Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Cast Your Fate to the Wind

This illustrious song was originally recorded by its composer, Vince Guaraldi, for the pianist’s 1962 album Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus (Fantasy). One of only two Guaraldi compositions on the album, it appeared (in a slightly edited form) on the b-side of the album’s 45-rpm release of “Samba de Orpheus” (an edited version of the well-known Jobin (sic)/Bonfa composition). But radio stations picked up the b-side of the single and “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” became immediately popular.

This was the song producer Lee Mendelson heard on the radio one day and knew instinctively that this was the perfect sound for the animated Peanuts TV specials he wanted to produce. Indeed, Vince Guaraldi went on to score many of the Peanuts TV specials up until his death on February 6, 1976.

“Cast Your Fate To The Wind” was also discovered by many other musicians who were enticed by its evocative charms. The chordal ballad was conceived almost like a hymn, with gossamer major tones settling into a Latin-esque groove. In the pianist’s original conception, he launches into a magisterial jazz solo that’s so simple it’s sublime. Only a master craftsman could have even conceived a song this perfect.

“Cast Your Fate To The Wind” is, like Cole Porter’s “Love For Sale” or Gershwin’s “Summertime,” one of the great musical palettes upon which artistic musicians are able to freely express themselves. And many have. Almost as soon as it came out, musicians flocked to this tune as a means of their own expression.

While I can’t cover every version of the song ever recorded, here are 15 of those that I know – and revere – as beautiful tributes to one of life’s greatest-ever pieces of music.

Jazz Impressions of Black Oprheus - Vince Guaraldi Trio (Fantasy, 1962): Pure perfection. This is the original. It became such a big hit that the album cover bannered this song in letters larger than the album’s actual title, which –oddly – never changed. It’s so spiritual and pure, that it transcends jazz. It’s almost like a hymn: timeless and perfect. Curiously, Ralph J. Gleason’s liner note doesn’t even reference the song.

Quincy Jones Plays The Hip Hits - Quincy Jones (Mercury, 1963): This, the first of two times Quincy Jones recorded “Cast Your Fate To The Wind,” is a feature for Bobby Scott’s piano. Somehow Q manages to mix George Shearing (in the verses) and Ramsey Lewis (in the chorus) into a Basiesque framework. Scott plays just wonderfully, with a real feel for the blues. Indeed, this is the closest the song ever came to sounding like gospel music.

Cast Your Fate To The Wind - Sounds Orchestral (Parkway, 1965): “Cast Your Fate To The Wind” was the first hit British arranger, producer and record maker John Schroder had as part of his Sounds Orchestral aggregate. Here Johnny Pearson helms the Oscar Peterson-esque piano, Tony Reeves, who brought the song to the session, plays bass and the great Kenny (Clarke Boland Big Band) Clare mans the drums. Schroeder provides the unobtrusive yet cinematic string accents. Pearson’s solo curiously mixes gospel flourishes with a cocktail-bar tinkler’s heavy handed approach to Tin Pan Alley but maintains interest nonetheless. Curiously, Schroeder’s liner note to the album says that “(t)he tune although not easily memorable, had a fantastically elusive magic about it that really got me.” Is that damning with faint praise or praising with faint damnation?

Guantanamera - The Sandpipers (A&M, 1966): This lush and beautifully arranged vocal version of Vince Guaraldi’s classic is more of a treat than I would have ever expected. Like a number of other nuggets in this male vocal trio’s discography, it is a strangely haunting performance. Carol (also Carel) Werber (also often listed as “Weber”) wrote the appropriately poetic words and Mort Garson helms the lovely arrangement that mixes acoustic guitars, harp and flutes:

A month of nights, a year of days
Octobers drifting into Mays
I set my sail when the tide comes in
And I just cast my fate to the wind

I shift my course along the breeze
Won't sail upwind on memories
The empty sky is my best friend
And I just cast my fate to the wind

There never was, there couldn't be
A place in time for men like me
Who'd drink the dark and laugh the day
And let their wildest dreams blow away


Watch Out! - Baja Marimba Band (A&M, 1966): This novelty band (that probably meant what they did quite seriously) was led by the fine percussionist and arranger Julius Wechter takes a typically South-of-the-Border spin through Guaraldi’s hit, enlivening it with bluesy Bobby Scott-like piano and a clever horn chart that had to come from Herb Alpert. The marimba lead sounds just right here.

Goin’ Latin - Ramsey Lewis (Cadet, 1967): The great Richard Evans arranged this superbly elegant orchestral reading of “Cast Your Fate To The Wind.” Lodged firmly in the Latin mode of the album’s title and spurred no doubt by the powerfully perfect drumming of future Earth, Wind & Fire leader Maurice White (listen just to what he does here), pianist Ramsey Lewis proves his mettle in a remarkable performance. It’s as much a success for Evans, who alternates strings and horns most masterfully throughout, as it is for Lewis, whose solo mixes Latin with soul and blues with gospel with a typically crowd-pleasing finesse. All that’s missing here (fortunately) are the crowd cheers and party sounds.

It’s A Guitar World - Chet Atkins (RCA, 1967): A very pretty guitar version of “Cast Your Fate To The Wind” that suggests what Pat Metheny would do with the song some two decades later if he had ever strolled down this road. Chet Atkins sounds positively bewitched by the melody here, effortlessly employing some showy but effective technique that, in turn, becomes ultimately bewitching.


Toussaint - Allen Toussaint (Scepter, 1971): Legendary New Orleans songwriter and producer Allen Toussaint oddly included this reverential take of Vince Guaraladi’s classic on his 1971 album (which also includes his own “From A Whisper To A Scream,” “Working In The Coal Mine” and “Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky” – all made famous by other performers). Toussaint works out a real and welcome New Orleans spin here, grounding the song in a sort of jazz funeral march before launching it into a swampy bayou funk. While it’s odd to hear Toussaint perform someone else’s tune, particularly a jazz tune, the pianist clearly appreciates the melody and the way Vince Guaraldi’s pianistic poetry made the song what it is. But he very nicely brews a hearty gumbo here that is all his own.

Rides Again - James Gang (RCA, 1970): Seems unbelievable that rock once promised a very creative new direction for music. You’d never guess it was the case today. The James Gang was one of the proofs that it could have been great. The Cleveland trio’s second album (one of the first recorded at LA’s famed Record Plant studios) produced the great hit “Funk #49” as well as the equally phenomenal “The Bomber,” a medley featuring the group’s “Closet Queen” with surprisingly electric takes of Ravel’s “Bolero” and Vince Guaraldi’s “Cast Your Fate To The Wind.” The Guaraldi tune comes in at the 4-minute and 53-second point of the song, accented by Joe Walsh’s stunningly beautiful guitar virtuoso. The rhythm section stays in “Bolero” mode throughout the Guaraldi interlude (which lasts for only about a minute) but Walsh’s guitar is a miracle of heavy-metal melodicism. It would have been nice to hear more of what the James Gang would have made of this. Still, “The Bomber” makes for one of rock’s finest moments – and something worth hearing for “Cast Your Fate To The Wind” alone.

Smackwater Jack - Quincy Jones (A&M, 1971): The second of two recordings Quincy Jones made of “Cast Your Fate To The Wind” is a sublime fusion classic. Q comes up with a tremendously subtle arrangement and gives the melody line to Bob James, who is very distinctively manning the Fender Rhodes. The solos here are positively electrifying. Eric Gale helms a sizzling solo on electric guitar, Bobby Scott (who guided the tune in Q’s 1963 recording) gives a soulfully magnificent jazz solo before the great Marvin Stamm, buoyed by bassist Chuck Rainey, gives a melodic counterpoint to bring it all back home. This is one of the best casts “Cast” has ever had.

Shades of Green - Grant Green (Blue Note, 1971): Guitarist Grant Green and arranger Wade Marcus team up here to provide a psych funk take on “Cast Your Fate To The Wind.” Thanks to Marcus, things get off to a rather middle-of-the-road start. But Green raises the bar with his typically melodic and soulful approach. When they break into Green’s absolutely electrifying solo, Marcus and company get into a sweet Blaxploitation groove, with Emmanauel Riggins on clavinet, Billy Wooten on vibes, King Errisson on conga and bassist Wilton Felder and drummer Stix Hooper, both of The Crusaders, laying down a positively mind-blowing groove.

Heavy Axe - David Axelrod (Fantasy, 1974): A quirky, though not altogether unsuccessful, arrangement of “Cast Your Fate To The Wind” came courtesy of legendary composer, arranger and producer David Axelrod in 1974, produced by Cannonball Adderley (who’d been produced by Axelrod for years). As a composer, Axelrod had long been obsessed with hypnotic rhythms and quasi-religious themes. “Cast Your Fate To The Wind” might be heard that way. Certainly Axelrod spun it into his musical universe, replete with the cream of LA studio musicians, a small but pointless gospel choir, George Duke’s fine pianisms and an ironically devilish synthesized bass groove. It doesn’t quite succeed (it seems only half thought-out). But it’s fascinating nonetheless.

Good King Bad - George Benson (CTI, 1976): This sumptuous version of “Cast Your Fate To The Wind” was the very first version of the song I ever heard. To this day, I think it is the best. It is what encouraged me to explore the music of Vince Guaraldi (Oh, the guy who does the Peanuts music!) and one of my earliest CTI obsessions. This song first sang to me when Benson’s “This Masquerade” was all the rage. It convinced me that George Benson is one of the greatest of all jazz guitarists. What he does here is simply magical. I know every note of both solos he takes here by heart and each is chosen with the passion, fire and grace of a great player who cares about what he plays. Benson is absolutely sublime here and, while his catalog brims with much terrific playing, he has rarely sounded this inspired. Joe Farrell adds such a complimentary counterpoint on flute that a whole album was conceived (Benson & Farrell) the following year to capitalize on the simpatico symmetry of the two soloists. The great David Matthews adds a subtle fusion arrangement that features Bobby Lyle on electric piano (though I would have guessed it was Matthews himself), Gary King on bass, Andy Newmark on drums and the barely noticeable addition of the great David Friedman on vibes. Matthews adds brief string flourishes that are so delicate that they too just enhance what everyone else is doing. Simply put, this one is breathtaking.

Waiting For Spring - David Benoit (GRP, 1989): Pianist David Benoit has recorded plenty of tributes to Vince Guaraldi and the Peanuts music over the years. His lovely touch and perfectly jazzy approach to popular forms have also gotten David Benoit scoring jobs on such Peanuts specials as This Is America, Charlie Brown (1989), It Was My Best Birthday Ever, Charlie Brown (1997), It’s The Pied Piper, Charlie Brown (2000), Lucy Must Be Traded, Charlie Brown (2003) and I Want A Dog For Christmas, Charlie Brown (2003). Here, the pianist, who sounds remarkably like a mix of Guaraldi and Dave Grusin on piano, is accompanied beautifully by such greats as John Patitucci on bass and Peter Erskine on drums. There have been few recordings of this tune that stay well within Guaraldi’s universe as Benoit’s gorgeous take does. Benoit is scintillating on piano and he adds something of his own to the resolution of the refrain. But Patitucci does something here that few bassists ever have done in a piano trio. He’s dynamically alert and ignites the pianist into some particularly inventive passages, starting with the pianist’s solo and, most notably, the song’s outro, which starts about the 2-minute and 28-second point. It suggests that this version of the song is far too short at only three minutes and some change. Very nice.

Linus & Lucy – The Music of Vince Guaraldi - George Winston (Windham Hill, 1996): This is one of the few solo piano versions of “Cast Your Fate To The Wind” recorded and it comes from the first of two discs pianist George Winston has recorded of Vince Guaraldi’s music. It’s difficult to discern whether it’s the solo-piano presentation or George Winston’s performance of the tune that make this one of the most hymn-like of all the Casts ever recorded. In George Winston’s hands, the tune also takes on the luster of one of the seasonal perennials he performed on the magnificent December (1982). Winston’s winsome solo provides the performance with his own indelible signature, favoring the tune’s church-like quality over the rhythmic changes most improvisers groove to. I tend to hear more of a painful longing in Winston’s version of the song than the “joyful feeling” he describes in the CD’s liner notes and find it hard to enjoy the performance here as much as many of the other versions of the song – until the pianist takes a more jazzy turn in the song’s outro: two minutes of rather inspired and interesting bliss that the song often inspires in great players.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for taking the time to compile this collection! I assume the albums that we weren't able to listen to had copyright restrictions?