Saturday, February 06, 2010

In Memoriam: Vince Guaraldi Died 34 Years Ago Today

Vince Guaraldi (pic, right) was a famous jazz pianist from San Francisco.  He was well known for supplying theme music for Charles Schultz's "Peanuts."  You can read about his life here.  Today marks 34 years since his untimely death at age 47.   He died on February 6, 1976.

One year ago today, I undertook a trek to the site of Vince Guaraldi's last gig, formerly Butterfield's nightclub in Menlo Park, California.  From there I drove to Colma, near San Francisco, and visited his grave.

Vince died in his room in the Red Cottage Inn, a motel that was adjacent to Butterfield's.  I recently was in communication with someone who claimed to be a former girlfriend of Vince Guaraldi; I haven't been able to independently verify the accuracy of her statements.  However, she stated that she had discussed Vince's death with the band's drummer, who allegedly told her that Vince didn't die alone in his hotel room:  the other two band members were there with him.  According to this former girlfriend, Vince Guaraldi did not die of a heart attack as was widely reported, but from a drug overdose, i.e. cocaine.  The girlfriend stated that Vince's hard drug of choice was cocaine and that he never touched heroin.  Until someone makes Guaraldi's death certificate public, the girlfriend's story should be considered unproven and speculative.

It is highly probable that Vince Guaraldi did come into contact with drugs during his music career.  Living through the Beatnik era of the 1950's, the Hippies era of the 1960's and early 1970's, it would have been a miracle if Guaraldi never smoked a joint.  Drug usage appears common among professional musicians of the gigging variety, though not among orchestral musicians.  The "heart attack" explanation for his death is therefore unverified and even implausible.  He was only 47 years old.

Unfortunately, I won't be able to make the drive today to visit Vince in Colma.  I will be sitting in with a working band in a nightclub near my home.  I will honor Vince's memory by playing music, and playing as well as I can, doing what he did on the final day of his life.  Rest in peace, Vince.

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