnly reciting "The Lord's Prayer" and "Agnus Dei (O Lamb of God)." Most of the titles employ Guaraldi's knack for pretty, childlike themes — a perfect tone for the material. Guaraldi's lovely piano is heard noodling in his inimitable style behind "Kyrie Eleison" and "Come Holy Ghost." Most of the proceedings, however, are dominated by the choir — with very little jazz to be heard. Exceptions are the minor-key "Theme To Grace" and the disk's best track, the all-instrumental 11 minutes of "Holy Communion Blues." Other titles are brief (usually under three minutes) and Guaraldi approaches them with a seriousness solemn music usually demands. Audience members, as the liner notes point out, were heard to comment, though, that "Theme For Grace" was reminiscent of supper music. Father Gompertz apparently replied, "that's the idea. What does Communion represent but the last Supper — the last time these men ate together?"

The success of the event encouraged Duke Ellington to set his first Sacred Concert at Grace Cathedral in December that year. The cathedral then became an ideal source for a variety of concert settings — from jazz to folk and rock to chamber music. By 1976, Cal Tjader, another San Francisco resident, was recorded in performance at Grace Cathedral. Tjader (1925-1982) regularly performed in the Bay Area with his quartet, which at the time featured longtime Tjader-aid Lonnie Hewitt on electric piano, Rob Fisher on bass, Pete Riso on drums and Poncho Sanchez on congas. Tjader replaced the previously scheduled Vince Guaraldi, who had died several months before, on this May 22, 1976, performance for the benefit of the ""Concerts for the Hungry."

Tjader's The Grace Cathedral Concert (released on LP as Fantasy 9521) is much more of a jazz performance than Guaraldi's. It's a typical mid 70s program for the virbraphonist featuring such staples as "I Showed Them," Milt Jackson's "Bluesology" (with "Bag's Groove" quotes), a Black Orpheus medley dedicated to former Tjader pianist Vince Guaraldi, the standard "Body and Soul" and Tjader's "Theme" (based on "Freddie Freeloader"). The quintet works well together. Hewitt's subtle use of the electric piano is a nice foil to Tjader's vibes and doesn't sound nearly as dated as one might expect. Tjader puts his heart and swing into the performance, sustaining tones almost on que. Each member of the quintet is also recorded much more effectively here in the large Cathedral setting (which, unfortunately, wasn't the case for Guaraldi's bassist and drummer). That's due to the engineering finesse of Phil Edwards, who went on to record for Concord Records. There are many good Tjader performances from the 50, 60s and 70s currently available on CD. This is quite a good one.


Title: The Grace Cathedral Concert | Year Released: 1997 | Record Label: Fantasy Jazz


Tags

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Albert Mangelsdorff And His Friends CD/LP/Track Review Albert Mangelsdorff And His Friends
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: August 16, 2017
Read Heaven On Their Minds CD/LP/Track Review Heaven On Their Minds
by Bruce Lindsay
Published: August 16, 2017
Read Unnatural  Events CD/LP/Track Review Unnatural Events
by Roger Farbey
Published: August 16, 2017
Read Rediscovered Ellington CD/LP/Track Review Rediscovered Ellington
by James Nadal
Published: August 16, 2017
Read Clean CD/LP/Track Review Clean
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: August 15, 2017
Read Expedition: Duo Electro-Acoustic Improvisations CD/LP/Track Review Expedition: Duo Electro-Acoustic Improvisations
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: August 15, 2017
Read "Wake Up Call" CD/LP/Track Review Wake Up Call
by Glenn Astarita
Published: April 24, 2017
Read "Notes Over Poetry" CD/LP/Track Review Notes Over Poetry
by Chris M. Slawecki
Published: June 11, 2017
Read "Backlog" CD/LP/Track Review Backlog
by Mark F. Turner
Published: February 24, 2017
Read "The Time Verses" CD/LP/Track Review The Time Verses
by Geannine Reid
Published: April 1, 2017
Read "Brasil L.I.K.E" CD/LP/Track Review Brasil L.I.K.E
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: September 30, 2016
Read "Live At The High Noon" CD/LP/Track Review Live At The High Noon
by Doug Collette
Published: June 22, 2017

Sponsor: JANA PROJECT | LEARN MORE  

Support our sponsor

Join the staff. Writers Wanted!

Develop a column, write album reviews, cover live shows, or conduct interviews.