Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Death of Vince Guaraldi, Famous Jazz Pianist: More Information from a Reader

I have previously sought information regarding the death of Vince Guaraldi, my biggest music hero, and wrote about it here.  I was later contacted by someone claiming to be a former girlfriend of Guaraldi, and then by an author who is writing a biography of Vince Guaraldi.

Today I was contacted by a jazz musician, Jim B., who has played at the Charles Schultz Museum in Santa Rosa, California, and who has met Vince Guaraldi's son and grandson, as well as members of the Schulz family. The Guaraldi-Schultz connection was that Vince composed original jazz themes for Charles Schultz's television episodes based on the famous Charlie Brown cartoon series.

There have been rumors that drugs played a significant part in the death of Vince Guaraldi.  According to Jim B., those rumors appear to be untrue.  Jim writes:
Guaraldi died of an aneurysm that developed in a major blood vessel just next to his heart. He had been feeling unwell for at least a day before he died, and no one, including himself, knew he had an aneurysm. It could have been removed by surgery and he could have still been living today (he would be 81).

I know this from Guaraldi's son, who read the coroner's certificate.

The only person with him at the moment of his death was drummer Eliot Zigmund, who lives in NYC now. He was playing with Vince at Butterfield's that night.

When they took their set break, he and Vince went into the provided motel room to relax. Vince headed for the bathroom but never made it. The aneurysm burst mid-stride, VG fell to the floor, and since the blood flow was not reaching his brain he died instantly.
I have added Jim's narrative to my original post linked above.

Another commenter says that the drummer with Guaraldi was Jim Zimmerman, not Zigmund, and quotes a published source as support.  I believe that this other commenter is correct about Zimmerman.

30 comments:

The Vegas Art Guy said...

He died way to young. David Benoit always plays some of the Peanuts music at the end of his concerts. My daughter was about 4 when we went to see him in Newport Beach and she danced like crazy the last 20 minutes as he played all the peanuts classics like Linus & Lucy. One of my traditions in my classroom is to play the Peanuts specials before the holiday. The kids win because they get to relax for 25 minutes and I win because I get to introduce a new generation to Charlie Brown and the gang.

Stogie said...

Vegas, I agree. Vince Guaraldi will always be one of my favorite musicians. I regret his early death. I have been to the site of his last gig and also to the hotel where he died, and I have been to his grave near San Francisco.

His Christmas music is always popular during the holidays. He continues to live through his music.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for these pages, especially the Butterfields photos.

I think one of your facts is mistaken, though (about Eliot Zigmund being w/ VG when he died). This portion of the Wikipedia entry on Vince Guaraldi comports with the Guaraldi documentary "The Maestro of Menlo Park" that is included on the Peanuts 1960s Specials DVD set. It contains an interview w/ Jim Zimmerman, the drummer who was with Vince when he died:

"Guaraldi died at age 47 on February 6, 1976. The evening before, he had dined at Peanuts producer Lee Mendelson's home, and was reportedly not feeling well, complaining of indigestion-like chest discomfort that his doctor had told him was nothing to worry about. The following evening, after concluding the first set at Butterfield's Nightclub in Menlo Park, California, Guaraldi and drummer Jim Zimmerman returned to the room they were staying in that weekend at the attached Red Cottage Inn, to relax before the next set. In Zimmerman's words, 'He was walking across the room and just collapsed. That was it.' His cause of death has been variously described as a heart attack and/or an aortic aneurysm. Guaraldi had just finished recording the soundtrack for It's Arbor Day, Charlie Brown earlier that afternoon."

Stogie said...

Anonymous, thanks for your valuable comment and correction.

The commenter who said the drummer was Eliot Zigmund has met Guaraldi's son, Dave Guaraldi. I do not know where he got the info that it was Zigmund with Guaraldi. The son also told that commenter that Vince's death certificate stated the cause of death was an aortic aneurism.

Dug said...

Stogie: I thought you and your readers would be stoked to know that the first book-length biography of Vince has just become available -- "Vince Guaraldi at the Piano" by Derrick Bang (the writer and Guaraldi aficionado who runs the fivecentsplease.org website). I ordered and received my copy last week, and devoured it over the weekend. It's a great book, and an incredible feat of research and respect for Dr. Funk. IMHO, it is the definitive Guaraldi bio, and deserves broad exposure. Everyone should ask their public library to purchase and carry a copy (or three)!

Stogie said...

Dug, thanks for this information. I hope you can order it from Amazon; if so I will order it today.

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