10 December 2011

Linus and Lucy

One of my all-time favorite musical pieces is actually Vince Guaraldi's "Linus and Lucy."  Though it's not technically Christmas music, the theme song has become so quintessentially associated with A Charlie Brown Christmas and all the Peanuts dancing on the school's stage that you still hear it more at Christmastime than any other time of the year.  And I can live with that, though I wish it was played more.  It's just so bouncy and fun and so representative of the Peanuts.  You can picture Schroeder playing the mini grand piano and Snoopy doing his patented Snoopy-dance with no effort whatsoever.  Besides, how can anyone not need a little jazz in life?  My girlie's old piano teacher was actually a jazz pianist as well--I loved to listen to him play on the few occasions that I was able to do so.  He was quite good.

Guaraldi once described himself as "reformed boogie-woogie piano player."  Later dubbed "Dr. Funk" by some of his colleagues, Guaraldi got his first real break playing at the Black Hawk Nightclub during intermissions, filling in for the legendary Art Tatum.  Guaraldi also played for a time with the Cal Tjader trio, which he later left to pursue projects of his own.  One of these projects was his album Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus, for which he covered several Antonio Carlos Jobim and Luis Bonfá tunes, inspired by the French/Brazilian movie Black Orpheus.  The first single, "Samba de Orpheus,"   did very poorly; then a few enterprising DJs started flipping the record over to the B-side and playing  "Cast Your Fate to the Wind," which Guaraldi himself had penned while trying to fill in a gap between covers for the album.  The tune was unlike anything currently on the airwaves and gained rapidly in popularity, and was ultimately awarded the 1962 Grammy for Best Original Jazz Composition.  Guaraldi's success snowballed from there.

Guaraldi became affiliated with the Peanuts Franchise when Lee Mendelson, later the executive producer of all the Peanuts TV specials, was looking for some music to underscore a Peanuts documentary he'd been working on.  Mendelson heard "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" on the radio while traveling across the Golden Gate Bridge in a taxi cab.  Mendelson contacted Guaraldi, suggesting he score the upcoming Peanuts Christmas Special.  Guaraldi happily agreed, playing the first-ever version of "Linus and Lucy" for Mendelson over the phone, merely two weeks later.  Guaraldi went on to score all 17 Peanuts specials and the feature film A Boy Named Charlie Brown, for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Music Scoring.

Guaraldi died suddenly in 1976 at age 47 of a heart attack or aneurysm, after having just finished recording the music for It's Arbor Day, Charlie Brown.  He had also just dined with Mendelson the night before.  "Linus and Lucy" was played at his funeral, along with some of the other Charlie Brown music he had written. 

Guaraldi's music continues to live on, especially every year at Christmas and through the covers of other artists such as George Winston.  Jon Hendricks, poet laureate of jazz,  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."  I couldn't agree more.

Sources:  http://www.vinceguaraldi.com/biography.htm


  1. You love the Peanuts.
    You write wonderfully.
    Therefore you are awesome, and
    I'm following.

  2. Thanks so much, Social Lilac--and welcome to the party in my head!

    Tiffanie--I guess great minds think alike. Good luck with your cabaret act--sounds awesome!

  3. So, I'm back.
    I'm back because I've just had the opportunity to award Ginger Doodles with the "Versatile Blog" award. If you'd like to participate, here's the link to my post for more info and what not,
    I hope you do.

  4. Aw, thanks! That's cool--I appreciate the nod! I'll see about doing that this week; right now I'm far too hopped up on antibiotics and painkillers to think clearly.