Vince Guaraldi


Born: July 17, 1928,

San Francisco, California.


Died: February 6, 1976,

Menlo Park, California.

Jazz pianist Vincent Anthony Guaraldi, best known for creating the "Charlie Brown sound" in Peanuts television specials such as A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965), grew up in California, and attended San Francisco State College. While there he began to play the piano seriously, and worked campus parties playing boogie-woogie style music.

Guaraldi landed his first serious booking playing at intermissions during Art Tatum shows at the Black Hawk. According to Guaraldi, "It was more than scary. I came close to giving up the instrument, and I wouldn't have been the first after working around Tatum."

In 1951 Guaraldi became a founding member of the Cal Tjader Trio. He left the group around 1954, and, in 1955, formed a trio with longtime friend and guitarist Eddie Duran and bassist Dean Reilly. This trio first perfomed on the second stage called "The Other Room" at San Francisco’s legendary "hungry i" (yes, uncapitalized). Tour dates with Woody Herman followed, as did a reunion with Cal Tjader. A few years later, Guaraldi returned as the hungry i‘s first jazz headliner.

In the 1960s Guaraldi fronted a series of jazz groups. His breakthrough album Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus (1962), which earned him a gold record, featured the Emmy-winning tune Cast Your Fate to the Wind. Two years later Guaraldi made history with his A Boy Named Charlie Brown, defining the Peanuts sound, and introduced modern jazz to American mainstream culture.

In 1963. Filmmaker Lee Mendelson had produced a documentary on Peanuts creator Charles Schulz. After having heard him perform in San Francisco, Schulz suggested that Guaraldi provide the musical soundtrack. Guaraldi’s trio played some short pieces, including Linus and Lucy.

When Mendelson was hired to make a Peanuts animated special, Guaraldi provided the music, which introduced the standard Christmas Time Is Here. A Charlie Brown Christmas has been shown on TV every year since. According to Charles Schulz, Guaraldi’s musical contributions were crucial: "His musical genius deserves a great deal of the credit for the success of the television specials."

In 1965 Guaraldi’s versatility as composer and pianist shined. At the request of Reverend Charles Gompertz, Guaraldi was selected to write a jazz work for a choral Eucharist at San Francisco's famed Grace cathedral. He worked for a year and a half on the composition with bassist Tom Beeson, drummer Lee Charlton and a 68-voice choir. The piece, a blend of Latin influences, waltz tempos, and traditional jazz "supper music," was performed on May 21, 1965.

Guaraldi: "I had one of America's largest cathedrals as a setting, a top choir, and a critical audience that would be more than justified in finding fault. I was in a musical world that had lived with the Eucharist for 500-600 years, and I had to improve and/or update it to 20th-century musical standards. This was the most awesome and challenging thing I had ever attempted."

During the last years of his life Guaraldi’s main commitment was the production of the music for the Peanuts animated specials. 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 at age 47.

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

Guaraldi's contribution was honored by Charles Schulz and Lee Mendelson in the special This Is America, Charlie Brown. Lucy is doubting that Charlie Brown might have a favorite song. Charlie Brown responds:

"Well, there’s one, and I think it was written in the 1960s. I think it was some of that jazz Franklin was talking about. I believe the composer was a man by the name of Vince Guaraldi, and I think it was called ‘Linus and Lucy’ by coincidence. And I think it goes like this…"

Charlie Brown then hums a few bars of Linus and Lucy. Guaraldi’s theme fades up, and the Peanuts gang walks off into the sunset.

Vince Guaraldi ~ Interesting Facts

Nickname: "Doctor Funk"


Albert Ammons, Jimmy Yancey, Bill Evans

Played with:

Willie Bobo, Conte Candoli, Buddy Collette, Sonny Criss, Herb Ellis, Victor Feldman, Stan Getz, Tom Harrell, Bill Harris, Woody Herman, Billy Higgins, Bill Holman, Richie Kamuca, Scott LaFaro, Stan Levey , Al McKibbon, Brew Moore, Frank Rosolino, Mongo Santamaria, Cal Tjader, Leroy Vinnegar, Ben Webster, Jimmy Witherspoon

Recommended Reading:

Derrick Bang, "Vince Guaraldi: He Worked for More than Peanuts." Peanuts Collectors Club Newsletter, Summer 1993.

Recommended Recordings:

As leader:

A Charlie Brown Christmas (Fantasy, 1965), From All Sides (Fantasy, 1965), The Grace Cathedral Concert (Fantasy, 1965), Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus (Fantasy, 1962), Vince Guaraldi in Person (Fantasy, 1963), Vince Guaraldi Trio (Fantasy, 1956)

As sideman:

Stan Getz/Cal Tjader Sextet (Fantasy, 1958), West Coast Jazz in Hi Fi (Hi Fi Jazz, 1959), Cal Tjader's Latin Concert (Fantasy, 1958)

Updated: February 10, 2006 (KB)

Copyright 2006, The Unconservatory, All Rights Reserved.