The Nostalgic Special’s soundtrack has sold millions of copies — and the lyrics to a famous song were first written on scraps of paper.
NEW YORK — The Mendelsohn family would love to find the envelope. Where his father took, In 1965, jazz musician Vince Garaldi wrote some of the lyrics to the composition “Christmas Time Is Here” for an animated TV special featuring the “Peanuts” gang.
The producer always said it took less than half an hour to write, and threw away scraps of paper. He was in a hurry. Everything was rushed. No one knew, once the special aired, whether it would ever be seen again.
Instead, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” became an indelible holiday tradition and so, too, has Garaldi’s music — perhaps even more so.
“Christmas doesn’t feel like Christmas without listening to this album in the background,” said Derek Bang, author of the biography Vince Garaldi at the Piano.
The special itself was a bit of an oddity: a cartoon tale of the meaning of Christmas tracked by a sophisticated, mostly instrumental jazz trio of piano, bass and drums.
Still it worked. Guaraldi’s cascading piano evokes both movement and gently falling snow on “Skating.” The driving melody of “Linus and Lucy” is the eternal backdrop to a swinging party. “O Tannenbaum” shifts from a traditional carol to a bass-driven groove. The children’s song “It’s Time for Christmas” is charming.
The soundtrack has sold over five million copies. of that Popularity due to nostalgia It’s only grown, with a major boost in 1998 when Starbucks began selling it in stores, and it’s been steadily fueled by new products.
The latest, a box set of Outtakes released this year, came about when Jason Mendelsohn, one of the late producer’s four children, discovered tapes of Guaraldi’s recording sessions in a Los Angeles warehouse when he was looking for something else. Were.
“A Charlie Brown Christmas” has aired every year since 1965, though the tradition is changing. Apple TV+ bought the rights, and PBS says It is not able to make special distribution of groundnut this year.
While Apple TV+ is usually only available to subscribers, Apple announced in October. That anyone can run. “A Charlie Brown Christmas” Free from December 22nd to December 25th. The $7/month streaming service also offers free weeklong trials.
Recognizing the new direction of television, will the move to streaming reduce the chances of new generations of kids being exposed to stories and music?
“I just remember, back in the days of three channels and scheduled programming, it was one of those things that we were excited about because we knew it was coming and we knew it,” Harry Connick Jr. said, who covered. Christmas Time Is Here” for his own holiday disc out now.
“It was actually an amazing opportunity to have this kind of music heard by so many people,” added Connick, a jazz devotee even as a teenager. “It wasn’t necessarily the kind of music that would be played on regular radio.”
That’s even less likely now, said Nathaniel Sloan, a musicologist at the University of Southern California and co-host of the “Switched On Pop” podcast, as jazz is relegated to the background of history books or dinner parties.
During the 1960s, jazz was closer to the mainstream and more likely to be played alongside pop music, he said.
Sloan said the music created for the soundtrack is vaguer and more complex than most holiday music. is connected with warm feelings for. Illustrated by Charles M. Schulz A classic comic page character, time has made it a traditional holiday musical.
The list of people who have recorded “Christmas Time Is Here” is long and varied. They include John Legend, Alicia Keys, Gloria Estefan, Mariah Carey, Mel Tormey, Dave Brubeck, Sarah McLachlan, Stone Temple Pilots, Chicago, and Toni Braxton.
Likewise, the unexpected places the “Lance and Lucy” melody has appeared testify to how ingrained it is in American life. Michelle Obama played it on the piano when she returned to her childhood home in the “Becoming” documentary. The Foo Fighters added it to a spectacular “Saturday Night Live” holiday medley. Prince kicked her out during his last concert.
It all started in the San Francisco area, home base for Guaraldi, as it was for Mendelssohn and Schulz. Mendelsohn’s famous documentary on Willie Mays — Schulz’s favorite baseball player — convinced the cartoonist to participate in a “day in the life” film about his work. One of Mendelssohn’s favorite songs was Garaldi’s breezy hit, “Cast Your Fate to the Wind,” so the Jazzman was recruited for the soundtrack.
In the days before cable and streaming, Mendelsohn couldn’t sell the documentary, so it disappeared.
After the popularity of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” in 1964, a sponsor asked Mendelsohn if he would consider making a “Peanuts” Christmas special. He lied about what he had. Schulz agreed to pitch a story outline, and Guaraldi also came on board, recycling “Linus and Lucy” from the documentary.
Animation is time-consuming, so the team had a tight deadline to make it on television. It was Mendelssohn who decided that “Christmas Time is Here” without the lyrics missing something. He asked several songwriters to work, but the deadline was very tight.
So Mendelssohn sat down in his office and said to himself: “It’s Christmas time, merry and merry…”
“I’ve always loved music and melody, but I didn’t really understand until I recorded it how beautiful the songs were,” said Norah Jones, who released last year’s album. The song was included on the disc.
“The children’s version of the song is very special,” he told The Associated Press. “There is something very unique and touching about children’s singing.”
The St. Paul Church Choir from San Rafael, California was hired to sing “Christmas Time is Here” and “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.” The producers angered the choir director by choosing a slightly out-of-tune version of the carol. Bang, who wrote the liner notes for the box set, said he thought he captured an innocence he was looking for.
Some people at CBS were nervous before the special aired. Executives wondered if audiences would accept their favorite comic characters coming “to life” with voices and movement. Schulz’s insistence that the show’s quotation from the Bible gave it a religious focus that television entertainment usually steered clear of.
But it was a hit, winning Peabody and Emmy Awards, and never went away.
Guaraldi never had the opportunity to see his music age in standards. He died of a heart attack in 1976 at the age of just 47.
“He’s the most famous jazz musician whose name you don’t know, because the music from Christmas specials has become ubiquitous,” Bang said.
Lee Mendelssohn died on Christmas Day 2019 at the age of 86. Jason is reluctant to reveal how much money his father made just minutes from writing the lyrics to “Christmas Time Is Here.” Here’s a hint: Song makes enough money each year to pay for all of the family’s extended vacation purchases.
And he never tires of listening to Garaldi’s music, often attending concerts where holiday songs are recreated live.
“I’ve never seen a bad one,” he said.