The now iconic score for the classic TV special A Charlie Brown Christmas was just another session in the life of a young jazz musician, according to the only surviving member of the group that made the music.
“We were a jazz trio and we were working and part of it was we went in there and played as hard and honestly as we could,” Canadian Jerry Granelli, who played with The Vince Guaraldi Trio in the ’60s, told CBC News.
Peanuts creator Charles Schultz and TV producer Lee Mendelson heard Guaraldi’s music and hired him for an earlier project.
Then a Christmas special was commissioned, with Coca-Cola as a sponsor, and thrown together in a matter of months with a shoestring budget.
Granelli, 74, said he recalls the trio recorded their part of the score in a three-hour session, with two or three takes of each song. He said he was paid $ 160 for his work and the initial album release didn’t even credit him.
No one at the time thought it would have such staying power, he said.
“Everybody was there saying, ‘Well this will be shown once and never be seen again.’ And this one animator said, ‘Are you kidding? We’ll be watching this for the next 50 years.’ And he was the only one who was right. Everybody else thought it was a one-shot thing.”
Indeed, A Charlie Brown Christmas went on to become a ratings hit, with 45 per cent of the TV audience tuning in when it premiered on CBS on Dec. 9, 1965. It’s been aired every year since then. The soundtrack has also been a hit, selling over three million copies and earning a place in the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Granelli is now a Canadian citizen and has lived in Halifax since the ’80s.
“Maybe I grew up enough to realize it was just some work, good work, that I had done, and it brought a lot of joy to people.”
Granelli is now sharing the music with an annual series of live concerts called Tales of A Charlie Brown Christmas, where he plays the iconic music with other musicians and a children’s chorus, and tells stories about his life and the songs. His cross-Canada tour kicks off on Nov. 28 in Calgary.
“When you think about it, there is something to this thing, particularly the times we live in right now, the way the world is right now, that is so genuine and heartfelt that it seems a little important. And I’m fine with being known for it. I guess at this point I am a pretty grateful guy, probably more grateful than I’ve ever been in my life.”