Is it too early to talk about Christmas? Not if you fear missing out on the return of the Halifax Jazz Festival’s presentation of Tales of a Charlie Brown Christmas this holiday season.
An annual fundraiser for the Jazz Fest’s music education programs, Tales of a Charlie Brown Christmas features Halifax-based jazz artist Jerry Granelli, who in 1965 walked into a San Francisco studio as part of the Vince Guaraldi Trio and stepped out as part of entertainment history.
With Granelli on drums, Guaraldi on piano, and Fred Marshall on bass, the trio recorded the soundtrack to what would become one of the most endearing and enduring Christmas animated television specials, A Charlie Brown Christmas.
“We did it all in one day over three hours, but Vince did us a favour and paid us for two sessions,” says Granelli as part of an original 2016 interview with Vancouver Presents.
Paid just $120 for the session in 1965, Granelli has seen no royalties from a show that re-appears each year on television, or the soundtrack that has sold millions of albums. Far from bitter though, Granelli has fond memories of being part of something so iconic. “It was a tremendous amount of fun,” he recalls.
It was also just another job for a group of musicians more at home in jazz clubs. Having rehearsed the music that would soon be part of A Charlie Brown Christmas in those same clubs, the trio went into the studio to record without having seen the cartoon. It meant they did not understand how long to continue playing each piece. “It’s the reason the music sort of fades in and out during the show,” explains Granelli.
While the special received a lukewarm reception from CBS, it was an immediate hit with viewers at home. Television estimates put the show’s original audience at nearly 50% of those watching television that night, and the special continues to pull consistently large numbers each year. That longevity doesn’t surprise Granelli.
“It’s become one of the soundtracks of people’s lives,” he says. “There is such a human quality to it.”
While hindsight may be 20/20, the realization of just what Granelli had helped to create would take some time.
Leaving the Vince Guaraldi Trio shortly after the Charlie Brown recording, Granelli concentrated on his work as a drummer for some of jazz music’s greats. He would release his first solo album, 1313, in 2010.
“Charlie Brown was percolating every year, but I didn’t pay any attention to it,” admits Granelli. “Being young and ambitious I concentrated on my own life and work.”
It would be another 45 years before Granelli would revisit his place in television history, and he has since parlayed his memories into a concert performance, the aptly titled Tales of a Charlie Brown Christmas.
The only surviving member of the original trio, Granelli has teamed up with his new trio, including Simon Fisk on bass and Chris Gestrin on piano. With clips from the cartoon used with permission from the Charles M Schultz Foundation, the Jerry Granelli Trio not only recreates the soundtrack, Granelli also tells stories about how it all came to be.
“I wasn’t interested in nostalgia, but there are a million beautiful stories that came out of it,” he says.
For the Halifax concerts, the Sacred Heart Elementary School Choir will once again join Granelli on stage.
“It’s been so wonderful to have Sacred Heart involved with the show each year, singing the iconic parts from Charlie Brown Christmas,” says the Halifax Jazz Festival’s program director Andrew Jackson via email. “It really adds a sense of warm community vibe to the show having the local choir collaborate with the trio. I get to peek into the rehearsal each year, and I see the kids absolutely enjoying themselves and getting so much from the performance experience.”
It is through the children who perform with the trio at the concert where Granelli has found his internal Linus. “In each show there is a young child that they pick to tell the story, and I’ve got closer to Linus through these children; the fragility of Linus, and the strength of Linus,” he says.
Beyond his appearance during the holidays, Granelli also has another connection with the Halifax Jazz Festival through its Creative Music Workshop. Along with the ability to offer free educational workshops and concerts throughout the year, it is one of the many programs which benefit from the funds raised.
“This is a ten-day program with an international faculty led by Granelli himself which focuses on the roots of creativity and how each of us are able to contribute something of artistic value regardless of ability,” says Jackson. “This has been an incredible program that has grown over the years and also attracts students from across the world”
Tales of a Charlie Brown Christmas with the Jerry Granelli Trio plays the Spatz Theatre (1855 Trollope St, Halifax) with two shows on December 15. For tickets and information visit halifaxjazzfestival.ca.