Vincent Anthony "Vince" Guaraldi (July 17, 1928 – February 6, 1976) was an Italian American jazz musician and pianist noted for his innovative compositions and arrangements and for composing music for animated adaptations of the Peanuts comic strip. Guaraldi was born in San Francisco, California. He graduated from Lincoln High School, attended San Francisco State University, and served as an Army cook in the Korean War.
Early career and Grammy Award
Guaraldi's first recording was made in November 1953 with Cal Tjader and came out early in 1954. The early 10 inch LP was called The Cal Tjader Trio, included "Chopsticks Mambo", "Vibra-Tharpe", and "Lullaby of the Leaves." By 1955, Guaraldi had his own trio with Eddie Duran and Dean Reilly. He then reunited with Cal Tjader in June, 1956 and was an integral part of two great bands that the vibraphonist assembled. The first band played mainly straight jazz and included Al Torre (drums), Eugene Wright (bass) and Luis Kant (congas and bongos). The second band was formed in the spring of 1958 and included Al McKibbon (bass), Mongo Santamaría (congas and bongos) and Willie Bobo (drums and timbales). Reed men Paul Horn and Jose "Chombo" Silva were also added to the group for certain live performances and recordings. He made a big splash with his performance with Tjader at the 1958 Monterey Jazz Festival.
Guaraldi left the group early in 1959 to pursue his own projects full-time. He probably would have remained a well-respected but minor jazz figure had he not written an original number to fill out his covers of Antonio Carlos Jobim/Luis Bonfá tunes on his 1962 album, Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus, inspired by the French/Brazilian film Black Orpheus, which won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Fantasy released "Samba de Orpheus" as a single, trying to catch the building bossa nova wave, but it was destined to sink without a trace when radio DJs began flipping it over and playing the B-side, Guaraldi's "Cast Your Fate to the Wind". A gentle, likeable tune, it stood out from everything else on the airwaves, and became a grass-roots hit. It also won the grammy for Best Original Jazz Composition. While "Cast Your Fate To The Wind" by Guaraldi achieved modest chart success as a single in 1963, a cover version two years later by British group Sounds Orchestral cracked the Billboard top 10 (in the spring of 1965). Unlike many songwriters who grow weary of their biggest hits, Guaraldi never minded taking requests to play it when he appeared live. "It's like signing the back of a check", he once remarked.
Compositions for Peanuts
While searching for just the right music to accompany a planned Peanuts television documentary, Lee Mendelson (the producer of the special) heard a single version of "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" by Vince Guaraldi's trio on the radio while traveling in a taxicab on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California. Mendelson contacted Ralph J. Gleason, jazz columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle and was put in touch with Guaraldi. He proposed that Guaraldi score the upcoming Peanuts Christmas special and Guaraldi enthusiastically took the job, performing a version of what became "Linus and Lucy" over the phone two weeks later. The soundtrack was recorded by the Vince Guaraldi Trio, whose other members were Puzzy Firth standing in bassist for band member Fred Marshall, who was ill at the time, and drummer Jerry Granelli. Guaraldi went on to compose scores for sixteen Peanuts television specials, plus the feature film A Boy Named Charlie Brown as well as the unaired television program of the same name.
Guaraldi died of a heart attack at age 47 on February 6, 1976. He was found dead in a room at the Red Cottage Inn, where he had been relaxing between sets at Butterfield's Nightclub in Menlo Park, California. Guaraldi had just finished recording the soundtrack for It's Arbor Day, Charlie Brown earlier that afternoon.
Guaraldi's untimely passing was a blow to his colleagues. "It was totally unexpected", said Peanuts executive producer Lee Mendelson. "The day of his funeral, they played the Charlie Brown music over the sound system in the church. It was not an easy day; he was so young. It was one of the saddest days of my life. He was up to my house the night before [his death], and said he had not been feeling well, and didn't know what it was." Peanuts animator Bill Melendez added, "He was a real good guy and we miss him." It's Arbor Day, Charlie Brown demonstrated that affection by the talent with the inclusion of a small tribute in the special's credits, "For Vince."
After Guaraldi's death, the music for the Peanuts series was composed first by San Francisco film and television composer Ed Bogas, who scored several Peanuts TV specials and motion pictures up to the early 1990s, along with Bogas' future wife Desirée Goyette, and occasionally, Judy Munsen. Bogas also did his own arrangements of Guaraldi's "Linus and Lucy" theme as a nod to the musician (most notably in It's Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown and What a Nightmare, Charlie Brown!).
In fact, the preceding publicity for The Peanuts Movie in 2015 included official assurances that Guaraldi's compositions would be used in the film. Indeed, they are played throughout the film such as the frozen pond scene and when carolers sing "Christmas Time is Here."