Music / Vince Guaraldi
The man, his keys, and his 'stache.
Vince Guaraldi (July 17, 1928 February 6, 1976) was an Italian-American jazz pianist and composer, best known for his work in animated adaptations of Charles M. Schulz's Peanuts comic strip. His soundtrack for the classic Christmas special A Charlie Brown Christmas is one of the most best-selling and critically adored Christmas albums of all time, often described as the jazz Christmas album.

His often idiosyncratic melodies light and breezy, but with a deft touch of melancholy perfectly complimented the spirit of Peanuts, with existential poignancy found beneath what is ostensibly children's entertainment. As a result, his influence in getting younger generations to dig jazz cannot be underestimated.

Partial discography (albums released during his lifetime):

  • Vince Guaraldi Trio (1956)
  • A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing (1958)
  • Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus (1962)note 
  • In Person (1962)
  • Vince Guaraldi, Bola Sete & Friends (1964)
  • The Latin Side of Vince Guaraldi (1964)
  • Jazz Impressions of A Boy Named Charlie Brown (1964)note 
  • From All Sides (with Bola Sete, 1965)
  • Vince Guaraldi at Grace Cathedral (1965)
  • A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
  • Live at El Matador (with Bola Sete, 1966)
  • Vince Guaraldi with The San Francisco Boys Chorus (1967)
  • Oh, Good Grief! (1968)
  • The Eclectic Vince Guaraldi (1969)
  • Alma-Ville (1970)

Tropes associated with Vince Guaraldi:

  • Ascended Fanboy: George Winston, new age pianist. He'd already made a Guaraldi cover album (with a subsequent sequel to follow) by the time his work was included on a 2010 compilation of Peanuts character themes.
  • B-Side: "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" was originally on the flip side of the single of "Samba de Orpheus", but one radio station in Sacramento started playing it instead, giving Vince a hit.
  • Badass Mustache: So evocative and iconic of the man himself that it might as well be called a Guaraldi-stache. Sometimes grown into a dense Badass Beard, too.
  • Black Best Friend: Brazilian guitarist Bola Sete.
  • Christmas Songs: A Charlie Brown Christmas consists mostly of groundbreaking jazz arrangements of Christmas songs from throughout the centuries, but he also composed a few songs of his own, most notably "Christmas Time Is Here", itself now part of the classic Christmas song canon.
  • Cool Shades: When he wasn't using his regular ol' glasses, that is. Though they're still plenty cool.
  • Covers Always Lie: The Peanuts compilation Lost Cues, Vol. 1 features a distinctive Christmas theme on the cover, but it features not one Christmas special-related tune. It's been suggested this may just be a cash-in on the recognition factor of A Charlie Brown Christmas and its indelible connection to Guaraldi's name.
  • Cover Version: His discography saw him tackle a lot of jazz and pop standards, as well as songs by contemporary acts such as The Beatles.note 
  • Early Installment Weirdness: His first two albums as bandleader (Vince Guaraldi Trio, A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing) use a piano-guitar-bass trio with no drums. They're also more mellow and moody than his later work.
  • Forgotten Theme Tune Lyrics: Besides Carel Werber's lyrics for "Cast Your Fate To The Wind", Guaraldi himself wrote a set of words for it when he first copyrighted the song in 1960, that never got used.
    • The melody of "Star Song" was written to fit the words of a poem that had been sent to Guaraldi, but all the released versions of it are instrumental. After some digging, one fan finally found a copy of the poem.
    • "Oh, Good Grief!" actually has lyrics that were sung during one of the animated sequences of the 1964 documentary A Boy Named Charlie Brown:
      Oh, good grief! Poor Charlie Brown!
      He's the saddest boy in town!
      There's no hope! There's no hope!
      He's a wishy-washy dope!
  • Improv: It's jazz. Vince's distinctive style of playing was based heavily on eloquent phrasing. His patented "runs" frequently moved quickly between light and dark keys. There's a bunch of "vintage" Guaraldi runs that are heard all throughout his discography, though never in entirely the same way.
  • Instrumentals: His stock in trade; he rarely made vocal works. "Cast Your Fate to the Wind", for instance, is one of a relatively few number of jazz instrumentals to become a hit song, as well as win a Grammy. Ironically, after a poppier instrumental cover by British studio group Sounds Orchestral became an even bigger hit two years later, lyrics were written for it by Carel Werber, and a couple vocal versions became hits as well.
  • Kids Rock: Famously used a children's chorus for A Charlie Brown Christmas to represent the Peanuts gang, but this grew out of the boys' chorus featured in his Grace Cathedral mass. In 1967 he reused the concept (and many of the same kids) for the Vince Guaraldi with The San Francisco Boys Chorus album.
  • Limited Lyrics Song: "Monterey" from ... and The San Francisco Boys Chorus. The chorus just sings wordless vocals with the verse melody, and "Monterey, Monterey" in the refrain.
  • Lonely Piano Piece: Well, naturally. Probably the one that fits the bill the most is "Rain, Rain Go Away". "Für Elise", "Autumn Leaves", and "Never Never Land" are also among the pieces that feature Guaraldi playing solo.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: "Christmas Time is Here" is a rather melancholy melody with some prominent minor chords, which strongly contrasts with lyrics that depict "happiness and cheer" and "joyful memories". That bittersweet edge makes it stand out among other Christmas songs and has probably helped it to become a standard.
  • New Sound Album:
    • Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus introduced his trademark piano-bass-drums trio format and a new Latin-influenced style.
    • Oh, Good Grief!, a collection of re-recorded Peanuts themes, showed him moving from his acoustic jazz trio roots towards electric piano and sonic experimentation. The Eclectic Vince Guaraldi continued this trend. Electronic instruments eventually began to make their way into his Peanuts scores as well.
  • Ominous Latin Chanting: Invoked in the "Kyrie Eleison" section of the Grace Cathedral mass. It's sung in English, but the singers have the "ominous chanting" part down cold, which leads to some amazing deliberate Lyrical Dissonance once Guaraldi's mid-tempo jazz kicks in.
  • One Steve Limit: Averted with his touring band circa 1968, consisting of guitarist Bob Addison, bassist Bob Maize and drummer Bobby Natenson.
  • Red Baron:
    • "Dr. Funk", for obvious reasons. This was before the definition of "funk" became what it is today, though.
    • Naturally, he also composed the theme of the same name for Snoopy's WWII flying ace escapades.
  • Rearrange the Song:
    • Oh, Good Grief! consists entirely of re-recordings, often with some drastic changes to instrumentation and tempo.
    • "My Little Drum" from Christmas is a slightly reworked version of "Menino pequeno da bateria"note  from From All Sides. And the melody itself is more or less a slightly modulated version of "The Little Drummer Boy" making it a re-arrangement two times over.
  • The Short Guy with Glasses: His height has been reported as being 5' 4" or 5' 6" (162 or 167 cm), and he was older than he looked. Apparently he grew his signature mustache after he kept getting carded at the jazz clubs he was playing.
  • Step Up to the Microphone:
    • The man himself, though not really one for singing, turned in some memorable work with Peanuts pieces such as "Little Birdie", and of course, Joe Cool's theme. He's got a deadpan, bluesy and slightly mischievous delivery in both that make 'em both really humorous.
    • He also sang two Cover Versions of Tim Hardin songs on The Eclectic Vince Guaraldi ("Black Sheep Boy", "Reason to Believe").
  • Theme Tune Cameo: Apparently, "Linus and Lucy" exists within the Peanuts universe itself, as in one special, Good Ol' Charlie Brown himself names it his favorite song, referring to its creator by name.
  • Unfortunate Name: The Anatomy of Vince Guaraldi. Now, granted, it's a play on Anatomy of a Hit, a TV documentary about "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" which is included in the documentary in question, but still.