Charles Schultz may have been the mastermind behind the Peanuts series, but Vince Guaraldi provided the soundtrack that impacted American culture for years to come.
When you think of Peanuts, jazz probably isn’t the first thing to come to mind.
You probably think of the memorable characters – Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus and Lucy, Peppermint Patty, and Woodstock, all under the supervision of adults with voices that sounded like muted trombones and were never fully understood.
Peanuts comic strip had a good 25 years sustained in the print world already and would later be named the most popular comic strip of all time before the television specials ever started. The first special, A Charlie Brown Christmas, aired on CBS December 9, 1965. It was a hit and is now one of the longest-running Christmas television specials of all time.
Vince Guaraldi was picked to compose the music for the Christmas special by Lee Mendelson, a producer of the show who heard a snippet of Cast Your Fate to the Wind by Guaraldi’s trio while riding in a taxi cab on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Fransisco. Guaraldi later produced scores for 17 Charlie Brown specials.
So why is jazz important in all of this? Ironically, Schultz didn’t like the jazz that Guaraldi came up with and neither did the television executives who aired A Charlie Brown Christmas but thought that the jazz ruined it and that they possibly ruined the potential of ever creating Charlie Brown specials again.
This wasn’t the case and the show was a hit. It can’t be entirely contributed to the score, but Guaraldi brought jazz into the homes of millions of Americans who wouldn’t typically be exposed to jazz because of their social class. For example, a blue-collar family who puts dinner on the table every night probably doesn’t go out to the club for jazz afterward, but they DID follow-up dinner with a circle around the television to watch something together as a family.
From 1965 to today, Charlie Brown specials still educate us on the joys and pains of childhood with a dy-no-mite soundtrack to go with it. And if you’re a parent now who is determining what your kids should watch, you know you can put on a Charlie Brown special and not have to question anything as inappropriate as you might of newer shows.
You may not have realized it growing up, but those sounds and notes from Guaraldi are in your blood, waiting for you to notice them again.
You can catch my Jazz Playlist on Spotify to get a good mix of Guaraldi’s scores in addition to his personal music and some other similar favorites like Dave Brubeck and Horace Silver. There’s also a great episode on Indiana Public Media called It’s Jazz, Charlie Brown: The Vince Guaraldi Story, with great tunes and history clips behind the composer.
This is one of my favorite songs from Guaraldi’s scores because it’s one of the few where he actually sings himself.