June 27, 2018


How Innovative Jazz Pianist Vince Guaraldi Became the Composer of Beloved Charlie Brown Music (Open Culture, 6/27/18)

The story of how the special came to be is a fascinating one, a series of serendipitous encounters that begins in 1963 with producer Lee Mendelson at work on a documentary about Schulz. [...]

While driving over the Golden Gate Bridge, he just happened to catch Guaraldi's hit "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" (above). "It was melodic and open," he thought, "and came in like a breeze off the bay. And it struck me that this might be the kind of music I was looking for." He tracked the pianist and composer down to score his Schulz documentary. While that project fizzled, Coca-Cola liked it enough to enlist Mendelson for the Christmas special, and some of Guaraldi's original music--including "Linus and Lucy"--migrated over, written, notes Derrick Bang, to "reflect Charlie Brown's gentle, kid-oriented universe." The whole soundtrack was laid down in three hours in the studio. "That's just the way jazz records were recorded," recalls Granelli.

"Christmastime is Here" was originally an instrumental (above), but at the last moment, Mendelson had the idea to "put some words to this." Unable to find a lyricist in time, he penned those words himself. "We rushed it to the choir that Vince Guaraldi had been working with in San Francisco. And he recorded it, and we got it into the show about a week before it went on the air." Guaraldi "probably would have loved to recycle much of the music from the never-aired documentary," writes Bang, but the Christmas special called for a slightly different tone, so he wrote two additional compositions, including the bouncy "Skating," below, "a lyrical jazz waltz highlighted by sparkling keyboard runs that sounded precisely like children ice-skating joyously on a frozen pond." [...]

Guaraldi's compositional and instrumental skills will be forever linked to Charles Schulz's iconic characters, perhaps no more so than during the winter holidays.

But he should by no means be solely remembered as the Peanuts composer--any more than brilliant, bossa-nova inspired Burt Bacharach should be forever tied to his film themes. Guaraldi's work stands on its own, or as jazz writer Ted Gioia recently tweeted, "I'll say it straight: Vince Guaraldi was a brilliant, underrated jazz musician. No one need feel any embarrassment about enjoying (or praising) his music."

Posted by at June 27, 2018 4:02 AM