A Charlie Brown Christmas has a unique sound thanks to The Vince Guaraldi Trio. Indeed, it has become a timeless classic, with songs like “Christmas Time Is Here” and “O Tannenbaum.”
The actual Vince Guaraldi Trio music for A Charlie Brown Christmas was recorded in sessions at Glendale, California’s Whitney Studio and San Fran’s Fantasy Recording Studios. A choir of kids from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in San Rafael came to the studio and did their parts late into the night, receiving $5 each and ice cream afterward for their time and work.
A Charlie Brown Christmas first aired on TV in 1965, and was unique at the time to say the least. First, it didn’t have a laugh track like all the other shows did at the time. Next, the voiceover actors were kids, not adults, giving Charlie Brown and Lucy and Linus, etc., an authentic sound, for sure. Furthermore, its jazz soundtrack by The Vince Guaraldi Trio definitely didn’t fit the norm. As you could imagine, network execs would have preferred younger-sounding music by some trendy, hip band for the cartoon special.
Well, The Vince Guaraldi Trio turned out to be one of the best choices Charles Schulz and the producers insisted on using, because that Christmas album has since become one of the most popular, best-selling of all time, moving about 3.5 million copies. In fact, The Vince Guaraldi Trio’s A Charlie Brown Christmas has been voted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and added to the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry list of “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important” sound recordings. Not too shabby.
Guaraldi died rather unexpectedly at age 47 on February 6, 1976. The evening before, he had dined at Peanuts producer Lee Mendelson’s home and was reportedly not feeling well, complaining of indigestion-like chest discomfort that his doctor had told him was nothing to worry about. The following evening, after concluding the first set at Butterfield’s Nightclub, Guaraldi and drummer Jim Zimmerman returned to the room they were staying in that weekend at the adjacent Red Cottage Inn, to relax before the next set. Zimmerman commented, “He (Vince) was walking across the room and just collapsed. That was it.” His cause of death has been described as a heart attack.