Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. The Sound of the Season

 

While watching the 876th remake of the first Hallmark “original” Christmas film, I got to thinking about the two men responsible for the modern sound of the holiday season. The first one is obvious. When Irving Berlin sat down and penned White Christmas (somewhere between 1938 and 1941, nobody is really quite sure) he ushered in the flood of the secular Christmas song. While Santa Claus is Coming to Town was released years earlier in 1934, it was Berlin’s wartime ballad of longing, combined with the baritone of Bing Crosby, that propelled the genre to stratospheric heights.

The other would toil away in relative obscurity as a pianist in jazz clubs around his native San Francisco until he penned a modest hit called Cast Your Fate to the Wind which won the 1963 Grammy for Best Original Jazz Composition. Lee Mendelson, an independent television producer who was putting together a documentary on “Peanuts” creator Charles Schulz, heard Cast playing on a taxi cab radio. He liked what he heard and tracked the composer down through the jazz critic of the San Francisco Chronicle and asked him to score his film.

That would begin a long collaboration. When Mendelson was approached to produce an animated Christmas special for Coca-Cola, he took the composer along for the ride. And so Vince Guaraldi, along with a bassist and a drummer, went into a recording studio to lay down the tracks for A Charlie Brown Christmas.

When the completed special was presented to the CBS brass in New York they were deeply disappointed. The two things that made them nervous was Linus’ Bible reading and Guaraldi’s jazz score. They were almost unanimous in their conclusion that it would air once and disappear forever. It was, of course, a gigantic hit. A Peabody, an Emmy, and eventually, the Grammy Hall of Fame for Vince.

Over the next 11 years, Guaraldi would score 17 more Peanuts specials and a feature film before his unexpected death at age 47 of an aortic aneurysm. Jazz legend George Winston recorded two albums of Guaraldi’s works as a tribute. “Some of Vince’s music is adult music for kids and kids’ music for adults,” he told NPR, “It’s just great music and great playing.”

Just three simple instruments, and some old German carols, would reshape the sound of the season. Now you hear it everywhere and in almost every holiday film. “O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, how lovely are thy branches…”

Just great music and great playing.

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  1. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I had the George Winston recordings of the Peanuts music for a while.

    It just lacked…something. Not sure what. Almost note-for-note recordings, but no energy, no soul.

     

     

    • #1
    • December 4, 2019, at 7:36 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  2. Percival Thatcher
    Percival Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Linus and Lucy” is a classic.

     

    • #2
    • December 4, 2019, at 7:42 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  3. Brian Watt Member
    Brian Watt Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Great post, E.J. Thanks.

    There is obvious joy and spontaneity in Vince Guaraldi’s work and his playing of it. I never grow tired of his music and listen to it often.

    I actually first heard “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” when a friend of mine in 8th grade played it flawlessly during a school performance. It’s a beautiful song and Guaraldi’s playing of it is wistful with a graceful opening touch of melancholy that is evoked by the repetitive opening notes on the lower register keys of the piano; and then the song takes a more playful direction only to end up back at it’s more wistful phrasing. There is so much emotion and life crammed into that lovely song that only runs for about 3 minutes. Just a beautiful work of art. 

    • #3
    • December 4, 2019, at 9:53 PM PST
    • 8 likes
  4. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Everything is there in that 3 minutes, isn’t it?

    • #4
    • December 4, 2019, at 10:24 PM PST
    • 14 likes
  5. namlliT noD Member
    namlliT noD Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    EJHill (View Comment):

    Everything is there in that 3 minutes, isn’t it?

    [YouTube: Cast Your Fate to the Wind

    Oh, that piece! I never knew what that was called.

    I grew up on Long Island and thoroughly enjoyed listening to WNEW-FM at its prime in the early 70’s, with its wonderful and brilliant stoned-DJ explorational rock programming. That was the closing theme to one of the shows.

    • #5
    • December 4, 2019, at 11:27 PM PST
    • 6 likes
  6. TBA Coolidge
    TBA

    This is Christmas Time is Here, one of the Guaraldi Peanuts songs, but played by someone else (for the sake of variety); 

    • #6
    • December 5, 2019, at 1:31 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  7. Hartmann von Aue Member

    See also Wynton and Ellis Marsalis’ recordings of Guaraldi’s Peanuts music: 

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fxMC2glEU8c 

    • #7
    • December 5, 2019, at 4:28 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  8. EODmom Coolidge

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    I had the George Winston recordings of the Peanuts music for a while.

    It just lacked…something. Not sure what. Almost note-for-note recordings, but no energy, no soul.

     

     

    I agree – Winston’s work should have been wonderful to listen to. But it just wanted. All the notes but always seems to be going through the motions. Odd that. 

    • #8
    • December 5, 2019, at 5:46 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  9. EODmom Coolidge

    Brian Watt (View Comment):

    Great post, E.J. Thanks.

    There is obvious joy and spontaneity in Vince Guaraldi’s work and his playing of it. I never grow tired of his music and listen to it often.

    I actually first heard “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” when a friend of mine in 8th grade played it flawlessly during a school performance. It’s a beautiful song and Guaraldi’s playing of it is wistful with a graceful opening touch of melancholy that is evoked by the repetitive opening notes on the lower register keys of the piano; and then the song takes a more playful direction only to end up back at its more wistful phrasing. There is so much emotion and life crammed into that lovely song that only runs for about 3 minutes. Just a beautiful work of art.

    I’ll bet that when he was born he was just waiting to be able to make music and that he could never have done anything else in his life. God gave us the gifts of music and humor – I can’t imagine humanity without them. So much joy. 

    • #9
    • December 5, 2019, at 5:53 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  10. thelonious Member

    Every kid learning how to play the piano in the 70’s yearned to play the peanuts theme. I plucked away for hours trying to learn it. Still timeless in this old mans mind.

    • #10
    • December 5, 2019, at 7:02 AM PST
    • 7 likes
  11. Songwriter Member
    Songwriter Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Several years ago, I got my chance to do a choral arrangement of “Christmas Time Is Here.” It’s really a very simple song, but Guaraldi’s deliciously melancholy harmonies make it a delight for musicians to work with.

     

     

    • #11
    • December 5, 2019, at 8:08 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  12. Jon1979 Lincoln

    thelonious (View Comment):

    Every kid learning how to play the piano in the 70’s yearned to play the peanuts theme. I plucked away for hours trying to learn it. Still timeless in this old mans mind.

    Warner Brothers had an in-joke in one of their cartoons about the director of the “Peanuts” specials, J.C. “Bill” Melendez being a music teacher. Unfortunately, it was for flute and not piano….

    • #12
    • December 5, 2019, at 8:56 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  13. colleenb Member
    colleenb Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    EJHill (View Comment):

    Everything is there in that 3 minutes, isn’t it?

    @EJ: Thanks so much for this. So great to remember something that one enjoyed so much. I think my first introduction to jazz.

    • #13
    • December 5, 2019, at 10:24 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  14. Bill Nelson Member

    My wife and I watch all of the Hallmark Christmas movies. Even those we have seen. Very predictable: boy meets girl, boy gets girl with small drama (girl sees boy hugging other girl, who turns out to be boy’s sister), and all ends well. Happiness all around.

    Perfect for Christmas.

    We also watch all of their mystery series. Was disappointed when Garage Sale Mystery ended because of the problems with Lori Loughlin.

     

    • #14
    • December 5, 2019, at 10:52 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  15. TBA Coolidge
    TBA

    EODmom (View Comment):

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    I had the George Winston recordings of the Peanuts music for a while.

    It just lacked…something. Not sure what. Almost note-for-note recordings, but no energy, no soul.

     

     

    I agree – Winston’s work should have been wonderful to listen to. But it just wanted. All the notes but always seems to be going through the motions. Odd that.

    The music is like Kenny G’s in that it is low-affect and slips into the background. It’s pretty and I don’t mean that in a nice way. I’m not one of those people who has to have avant garde bleeding edge enfant terrible free-jazz insanity, but Winston and some of his contemporaries manage to be the inverse of that and I don’t need it. 

    Smooth jazz is too often flat jazz and I can’t use it. 

    Thus endeth the rant. 

    • #15
    • December 5, 2019, at 12:07 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  16. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    TBA (View Comment):

    EODmom (View Comment):

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    I had the George Winston recordings of the Peanuts music for a while.

    It just lacked…something. Not sure what. Almost note-for-note recordings, but no energy, no soul.

     

     

    I agree – Winston’s work should have been wonderful to listen to. But it just wanted. All the notes but always seems to be going through the motions. Odd that.

    The music is like Kenny G’s in that it is low-affect and slips into the background. It’s pretty and I don’t mean that in a nice way. I’m not one of those people who has to have avant garde bleeding edge enfant terrible free-jazz insanity, but Winston and some of his contemporaries manage to be the inverse of that and I don’t need it.

    Smooth jazz is too often flat jazz and I can’t use it.

    Thus endeth the rant.

    I’m a fan of a couple smooth jazz guys – Peter White, Rick Braun, Richard Elliot.

    But they’re more the exception.

     

    • #16
    • December 5, 2019, at 12:34 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  17. Stad Thatcher

    Percival (View Comment):

    Linus and Lucy” is a classic.

     

    I always think of it as the Charlie Brown theme music . . .

    • #17
    • December 5, 2019, at 12:59 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  18. Marjorie Reynolds Coolidge

    EJHill:

    Just great music and great playing.

    I’d never heard of this guy or seen Charlie Brown until this morning when I read this. I LOVE it! I’ve been playing it for the past 3 hours here. Thanks EJHill!

    • #18
    • December 6, 2019, at 5:03 PM PST
    • 1 like