It’s hard for me to enter the holidays and not think of the “Peanut” holiday specials and the extraordinary music of jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi.
Born in San Francisco in 1928 Guaraldi played many “casuals” (west coast term) or what on the east coast is referred to as “club dates,” before getting his first break of filling in for jazz legend Art Tatum. He later created a trio with good friend jazz guitarist Eddie Duran and bass player Dean Reilly. He could also be heard on recordings for the Cal Tjader Trio, but spent most of his time honing his skills playing live in clubs in the North Beach section of SF, clubs like the Hungrey I.
Guaraldi continued to do session dates with Frank Rosselino, Cal Tjader and others, toured with Woody Herman’s band, and played with the Cal Tjader Quintet at the first Monterey Jazz Festival where they received a standing ovation. Soon Guaraldi was garnering fame nationally and internationally. Moved by the soundtrack by Antonio Carlos Jobim for the movie “Black Orpheus,” Guaraldi hit the studio and did a recording of his impressions of Jobim’s music in a record entitled “Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus.” “Samba de Orpheus” was the first cut or single from that album to be released with what was known back then as a “B” side cut on the back side, a composition that was called “Cast Your Fate to the Wind.” It’s said that a DJ in Sacramento was responsible for helping to bring about the notoriety and future acclaim for the jazz composer by simply flipping the record over and playing the “B” side cut on his show. This helped to create Guaraldi’s first Gold Record and earned him a Grammy for Best Instrumental Jazz Composition.
Lee Mendelson around this same time was trying to produce a Christmas Special about the Peanut’s comic strip characters by Charles Shulz. He actually heard the cut of “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” while riding in a taxi and contacted Ralph J. Gleason the jazz columnist for the SF Chronicle. Through this connection he was put in touch with Guaraldi. Mendelson then asked Guaraldi to write the music for his special and Guaraldi soon created the piece that became known as “Linus and Lucy.” Guaraldi would go on to compose the music for 16 “Peanut Charlie Brown” specials before his untimely death at the age of 47 due to a heart attack.
Well-known and loved by many the Guaraldi music of the Charles Shulz classics continue to live on and visit us each holiday season along with Charlie Brown, and all his friends whom over the years and generations have became our friends too. Below is a cut of the very familiar “Thanksgiving Theme,” recorded by the Vince Guaraldi Trio. To hear the piece simply cut and paste the link into your browser.
Vince Guaraldi Trio Thanksgiving Theme