Jazz Impressions of Vince Guaraldi
Site host: Derrick Bang
Although Vince Guaraldi's playful jazz piano themes for the early Peanuts
animated television specials are well known, the composer himself remains
largely unheralded. Despite his music's ubiquity, he is, perhaps, one of the
world's most-heard jazz artists whose name few people know, and fewer can
spell or pronounce correctly.
Much, much more than merely "the Peanuts guy," Guaraldi cut his jazz teeth
as a member of combos fronted by Cal Tjader and Woody Herman, and garnered
Top 40 fame with his Grammy Award–winning hit, "Cast Your Fate to the Wind."
He spent most of the 1950s and early '60s as a sideman, then began fronting
his own trios and combos in order to refine the gentle, bossa nova sound
that soon characterized his early compositions. His collaboration with
Brazilian guitarist Bola Sete made them a can't-miss act for two years in
the greater San Francisco Bay Area.
Guaraldi also deserves credit for writing and performing what became
the first-ever Jazz Mass presented during a U.S. worship service, when he
debuted his Grace Cathedral Jazz Mass on May 21, 1965. That same year, yes,
he also became known as the guy who put the jazz swing in Charlie Brown’s
As jazz clubs were closing in the 1960s, with the advent of rock 'n'
roll -- a development that put many jazz musicians out of work -- Guaraldi
embraced the enemy, adjusting his style and approach to include electric
keyboards. By the mid-'70s, he had become a respected veteran in what remained
of the declining Northern California jazz club scene.
And then -- tragically -- he left us much too soon, in 1976, at the
youthful age of 47. His jazz legacy is poorly acknowledged and woefully
under-valued, despite the obligatory feature pieces that emerge in newspapers
and on radio each December, with the annual return of A Charlie Brown
Christmas. Guaraldi deserves better. If you've long wanted to know more
about one of jazz music’s overlooked treasures, you've found the right spot.
I'm a lifelong Guaraldi fan; At the age of 7, I was a bit too young to
register "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" and its increased radio play in 1962
and '63, but I vividly remember being parked in front of the family TV set
on December 9, 1965, for the debut of A Charlie Brown Christmas. My
enjoyment of Guaraldi's music -- my respect for his talent -- has been
constant, from that day to this. I did all the usual fan things, as time
and technology allowed: the purchase of his albums; the subsequent discovery
and search for albums that included him in a supporting role; the early
short articles, in various publications; the lengthy essay and discography
that formed the core of this, which became one of the first -- perhaps
the first -- Guaraldi fan website.