Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Charlie Brown Christmas

One of the most memorable parts about growing up was watching Charles Schultz' "A Charlie Brown Christmas". Many of you probably remember this wonderful program and story. Do you remember the music?

There are two very famous pieces in the program, performed by Vince Guaraldi. One of the instrumentals is called "Linus and Lucy", and other one is called "Christmas Time is Here". I never knew anything about the composer, and just recently learned it was Vince Guaraldi.  Linus and Lucy is such a catchy song, just about everyone remembers it.

Anyway, I wanted to share an article about the composer that I recenty read. I think this is another story of persistence, which has kind of the been the theme of this and last article I posted.

We all need to remember to keep on keeping on, even in the face of many obstacles.

Check out the Vince Guaraldi Website here:

Or pick up the music for "A Charlie Brown Christmas from Amazon."

From an article adapted from PETE BARLAS, Posted 12/22/2010

Vince Guaraldi made a habit of beating the odds.He overcame the effects of a broken home, the Great Depression, a wartime sickness, a near-debilitating injury and early career misfires to become one of the world's most acclaimed jazz composers and pianists prior to his death at age 47.

Although Guaraldi (1928-76) appeared on more than 50 albums as solo artist and sideman, he is perhaps best known for providing the music for 16 Peanuts cartoon TV specials that aired from 1965 and 1976.

Guaraldi's instrumental compositions such as "Linus & Lucy" and "Christmas Time Is Here" pumped up "A Charlie Brown Christmas," the first holiday TV special from Peanuts creator Charles Schultz. Those tunes keep the Charlie Brown show alive at Christmas to this day, says Lee Mendelson, Peanuts' executive producer and former Guaraldi collaborator.

"The bottom line to all of this is that the shows would never have been as successful without that music, so he has probably done more to popularize jazz than anybody else," he told IBD. "I don't think anybody in history had this impact because every holiday season you have another 30 to 40 million people still hearing that music."

The Attraction
Though Guaraldi was a Grammy winner prior to the Peanuts work, his "Linus & Lucy" and other songs on the TV shows resonate the most, says George Winston. The jazz pianist and composer recalls running out to the store at 16 years old to buy the record of the Christmas special after it aired on TV.

Guaraldi's Keys

  • Composed and performed the music on 16 animated Peanuts TV specials from 1965 to 1976, won a Grammy Award in 1963 and has appeared on more than 50 record albums.
  • "I don't think I'm a great piano player, but I would like to have people like me, to play pretty tunes and reach the audience. And I hope some of those tunes will become standards. I want to write standards, not just hits."
"People know and love 'Linus & Lucy,'" said Winston, one of many artists, including Mariah Carey, to record the Guaraldi composition. "The first time I heard it I went crazy and it turns out I wasn't the only one."
Guaraldi isn't a household name like John Coltrane or Miles Davis. But the two-handed Guaraldi technique on songs like "Linus & Lucy" is unmistakable, says Derrick Bang, a columnist in Davis, Calif., working on a Guaraldi biography.

"There is the driving rhythmic left hand, which always establishes not just a strong but an interesting beat, and then Guaraldi's melody line; although it sounds very simple, the melodies themselves are very catchy, very infectious," he said.

Guaraldi was born in San Francisco. He never knew his father. Vince assumed the name Guaraldi when his mother remarried. His stepfather, Tony Guaraldi, helped Vince's mom run a creamery in San Francisco in the 1940s and '50s.

Young Vince had at least one role model. An uncle, Maurice "Muzzy" Marcellino, was a musician and bandleader on the Art Linkletter radio and TV Show, "House Party." "Muzzy wrote my father a lot of little notes while he was on the road," said Vince's son, David Guaraldi, who manages a Web site devoted to his father's music.

Vince took piano lessons and played in bands as a teen. He also stood near the stage to watch acts like the Woody Herman Band perform, said Bang: "He could absorb the music as closely as possible, but also pay attention to how it was being played, what each of the musicians was actually doing."

Following high school, Guaraldi attended San Francisco State College from 1948 to 1949, according to school records. In 1949 he joined the Army and worked as a cook on a ship during the Korean War. Around 1952 he came down an illness so deathly, "they measured him for a casket," said his son.

Back in America, Guaraldi worked in a printing press in San Francisco and almost ruined his future career. "He almost accidentally cut his finger off. From then on he was a musician (full time)," said David. Guaraldi's first important appearance came in the early 1950s when he served as an intermission pianist at the Black Hawk nightclub in San Francisco. Guaraldi was subbing for renowned pianist Art Tatum.
"It was more than scary," Guaraldi told one interviewer.

Soon he was working with vibraphonist Cal Tjader and appeared on at least 10 Tjader records.
Then it was off with his own band, the Vince Guaraldi Trio, but two albums didn't sell well.
In 1956 Guaraldi joined Herman's band, then reunited with Tjader, performing a legendary set at the 1958 Monterey Jazz Festival. The next year came inspiration. In watching the French/Portuguese film "Black Orpheus," Guaraldi got caught up in the Brazilian rhythms.

By 1962 he had a new trio and a new sound in his "Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus" LP.
Guaraldi's producers released a single for the record. On the B side was a Guaraldi original, "Cast Your Fate to the Wind." The hit won a Grammy award as the best instrumental jazz composition for 1962.
Requests for the song poured in during live gigs. "It's like signing the back of a check," Guaraldi said.
Guaraldi's career began to soar.

Charles Gompertz, a reverend in San Francisco, heard "Cast" on the radio. He hired Guaraldi to write a jazz mass to be performed at the city's newly built Grace Cathedral. Guaraldi spent 18 months writing the music for his trio and a 68-voice choir. The score, performed live in May 1965, was a unique blend of jazz, Latin music and waltz tempos, said Bang: "It had not been done in the U.S. up until that time."

A radio broadcast of "Cast" also led to another job. Mendelson heard the song and hired Guaraldi in 1963 to provide the music for "A Boy Named Charlie Brown," a documentary film on Schultz. Mendelson had trouble lining up sponsors. But when Coca-Cola asked whether he could put a Peanuts holiday special on the screen, he jumped.

"They said, 'Do you have a Christmas show?' and I said yes, and I called Schultz and he drew up an outline the next day and we sent it to Coca-Cola and they bought the show about a week later," he said.

Mass Appeal
Roughly 50% of all American TVs were tuned to the Charlie Brown Christmas show the first night it aired, Dec. 9, 1965. CBS was convinced; it ordered four more Peanuts shows. Guaraldi provided music for 16 Peanuts shows and the movie "A Boy Named Charlie Brown," released in 1969.

Mendelson believed right away that Guaraldi's music was a perfect fit for Peanuts. "I thought that it had that quality that would appeal to both adults and kids," he said. "It was jazz, but it was very childlike."
Guaraldi wrote the music while looking at story boards and sketches for the shows. He also played guitar and provided vocals on some tracks. The work was painstaking.

"He would bring in ideas and we would discuss it; sometimes the music worked and sometimes it didn't and we moved stuff around," said Mendelson. "It was the same for all 16 shows."

Guaraldi died after his aorta artery burst. He was staying in a Menlo Park, Calif., hotel preparing to play at a nightclub next door. Recording artists continue to feature Guaraldi's music on their albums. Snippets of songs also show up in commercials. He may have achieved his goal to write standards instead of just hits, said Bang: "Hits are only performed by the people who write them; standards are covered by other people."
Winston offered a more blunt analysis: "'Linus & Lucy' is one of the best known and most beloved songs in the history of the planet; 'Jingle Bells'? Who wants to hear that? It's kind of worn out."

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