Great Jazz in the San Francisco Bay Area (as Told by a Budding Bass Player)

vince_guaraldiI love jazz and will be writing a lot about great jazz groups and their music in the San Francisco Bay Area.  I will also be recording my personal trek from useless couch potato to cool and mysterious jazz bass player.   I will, of course, need to buy a beret and some shades, and grow a goatee.  But those flourishes can wait.  First I actually have to learn to play my upright string bass.  Priorities, you know.

I made good use of the four day weekend over the New Year holiday.  I cleaned out a bedroom upstairs that had been used as a storage room, carting boxes downstairs to the garage and dragging, by brute force, a bookshelf up from the garage.  I then neatly organized and arranged my many books, music CD’s and videos on playing  bass.

In the room I found an old boom box that belonged to my son in his teenage years.  I tried it out.  It had a lot of static and cut out a lot, but after I cleaned the CD player with alcohol swabs and blew the dust out of the circuits with canned air, it worked perfectly.  The speakers are great and allow me to clearly hear the bass in my music CD’s.  It’s perfect for practice.  Finally, I cleaned off and organized my desk, putting my laptop on it for playing instructional videos or listening to music videos.  Today I watched Roy Orbison’s last videotaped performance from 1999 and played along with the music.

I spent quite a bit of time over the holidays learning tunes from my Jamey Aebersold CD, “Maiden Voyage.”  Aebersold CD’s are for teaching you to play jazz, no matter what your intrument.  Each CD comes with a book of sheet music.  The sheet music provides you with the chord changes as you play along with the CD.  It really develops your ear and your ability to read chord symbols.  I am finding these CD’s invaluable in getting up to speed as a musician.

Since playing a string bass is physically demanding, I need a lot of practice just to get into shape.  I have put in the practice time and the muscles in my arms and fingers are sore.  I seem to be building up quickly as I can play for a longer period without getting tired.  I feel encouraged by my progress.   The bass neck no longer seems so daunting.

The San Francisco Bay Area, where I live, has a lot of great jazz groups and musicians.  I obtained a CD from one of them, a group called “Round Midnight.”  Their CD “We’ll Be Right Back” can be purchased from their website.  I’ve never heard the group in person but their CD is magnificent.  Fantastic jazz!  I will make it a point to go hear them in person soon.  The bass player is very impressive too.  If feeling joyous and energetic is your thing, you may want to buy their CD.

One of my major inspirations and personal heroes is Vince Guaraldi.  He was a San Francisco jazz piano player and the head of the Vince Guaraldi Trio, consisting of piano, drums and string bass.  The VGT provided the jazzy themes for Charles Schulz’s comic characters, “Peanuts,” e.g. Charley Brown, Snoopy, Linus and Lucy.  I love listening to CD’s of Guaraldi’s music.  Right now I am listening to “A Boy Named Charley Brown.”

Vince Guaraldi died on February 4, 1976 while relaxing between sets at Butterfield’s Nightclub in Menlo Park, California.  He was resting in a room at the Red Cottage Inn and died of a sudden heart attack.  He was only 47 years old.

On one of my days off I plan to pay homage to Vince Guaraldi by driving to Menlo Park and seeing where he died.  I don’t think Butterfield’s Nightclub is still in operation — I can’t find it in the directory.  The Red Cottage Inn is still in operation, however; I will see if the building where Butterfield’s was is still in operation.   Then I will drive to Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma, California and visit his grave and take pictures.  I will write about this journey and share it with my readers.

Vince Guaraldi’s son David is keeping his father’s legacy alive and apparently has a music store in Stockton.  I’d love to interview David sometime.  We’ll see.


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