Enjoy Classic Songs from A Charlie Brown Christmas, Performed by Vince Guaraldi Trio Drummer Jerry Granelli

We’re liv­ing in times where so much is done to manip­u­late us. And things last for, what, a news cycle? A few min­utes? This [album] is some­thing that’s last­ed 50 years. And not only last­ed, but grown … I think there’s just a human­ness. — Jer­ry Granel­li 

As the Christ­mas sea­son winds down, so too do mar­ket­ing blitzes and con­sumerist fren­zies that make it hard to see the hol­i­day as any­thing but a year-end cash grab. But even the most cyn­i­cal among us might admit to being moved each year by one Christ­mas clas­sic, no mat­ter our reli­gious beliefs, cap­i­tal­ist sym­pa­thies, or lack there­of: that clas­sic, of course, is The Char­lie Brown Christ­mas Spe­cial. The tal­ents of Charles Schulz, pro­duc­er Lee Mendel­son, and the Vince Guaral­di Trio com­bined to make a show not only big­ger than its parts, but even more endur­ing, per­haps, than the jug­ger­naut of Christ­mas com­merce.

The choice of jazz for a prime­time chil­dren’s Christ­mas spe­cial was inspired and edgy in 1965, though Guaral­di and his band weren’t orig­i­nal­ly booked for the hol­i­days but for a nev­er-com­plet­ed doc­u­men­tary about Shultz that sparked the inter­est of cor­po­rate spon­sor Coca-Cola. Mendel­son real­ized the poten­tial of the loose, breezy West Coast jazz of pianist Guaral­di, bassist Fred Mar­shall, and drum­mer Jer­ry Granel­li for the new­ly-com­mis­sioned spe­cial, and the band import­ed much from their orig­i­nal music, impro­vis­ing two new com­po­si­tions and play­ing bluesy ver­sions of “O Tan­nen­baum” and “Hark! The Her­ald Angels Sing.”

As Granel­li remem­bers it, Coke execs weren’t pleased. “[A] lit­tle kid was going to come out and say what Christ­mas was all about, which was­n’t about shop­ping. And then the jazz music, which was impro­vised,” did not jive with the suits. Nonethe­less the show aired, to the great delight of chil­dren and grown-ups every­where for the past half cen­tu­ry or so. Granel­li him­self feared pigeon­hol­ing and left the project with “some resid­ual bad feel­ings over his pal­try cred­it and roy­al­ties.” He lat­er “spent decades avoid­ing any nos­tal­gia trip to the land of Linus and Lucy,” Nate Chi­nen writes at WBGO. “But with­in the last decade” before his death in July 2021, “he leaned into Peanuts, rec­og­niz­ing the joy that Guaraldi’s sound­track impart­ed, espe­cial­ly around the hol­i­days.”

In the videos above, you can see Granel­li play “Linus and Lucy” and “Skat­ing” with his trio, with Chris Gestrin on Piano and Simon Fisk on bass, in 2014. Men­tored by Dave Brubeck­’s drum­mer, Joe Morel­lo, Granel­li toured the States in his ear­ly 20s, then joined the Vince Guaral­di Trio on return­ing to his home in the Bay Area. He “quick­ly found his foot­ing, becom­ing an essen­tial pat of the Guaral­di sound,” writes Chi­nen. Guaraldi’s orig­i­nal themes like “Linus and Lucy” and “Skat­ing” “ben­e­fit immea­sur­ably from Granel­li’s whis­per-soft brush­work.” The Trio went on to record with Brazil­ian bossa nova gui­tarist Bola Sete, and the drum­mer made his mark on the music world in oth­er con­texts, co-found­ing and teach­ing at the Cre­ative Music Pro­gram of Naropa Insti­tute (now Naropa Uni­ver­si­ty) in Boul­der Col­orado in the 1970s.

“Jazz is just a reflec­tion of life,” Granel­li told CBC Radio in 2020. “Life is impro­vised, life is uncer­tain. It’s not sol­id. It’s not per­ma­nent. The art I choose dis­ap­pears after it’s played, it goes off into the ether. I love that.” That may be so, but Granel­li’s con­tri­bu­tion to the art of The Char­lie Brown Christ­mas Spe­cial — music record­ed in a 3‑hour ses­sion when he was only 24 years old — has now out­last­ed him, the last mem­ber of the Vince Guaral­di Trio to pass away. May he skate on in peace, wher­ev­er he is now.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

How Inno­v­a­tive Jazz Pianist Vince Guaral­di Became the Com­pos­er of Beloved Char­lie Brown Music

Peanuts Rock: Watch the Peanuts Gang Play Clas­sic Rock Songs by Queen, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Jour­ney & More

Umber­to Eco Explains the Poet­ic Pow­er of Charles Schulz’s Peanuts

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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