My son surprised me recently when he casually mentioned that he listened to Vince Guaraldi’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas” almost every day. I never really thought of it as a “desert island” recording, but, if you think about, that record, in its own sneaky way, introduced a lot of people to the sound of a jazz piano trio. And, while I usually only listen to it during the Holiday Season, I never tire of hearing it again for the umpteenth time.
I actually met Vince Guaraldi. After graduating from high school, my buddy Jon Krupp and I embarked on an epic cross-country road trip. In San Francisco, we boarded with an old friend of my dad’s who was a friend of Vince’s. He took us to hear him play at a club in Palo Alto. He and his trio sounded great, and the several gin-and-tonics that I slurped down only enhanced the listening experience. I was introduced to the Maestro, and he was told that I was a neophyte stylist in the realm of Jazz Piano. Upon learning this, he insisted that I play a tune with his band. Surprised, drunk and scared shitless, I got up and played Summertime. It couldn’t have been too bad, because he asked me to play another tune (I don’t recall the selection; maybe Jon does). He then said some generically encouraging things to me, along the lines of “Yeah, man” and “Keep at it”. It was a huge thrill.
In my jaded hindsight, it’s possible that my sitting in provided Vince with the chance to have a taste, and that my second tune allowed him to savor that welcome respite. But I prefer to think that he was open to providing an opportunity for a young guy just starting (I mean REALLY just starting) on his musical journey.
The moral of the story should be obvious, yet often seems to elude us grizzled veterans: Give a kid a chance when you’re in the position to do so, even if you’re pretty sure that the kid is likely to be green and a bit rough around the edges. Everybody has to start somewhere.