An Italian-American jazz musician and pianist noted for his innovative compositions and arrangements and for composing music for animated adaptations of the Peanuts comic strip. Guaraldi’s first recording was made in November 1953 with Cal Tjader and came out early in 1954. The early 10-inch LP was called The Cal Tjader Trio, and included “Chopsticks Mambo”, “Vibra-Tharpe”, and “Lullaby of the Leaves”. By 1955, Guaraldi had his own trio with Eddie Duran and Dean Reilly. He then reunited with Cal Tjader in June 1956 and was an integral part of two bands that the vibraphonist assembled. The first band played mainly straight jazz and included Al Torre (drums), Eugene Wright (bass) and Luis Kant (congas and bongos). The second band was formed in the spring of 1958 and included Al McKibbon (bass), Mongo Santamaría (congas and bongos) and Willie Bobo (drums and timbales). Reed men Paul Horn and Jose “Chombo” Silva were also added to the group for certain live performances and recordings. Guaraldi made a big splash with his performance with Tjader at the 1958 Monterey Jazz Festival.
Guaraldi left the group early in 1959 to pursue his own projects full-time. He probably would have remained a well-respected but minor jazz figure had he not written an original number to fill out his covers of Antonio Carlos Jobim/Luis Bonfá tunes on his 1962 album, Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus, inspired by the French/Brazilian film Black Orpheus, which won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Fantasy Records released “Samba de Orpheus” as a single, trying to catch the building bossa nova wave, but it was destined to sink without a trace when radio DJs began flipping it over and playing the B-side, Guaraldi’s “Cast Your Fate to the Wind”. A gentle, likeable tune, it stood out from everything else on the airwaves and became a grass-roots hit. It also won the Grammy for Best Original Jazz Composition. While “Cast Your Fate To The Wind” by Guaraldi achieved modest chart success as a single in 1963, a cover version two years later by British group Sounds Orchestral cracked the Billboard top 10 (in the spring of 1965). Unlike many songwriters who grow weary of their biggest hits, Guaraldi never minded taking requests to play it when he appeared live. “It’s like signing the back of a check”, he once remarked.
Guaraldi then recorded an album called Vince Guaraldi, Bola Sete, and Friends with guitarist Bola Sete, Fred Marshall (bass) and Jerry Granelli (drums). This began a period of collaboration between Guaraldi and Sete where Guaraldi began experimenting with bossa nova-influenced music as well as with the electric piano. This led to the recording and release of his album The Eclectic Vince Guaraldi. Shortly after this, Guaraldi undertook the role of composer and pianist for the Eucharist chorus at the San Francisco Grace Cathedral. Utilizing his Latin influences from his bossa nova days with Bola Sete, Guaraldi composed a number of pieces with waltz tempos and jazz standards and later recorded this performance in 1965.
While searching for just the right music to accompany a planned Peanuts television documentary, Lee Mendelson (the producer of the special) heard a single version of “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” by Vince Guaraldi’s trio on the radio while traveling in a taxicab on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California. Mendelson contacted Ralph J. Gleason, jazz columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle and was put in touch with Guaraldi. He proposed that Guaraldi score the upcoming Peanuts Christmas special and Guaraldi enthusiastically took the job, performing a version of what became “Linus and Lucy” over the phone two weeks later. The soundtrack was recorded by the Vince Guaraldi Trio, with drummer Jerry Granelli, and Puzzy Firth standing in for bassist Fred Marshall, who was ill at the time. Guaraldi went on to compose scores for seventeen Peanuts television specials, plus the feature film A Boy Named Charlie Brown as well as the unaired television program of the same name.