CLARKS SUMMIT — Rev. Bill Carter, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Clarks Summit and Presbybop Quartet keyboard player, was looking for a way to “freshen” the church’s dedicated jazz services held throughout the year. One of the jazz masses is presented during Labor Day weekend.
Preparation for the Guaraldi’s Jazz Mass for the 24th annual jazz communion at 10 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 6 at the church, located at 300 School St., began late last year.
The mass will feature the works of Vincent Guaraldi, a jazz musician and pianist whose most familiar works are those featured in the “Peanuts” comic strip animated TV specials.
“I thought, ‘Next year in 2015 will be the 50th anniversary of the Charlie Brown Christmas, so why don’t we do that?’ It’s also going to be the 50th anniversary of the first jazz mass at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, which was by the same composer, Vince Guaraldi,” Carter said.
Guaraldi died in 1976 at 47 years old, and during his lifetime, he composed and performed the music for more than 12 Charlie Brown specials and introduced many people to jazz.
But for Carter, locating Guaraldi’s scores was not an easy task, and after calling Grace Cathedral to inquire, he learned they had no records of his music.
“Guaraldi did not read or write music to any great degree. He rarely wrote anything down. I began to do some research and discovered none of the music was written down. I began to poke around and I met some very interesting people in the course of things,” Carter said.
One of those people Carter met was Derrick Bang, a journalist with the Davis Enterprise in Dave, California who wrote Guaraldi’s biography, “Vince Guaraldi at the Piano,” published in 2012.
“(Rev.) Charles Gompertz wrote the forward to the biography and was the Episcopal priest who commissioned the thing and they both said they remembered Guaraldi came in with some scraps of paper with some chords written down and the rest of it was sung out of the Episcopal hymnal,” said Carter.
The mass will feature Carter on keyboard, Al Hamme on saxophone and flute, Tony Marino on bass, Tyler Dempsey on drums, Dr. Susan Kelly and Dr. Alan Baker as cantors, and members of the First Presbyterian adult choir. The mass will be presented for the first time on the east coast, and it will be the first time since 1971 the music is presented as it was first conceived.
Prior to the mass, the audience will have an opportunity to learn more about Guaraldi and his music during an historical overview presented by Bang, beginning at 9:30 a.m.
Bang was born in 1955 and was 10 years old when “A Charlie Brown Christmas” aired the first time on Dec. 9, 1965.
“I was, like most kids, a very avid fan of ‘Peanuts,’” he said.
He said he remembers being parked in front of the TV set to see Charlie Brown and the gang come alive on the screen. From that show’s opening scene, Bang said he was captivated by the music.
“It was so right for what we were watching, but also so charming in and of itself,” he said.
He described Carter’s jazz mass as historical due to the undertaking of transcribing Guaraldi’s work. Bang also said the idea of the jazz mass is an important milestone in Guaradli’s career, as jazz was not a typical genre of music to be performed in a church setting.
“The original mass itself that Guaraldi wrote and presented May 21, 1965, was historic in itself because it was the very first time jazz had been presented in a church service in the United States. He never gets credit for that because his subsequent career was dominated by the composing and performing work he did for the various ‘Peanuts’ TV and animated specials,” Bang said.
On Aug. 15 Bang served as emcee of a Guaraldi 50th anniversary celebration concert at Grace Cathedral. Carter was invited to play by friend, Sacramento pianist and concert organizer, Jim Martinez, who has recorded tribute albums of Guaraldi’s music.
“I played for four of the songs at the concert, including a spontaneous duet with Jim,” Carter said. “It was a thrill to be part of the 50th anniversary of a large scale composition that most people have never heard. And it was particularly exhilarating to hear the choir and musicians present the music that I had transcribed from the original recording. This is uplifting music that anybody will enjoy.”
For more information regarding the Sept. 6 concert, call 570-586-6306.