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Canadian behind A Charlie Brown Christmas score says creators thought it was a ‘one-shot thing’

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.

‘This will be shown once and never be seen again’

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.” 

Jerry Granelli

Granelli rehearses in his Halifax home for his tour Tales of a Charlie Brown Christmas (CBC)

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. 

For years he ignored the success of the show, focussing on his career as a serious jazz musician.

‘I am a pretty grateful guy’

But meeting various people over the years who told him how much A Charlie Brown Christmas had affected them eventually inspired Granelli to embrace the score as his best known work.

“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.” 

Jerry Granelli

Granelli, seen here in the early 1960s, says he now realizes the music for the Charlie Brown Christmas classic was good work that ‘brought a lot of joy to people.’ (courtesy Jerry Granelli)

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.”

A Charlie Brown Christmas will be celebrated on Nov. 30 on ABC with a special holiday retrospective called It’s Your 50th Christmas, Charlie Brown!  hosted by actress Kristen Bell. 

The show will feature performances by Kristin Chenoweth, Matthew Morrison, Sarah McLachlan, Boyz II Men, Pentatonix, David Benoit and The All-American Boys Chorus. 

CBC | Arts News