studio album by American composer/conductor Vince Guaraldi (later credited to the jazz group the Vince Guaraldi Trio). The album was released in December 1965 in the United States by Fantasy Records. It is the soundtrack to the CBS Christmas television special of the same name. Guaraldi was contacted by television producer Lee Mendelson several years prior to compose music for a documentary on the comic strip Peanuts and its creator, Charles M. Schulz. Although the special went unaired, these selections were released in 1964 as Jazz Impressions of "A Boy Named Charlie Brown". Coca-Cola commissioned a Christmas special based on Peanuts in 1965 and Guaraldi returned to score the special.
A Charlie Brown Christmas features several originals ("Christmas Time Is Here", "Linus and Lucy") as well as covers of well-known Christmas songs ("The Christmas Song", "O Tannenbaum"). The score for the special was largely cut at recording sessions at Glendale, California's
Whitney Studio. Much of this material was later re-recorded by Guaraldi
at three sessions later in the year at Fantasy Recording Studios in San
Francisco, alongside a choir of children culled from St. Paul's
Episcopal Church in nearby San Rafael.
The sessions ran late into the night, with the children rewarded with
ice cream afterwards. Bassist Fred Marshall and drummer Jerry Granelli
have been credited as performing on the album, although a host of
musicians claim to have recorded the album.
Released a week prior to the broadcast premiere of the special, A Charlie Brown Christmas sold well, and became increasingly famous in the ensuing decades. It is among the most popular Christmas albums in the United States, where it has been certified Triple Platinum, having shipped at least three million copies. As of November 2014, A Charlie Brown Christmas is the tenth best-selling Christmas/holiday album in the United States during the SoundScan era of music sales tracking (March 1991 – present), having sold 3,410,000 copies according to SoundScan.
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's National Recording Registry list of "culturally, historically, or aesthetically important" sound recordings.
By the early 1960s, Charles M. Schulz's comic strip Peanuts had become a sensation worldwide. Television producer Lee Mendelson acknowledged the strip's cultural impression and produced a documentary on the subject, titled A Boy Named Charlie Brown.
Mendelson, a fan of jazz, heard a song by Vince Guaraldi on the radio
not long after completion of his documentary, and contacted the musician
to produce music for the special. Guaraldi composed the music for the project, creating an entire piece, "Linus and Lucy," to serve as the theme. Despite the popularity of the strip and acclaim from advertisers, networks were not interested in the special.
By April 1965, Time featured the Peanuts gang on its magazine cover, and plans for an animated half-hour Peanuts Christmas special were commissioned by The Coca-Cola Company. When Coca-Cola commissioned A Charlie Brown Christmas in spring 1965, Guaraldi returned to write the music.
The first instrumentals for the special were recorded by Guaraldi at Glendale, California's Whitney Studio with bassist Monty Budwig and drummer Colin Bailey.
Recycling "Linus and Lucy" from the earlier special, Guaraldi completed
two new originals for the special, "Skating", and "Christmas Time Is
In the weeks preceding the premiere, Mendelson encountered trouble
finding a lyricist for Guaraldi's instrumental intro, and penned
"Christmas Time is Here" in "about 15 minutes" on the backside of an
The special opens and closes with a choir of children, culled from St. Paul's Episcopal Church in San Rafael, performing "Christmas Time Is Here" and "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing".
One of the singers, Candace Hackett Shively, went on to become an
elementary school teacher, and sent a letter of gratitude to Schulz
after announcing his retirement in 2000.
In the letter, she recalls recording the choir at Fantasy Studios and
going out for ice cream afterwards, while also noting that she tells the
story to her grade-schoolers each holiday season.
The recording sessions were conducted in late autumn 1965, and were cut
in three separate sessions over two weeks. They often ran late into the
night, resulting in angry parents, some who forbid their children from
returning; as such, numerous new children were present at each session.
The children were directed by Barry Mineah, who demanded perfection
from the choir. Mendelson and Guaraldi disagreed, desiring the "kids to
sound like kids"; they used a slightly off-key version of "Hark! The
Herald Angels Sing" in the final cut. Children were paid five dollars for their participation. In addition,
the children recorded dialogue for the special's final scene, in which
the crowd of kids shout "Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!".
The soundtrack for the special was recorded during these sessions,
with decisions regarding timing and phrasing determined quickly.
Guaraldi brought in bassist Fred Marshall and drummer Jerry Granelli to
record the music, and spent time later re-recording earlier tracks,
including covers of "The Christmas Song" and "Greensleeves". The
eventual LP release credited Guaraldi solely, neglecting to mention the
other musicians; Guaraldi was notorious for never keeping records of his
Nearly three decades later, in an effort to correct the matter, Fantasy
surmised that the recordings with Budwig and Bailey were employed in
the special, while Marshall and Granelli recorded the album.
Despite this, other individuals have come forward claiming to have
recorded the special's music: bassists Eugene Firth and Al Obidinksi,
and drummers Paul Distel and Benny Barth. Firth and Distil are noted as
performers on a studio-session report Guaraldi filed for the American
Federation of Musicians.
Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz called on pianist extraordinaire Vince Guaraldi
and his trio to compose and perform music that would reflect the humor,
charm, and innocence of Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the entire Peanuts
gang for their 1965 Christmas TV special. It was a perfect match: Guaraldi strings together elegant, enticing arrangements that reflect the spirit and mood of Schulz's
work and introduce contemporary jazz to youngsters with grace, charm,
and creativity. "What Child Is This" touches on cool jazz's richly
textured percussive nuances, while "The Christmas Song" reflects
Christmas' relaxing, mellow moments. The renowned "Linus and Lucy" gives
the Peanuts characters a fresh, energetic feel with its tantalizing
meter changes, brilliant percussion, and dashing, humorous piano lines.
"Christmastime Is Here," perhaps the album's most endearing and eloquent
moment, is six minutes of soft, lullaby-like melodic and percussive
flavors. This collection of soul-soothing melodies would not be complete
without the romantic gem "Skating," which blends musical references to
falling snowflakes with the dashing feel of swing. Finally, the
uplifting, emotionally stirring swing tune "Christmas Is Coming" really
brings the listener into the joyous light of the Christmas spirit. Fred Marshall's alluring walking basslines and drummer Jerry Granelli's hauntingly beautiful brush work give most of the album a warm foundation, while Monty Budwig and Colin Bailey shine through with eminent dexterity on bass and drums on "Greensleeves." As for Guaraldi,
his penetrating improvisational phrases paint pictures of the first
winter snowfall, myriad glistening trees, and powdery white landscapes.
With its blend of contemporary jazz and lyrical mannerisms, A Charlie Brown Christmas is a joyous and festive meditation for the holiday season.
"O Tannenbaum" (Ernst Anschütz) – 5:08
"What Child Is This" (William Chatterton Dix) – 2:25
"My Little Drum" (Vince Guaraldi) – 3:12
"Linus and Lucy" (Guaraldi) – 3:06
"Christmas Time Is Here" (Instrumental) (Guaraldi) – 6:05
"Christmas Time Is Here" (Vocal) (Guaraldi) – 2:47
"Skating" (Guaraldi) – 2:27
"Hark, The Herald Angels Sing" (Charles Wesley) – 1:55
"Christmas Is Coming" (Guaraldi) – 3:25
"Für Elise" (Ludwig van Beethoven) – 1:06
"The Christmas Song" (Mel Tormé, Robert Wells) – 3:17
"Greensleeves" (Traditional) – 5:25
"Christmas Is Coming" (Alternate Take 1) (Guaraldi) – 4:37
"The Christmas Song" (Alternate Take 3) (Tormé, Wells) – 3:53
"Greensleeves" (Alternate Take 6) (Traditional) – 5:05
"Christmas Time Is Here" (Alternate Vocal Take) (Guaraldi) – 1:34