In Praise Of Vince Guaraldi

If you’ve watched A Charlie Brown Christmas, you’ve enjoyed the music of Vince Guaraldi.

Guaraldi’s jazz-flavored interpretations of holiday classics like O Tannenbaum, What Child Is This?, and Greensleeves, played by a trio with Guaraldi on piano, Jerry Granelli on drums, and Puzzy Firth on bass, were perfectly suited to Charles Schulz’s beautiful tale of Charlie Brown’s search for the meaning of Christmas.  I long ago bought the soundtrack CD at a bargain bin, and Guaraldi’s songs have been a key part of the holidays at the Webner household ever since.  I really can’t imagine what the holidays would be like without that music.

On a soundtrack album that is filled with gem after gem, my favorite track is the the instrumental version of Christmas Time Is Here — spare, shuffling, deeply melodic, with each note heartfelt and moving.  It’s the first song on my holiday mix iPod playlist and it inevitably puts me in the holiday mood.  It’s perfect music for a wintry day.

Although I will always associate Vince Guaraldi with A Charlie Brown Christmas, Guaraldi wasn’t a one-hit wonder.  With his trademark glasses and thick handlebar moustache, he was a staple of the jazz scene for two decades.  He recorded lots of excellent music, including the memorable Cast Your Fate to the Wind.  His career was cut short by his untimely death, of an apparent heart attack, in 1976, when he was only 47 years old.  You can learn a little bit more about Guaraldi and his music here.  It’s worth a few moments to know more about a man who helped to provide a soundtrack for our holidays.

Like Having Your Own Genius Bar

Richard was home for a few days last week.  It was great to see him and catch up on how he’s doing — and it was also great because I got to tap into our very own “Genius Bar” and solve a problem that had flummoxed me for weeks.

Any parent with kids under the age of 30 knows what I mean.  They’ve grown up with technology, are wholly comfortable with it, and seem to know, intuitively, how to fix any problem.  Richard and Russell have solved countless technology issues that have perplexed me — whether it is setting up wireless networks or explaining cell phone functions or diagnosing computer problems.

I was trying to deal with fallout from the demise of our old iMac.  My iTunes were on the old iMac and my iPod was synced with it.  I had the Apple folks remove the hard drive, bought a shell to store the hard drive and allow it to be connected to the new iMac, and was able to do that — but I couldn’t figure out how to transfer my iTunes from the old hard drive to the new computer.  The prospect that I would not be able to do so really sucked, because it meant my old iTunes were lost forever, I couldn’t sync my iPod with the new computer, and ultimately I probably would have to rebuild my iPod and its playlists.

When Richard was home I asked for his help.  He took a look and immediately figured out what to do, transferred the music, and this morning I was able to sync my iPod without losing everything on it.  Thanks, Richard!

And, incidentally, I disagree with those who will contend that this means I have officially moved into the “helpless and clueless senior” category.  I would argue that there is, or should be, a technology exception.

Culling The iMac Herd

We’ve had our home iMac for six years, and during that long period (too long, according to Richard) it has served faithfully and well.  Lately, however, it has been a bit slower than normal, and somewhat balky.  I asked Richard to take a look at it, and he found that in six years we had managed to use up a lot of space, which could be slowing the iMac down.  He deleted a few programs for old games, but also pointed out that by far the biggest user of space was our iTunes.  It would be a good thing, he said, to go through it and see whether any of the music could be deleted.

It’s amazing what kind of stuff you accumulate on a home computer over the years, and iTunes is no exception.  We had some 93 GB of music on the iTunes, and as I began deleting I found that it was pretty easy to do so.  How did Britney Spears and Jessica Simpson get on there, anyway?  (How embarrassing!)  I don’t think I’ll need, for now at least, the Arabic language primer that I downloaded when we were preparing for our trip to Egypt.  And — sorry, Russell! — I don’t have any problem deleting the heavy metal, electronica, and hip hop/rap music that I don’t like and don’t listen to. The main purpose of the iTunes, now, is to store songs and sync my iPod, so we don’t need to keep music that is never going to make the iPod cut.

So far I’ve deleted about 25 GB of files that were on the iTunes.  We’ll have to see whether the iMac becomes a bit more frisky as a result — but in any event it feels good to discard some of the outmoded musical baggage and cull the iMac herd.

Baking Day

Today was cold and windy, with a few snow flurries here and there.  It was a perfect day to put on the “Holiday Mix” on the iPod, crank up some Christmas music, and get down to some serious holiday baking.  Today’s work featured some Dutch spice cookies, two kinds of fudge, lemon bars, coconut toffee treats, and a few new recipes that I’ll share.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — there’s nothing like holiday baking to put you in the Christmas mood.  Of course, the Browns winning at Miami on a last-second field goal doesn’t hurt my mood, either.

Hearing The Distant Strains Of Steel Drum Music

It’s chilly and damp here in Columbus, and the weather forecast is for colder temperatures and snow.  I’m mentally not ready for it.  So, I’ve plugged in my iPod and decided to listen to some steel drum music.

Steel drum music is one of the few musical genres that will immediately transport you to a particular place.  In this instance, it is somewhere in the Caribbean on a beach, looking at brilliant blue water beneath clear skies, with a cold adult beverage in your hand and your toes wriggling in the sand.  The tinkling of the steel drums music wafts past on sultry breezes and urges you, irresistibly, to try the latest rum-based concoction developed by the friendly barkeep at the nearby Sand Bar.

When you listen to steel drum music, snow and cold are very far away.

Although the precise history of the invention of the steel drum apparently is uncertain, there seems to be general agreement that it was first developed on the island of Trinidad during or shortly after World War II.  From there, it spread to every island in the Caribbean, and a new kind of musical sound was born.  The drums typically are made from the bottoms of 55-gallon steel drums and are called “pans.”  The surfaces are carefully shaped and tuned so that striking particular parts of the concave surface sounds different notes, and they usually are polished to a shiny finish.  If you watch an expert play a steel drum, as opposed to just swaying with the music as you guzzle your Swizzle or Sea Breeze, you realize that it takes a lot of skill.

The first song I ever heard played on a steel drum was “Yellow Bird.”  Jamaica Ray plays it in the video below, and although the video is dark, I like it because the dimness and background bar sounds really capture the relaxed Caribbean feel that I think of whenever I hear steel drum music.

The Unexpected Freedom Of A Rainy Sunday Morning

It is raining cats and dogs in New Albany this morning.  Steady rain, with an occasional thunderstorm, is expected to be an all-day thing.  So, the weekly round of Sunday golf has been canceled, and at 9 a.m. I look forward to the day and wonder what I will do to fill it.

There is something a bit exciting about an unexpectedly open weekend day and the unforeseen choices it presents.  You can be industrious, of course.  You could do the work you brought home, and perhaps tackle some of the chores that have been piling up.  In my case, those chores would include straightening up the basement, shining my work shoes, and putting the overflowing coins that have been spilling out of the box on my dresser into paper coin sleeves for eventual deposit.  (The chores that I really need to do, like weeding our brick patio and back beds, can be rationally deferred due to weather conditions.)  Or, you can be intellectual and inclined toward self-improvement, and curl up with a good book and catch up on reading.  Or you can have some fun, and work on a personal project like editing your Ipod.  Or you can be lazy, turn on the TV, and sink blissfully into the rich silt of American popular culture, remote at the ready.

What to do?

Mom Mix

We will be celebrating Mom’s 80th birthday in a few weeks, and preparations for the big shindig already are underway.  My sister Cath, the consummate organizer, has decided that rather than a harpist (!), the “entertainment” should consist of a mix of songs I am to prepare on my Ipod.  (I must admit that I agree with this decision on Cath’s part, because I associate harps with angels, and you don’t want to be thinking about angels at a person’s 80th birthday party.)

I welcome this challenge.  I know that Mom likes ’40s music, and I already have a pretty good selection of “Big Band” stuff on the Ipod.  So, preparing a mix of those tunes will just involve creating a new playlist and moving some songs around.  I like Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, and similar artists of that era, and I also like ’40s-style singers such as Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, and Frank Sinatra.

When I asked Mom about what kind of music she would like to listen to at her party, she also mentioned “show tunes” and songs from movie musicals like South Pacific and The King and I.  I’ve never been much of a fan of musicals because the whole concept has always seemed incredibly awkward to me, with people who are living otherwise normal lives suddenly bursting into song at any moment.  Being the dutiful son, however, I want to make Mom happy, so I’ve gotten the CDs for those two musicals, plus The Sound of Music, Guys and Dolls, and West Side Story.

Because I really don’t know much about this genre, I would be happy to get any suggestions from our readers about good “show tunes” to include on the “Mom Mix.”  For now, however, I am pretty sure that There Is Nothin’ Like A Dame from South Pacific will make the cut.