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Guaraldi's smooth trio compositions -- piano, bass and drums -- perfectly balanced Charlie Brown's kid-sized universe. Sprightly, puckish, and just as swiftly somber and poignant, these gentle jazz riffs established musical trademarks which, to this day, still prompt smiles of recognition.

They reflected the whimsical personality of a man affectionately known as a "pixie", an image Guaraldi did not discourage. He'd wear funny hats, wild mustaches, and display
hairstyles from buzzed crewcuts to rock-star shags.

Unfortunately, with an irony that seemed appropriate for a documentary about Charlie Brown, Mendelson never was able to sell the show, which remains unseen to this day by the general public. Fortunately, the unaired program became an expensive calling-card that attracted a sponsor (Coca-Cola) intrigued by the notion of a Peanuts Christmas TV special. Thus, when "A Charlie Brown Christmas" debuted in December 1965, it did more than reunite Schulz, Mendelson, Melendez and Guaraldi, all of whom quickly turned the Peanuts franchise into a television institution. That first special also shot Guaraldi to greater fame, and he became irreplaceably welded to all subsequent Peanuts shows. Many of his earliest Peanuts tunes -- "Linus and Lucy", "Red Baron" and "Great Pumpkin Waltz", among others -- became signature themes that turned up in later specials.

Guaraldi became so busy that the ensuing decade saw only half a dozen album releases, three of them direct results of his Peanuts work: "A Boy Named Charlie Brown", "A Charlie Brown Christmas" and "Oh, Good Grief!" At some point between his switch from the Fantasy label to Warner Brothers, Guaraldi took the time to produce and direct an album that has become quite obscure: 1968's "Vince Guaraldi with the San Francisco Boys Chorus", released on his own D&D label. This was followed by two Warners releases: "The Eclectic Vince Guaraldi", which marks Guaraldi's recorded vocal debut; and "Alma-Ville", which showcases a Guaraldi guitar solo on one cut. On February 6, 1976, while waiting in a motel room between sets at Menlo Park's Butterfield's nightclub, Guaraldi died of a sudden heart-attack. He was only 47 years old.

A few weeks later, on March 16, "It's Arbor Day, Charlie Brown" debuted on television. It was the 15th, and last, Peanuts television special to boast Guaraldi's original music. He had just finished recording his portion of the soundtrack on the very afternoon of the day he died.

Time ... passed.

Those who followed in Guaraldi's Peanuts-themed footsteps -- Ed Bogas, Desiree Goyette, Judy Munsen and others -- found the shoes impossible to fill. Not one produced a song or theme anywhere near as catchy as the Master, and several of the specials from the late 1970s and '80s consequently lacked a certain zip.

A whopping three decades later, no doubt responding to unceasing pleas from fans who had played Guaraldi's three Peanuts albums to death -- and wondered what had become of the themes and background music in all those other television specials -- Fantasy released 1998's "Charlie Brown's Holiday Hits". The CD included nine previously unissued tracks, from the theme to "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" to a vocal rendition of "Oh, Good Grief", performed by Lee Mendelson's son's sixth-grade class.Four years later, in the summer of 2003, Vince Guaraldi's son, David, teamed up with Bluebird Records to release "The Charlie Brown Suite". The centerpiece selection, long spoken of in reverential tones by fans who only knew of it but never had heard it, is the fully orchestrated "Charlie Brown Suite", recorded live on May 18, 1969, during a benefit performance with Amici Della Musica (Richard Williams, conductor) at Mr. D's, a theater/restaurant in San Francisco's North Beach region. This awesome piece of music clocks in at roughly 40 minutes and skillfully weaves half a dozen songs into an integrated whole: "Linus and Lucy", "The Great Pumpkin Waltz", "Peppermint Patty", "Oh, Good Grief", "Rain, Rain, Go Away" and "Red Baron".

Encouraged by the enthusiastic response to this new compilation of his father's previously unreleased recordings, David Guaraldi has big plans for the upcoming years ... and this Web site is the place to get up-to-the-minute information.

*****"

I don't think I'm a great piano player", Vince Guaraldi once said, "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".
He got his wish.

Windham Hill recording artist George Winston has been playing "Linus and Lucy" for years, during his concert appearances. A promise to record it and other Guaraldi cuts finally bore fruit in the autumn of 1996, with the release of Winston's "Linus & Lucy: The Music of Vince Guaraldi".

"Linus and Lucy" also has been interpreted by Wynton Marsalis, Dave Brubeck and David Benoit; the latter has become Guaraldi's ongoing torch-bearer in the most recent
Peanuts animated TV specials. GRP Records had a smash hit back in 1990, with their soundtrack to the television special "Happy Anniversary Charlie Brown", which gathered numerous jazz luminaries for their interpretations of classic Guaraldi compositions, along with some new cuts clearly inspired by Dr. Funk's Peanuts themes.
 

"Christmas Time is Here" has become a seasonal fixture, and pretty much everybody of consequence has covered "Cast Your Fate to the Wind".


Let's fade with the words of Jon Hendricks, poet laureate of jazz, who once wrote:

"Vince is what you call a piano player. That's different from a pianist. A pianist can play anything you can put in front of him.

"A piano player can play anything BEFORE you can put it in front of him".

(A much longer version of this article, originally written in 1993,
can be found at
www.peanutscollectorclub.com/guaraldi)
 
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