San Francisco jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi would have been remembered in the popular music conscience for his 1962 hit “Cast Your Fate to the Wind,” had he not redefined his legacy three years later with the soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas. The animated special’s annual broadcast turned Guaraldi’s score, particularly the instrumental “Linus and Lucy,” into an indelible musical signature. The two bouts of popular acclaim obscured the rest of Guaraldi’s career, which began in the 1950s backing Cal Tjader, blossomed into his own trio and first struck pay dirt with his tribute, Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus. It was from this latter album that the Guaraldi original “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” sprung onto the airwaves as the B-side of his cover of Luiz Bonfa’s “Samba de Orfeu.” Though the latter isn’t included here, another of the film’s themes, “Manha de Carnaval,” shows off Guaraldi’s interest in Latin rhythms, as well as the contemplative side of his playing.
Brazillian music played an on-going role in Guaraldi’s repertoire, as he covered the bossa nova “Outra Vez,” and collaborated with guitarist Bola Sete on the gentle “Star Song,” the rush-hour “Ginza” and a live recording of “El Matador.” The latter shows how easily Guaraldi transitioned back and forth from straight to swing time, much as he does in “Linus and Lucy,” his left hand beating out boogie-woogie as his right hand picks out melodies. 1964’s “Treat Street” attempted to follow-up on the commercial success of 1962, but the swinging, Latin-tinged single failed to click with fickle radio programmers and record buyers. It wouldn’t be until the 1965 Peanuts breakthrough that Guaraldi’s music would again seep into the broad public’s consciousness. Even then, it didn’t make a mark on the singles chart, though the soundtrack albums have been perennial sellers.
In addition to writing originals, Guaraldi, like his contemporaries, also reinterpreted standards, including Frank Loesser’s “The Lady’s in Love With You” and Oscar Hammerstein’s “Softly as in a Morning Sunrise.” The collection closes out with three pieces from Guaraldi’s Peanuts repertoire, including “Christmas is Coming” (the theme to which the gang dances) and a six-minute instrumental version of “Christmas Time is Here.” The two-disc Definitive Vince Guaraldi, issued three years ago, provides a deeper helping of Guaraldi’s sound, and the A Charlie Brown Christmas Original Soundtrack is a must-have. But for those wishing to taste Guaraldi’s music beyond what you’ve heard on TV, this is a good place to start. [©2012 Hyperbolium]