The execs at CBS didn't know what to make of A Charlie Brown Christmas. Commercialism? The Bible? JAZZ??? But Vince Guaraldi's score won the day, and became an instant classic. Uploaded by untitledrecords.com.
Even today, it doesn’t seem like a natural fit for a jazz soundtrack to accompany an animated Christmas show. Certainly the executives at CBS in 1965 didn’t see how children would appreciate this very adult musical form. But Charles Schulz had vision, and Vince Guaraldi’s sparkling jazz balanced the sophisticated themes of commercialism and secularism that Schulz included in his story.
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In the book A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition, executive producer Lee Mendelson discussed how he chose a jazz soundtrack for A Charlie Brown Christmas (Great American Things, December 14, 2009). “Once we completed filming I had to add some music. I had always been a great fan of jazz, and while driving back from Sparky’s (Charles Schulz, ed.) I heard a song called ‘Cast Your Fate to the Wind.’ The radio announcer said it had won a Grammy and had been written and performed by a San Franciscan named Vince Guaraldi…It turned out that Vince was a big fan of Peanuts, and he agreed to work on the music.”
Several of the tracks are classics, including “Christmas Time Is Here” and “Linus and Lucy,” in which the characters memorably danced on the stage as Schroeder played the song on his piano.
By the way, the children who sang the hauntingly beautiful “Christmas Time Is Here” weren’t professional musicians. They were members of a children’s choir at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in San Rafael, California. Was the best part getting to sing in a professional sound studio? Nope. It was getting to go out for ice cream afterward.
Charlie Brown and the sweet, pitiful, genuine, thankless, encouraging, disheartening tree. Uploaded by blogs.pioneerlocal.com.
It’s almost nostalgic to remember back to the time when our primary concern was about the commercialization of Christmas. At least Charlie Brown got to do a Christmas play – in school, no less. Not a “holiday” program or a “winter” program. To show how far we’ve drifted, it’s a little surprising that the television execs haven’t renamed this A Charlie Brown Holiday.
This was the first attempt to bring Charles Schulz’s characters to the small screen, and it was almost the last. Network executives didn’t want the King James Bible being read, they wanted adult voice actors to speak the parts, and they wanted a laugh track. They were horrified at the idea of Vince Guaraldi’s jazz music on the track. Rumor has it that they were appalled when they saw the finished product.
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And yet, the show was both a critical and a popular hit. Harriet Van Horne of the New York World-Telegram said, “Linus’ reading of the story of the Nativity was, quite simply, the dramatic highlight of the season.”
We love to watch Snoopy dancing. We delight at Vince Guaraldi’s music. (“Christmas Time Is Here” is now a seasonal standard.) We feel Charlie Brown’s hope at the choice of his scrawny Christmas tree, and his despair as it’s ridiculed.
And we never get tired of the kids shouting, “Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!” before singing “Hark, The Herald Angels Sing” at the end. What a great, great special.