Album Review: Vince Guaraldi – The Very Best of Vince Guaraldi

The music of Vince Guaraldi could well be described as “jazz for people who don’t like jazz.” And even knowing what little I do about Guaraldi the man, I strongly suspect that he’d be pleased with that description. He was a hipster-looking pianist who created arguably the most accessible body of work in the jazz idiom. Guaraldi is the composer and performer of music that a generation knows, though they may not know it was he who created it.

Among music fans, Guaraldi’s most well-known and immortal work is “Cast your Fate to the Wind” from the album Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus, itself a groundbreaking work and major commercial success. It’s my contention – not provable, mind you – that the main melodic line of “Cast your Fate to the Wind” provided the riff for a song by another artist who’d many years later be on Fantasy Records (as leader of Creedence Clearwater Revival) John Fogerty. Listen to his post-CCR solo hit “Centerfield” and decide for yourself. And Todd Rundgren‘s “Breathless” from Something/Anything? owes a similar debt to Guaraldi’s “Treat Street.” Clearly, Guaraldi’s influence and reach clearly extended well beyond jazz and jazz fans.

Because among the public at large, Guaraldi is the man who wrote and performed the Peanuts theme, “Linus and Lucy.” The warm, friendly and – here’s that word again – accessible approach of Guaraldi’s work expressed a carefree joy without the use of words. And Guaraldi’s subsequent work for the animation franchise included more music in that vein, especially his work for the Peanuts Christmas specials.

The best of that work plus nearly a dozen more tunes make up the new one-disc collection from Concord/Fantasy, The Very Best of Vince Guaraldi. Part of Concord’s plan to release boiled-down introductory collections for those interested yet new to jazz artists, The Best of Vince Guaraldi shows the pianist in a jazz trio. With a string quintet; delving in to the then-hot samba scene; and much more. Guitarists Eddie Duran and Bola Sete (one or the other is featured on the majority of these tracks) add even more tasty appeal to the songs. Across all the tracks – live and studio – Guaraldi’s approach is always aimed squarely at drawing in the widest swath of listeners, and he does it without ever “selling out” or diluting his music. Guaraldi comes by his commercial appeal honestly; it’s simply who we was as a musician.

Guaraldi biographer Derrick Bang‘s lyrical (there’s no better word) liner notes offer a short course in Guaraldi’s appeal, and – like the music – will lead listeners to delve deeper into his catalog. If I might recommend a second and third destination: the aforementioned Jazz Impressions and one I don’t have (yet), a 2CD release from 2009 titled The Definitive Vince Guaraldi.

Postscript: I discovered the “Treat Street” / “Breathless” connection on my own; Derrick Bang (a much more learned scholar than myself) was hipped to the connection by another reviewer a few short weeks ago.