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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.