Jerry Granelli said he hadn't played the soundtrack to “A Charlie Brown Christmas” television special in almost 50 years when he started touring Canada with his own show featuring the music four years ago.
He's the only surviving member of the Vince Guaraldi Trio, which recorded the soundtrack to “A Charlie Brown Christmas” television special in 1965.
Granelli, an American-born jazz drummer who now makes his home in Halifax, said despite the enduring popularity of the soundtrack and cartoon, he preferred to focus his attention on new projects.
“Part of it was artistic choice,” he said. “I was busy doing something else, I was busy making my own work.”
His manager often bugged him to perform the Charlie Brown soundtrack, but Granelli only wanted to do it if he could create a show with artistic merit.
“Really until four years ago, I had no interest in solving that problem, then suddenly I did,” he said. The result is his touring holiday show, “Tales of a Charlie Brown Christmas.”
The show visits Sudbury Dec. 2, as the Jerry Granelli Trio performs alongside the Young Sudbury Singers.
Granelli has formed his own trio, which features drums, bass and piano, echoing the original Vince Guaraldi Trio.
The group plays the Charlie Brown soundtrack and Granelli tells the story behind how the beloved cartoon came to be.
The musician works with a different children's choir in each town, who sing parts of the soundtrack such as “Christmas Time is Here.”
The television special also features a children's choir — Granelli said he's met several members of that original choir.
Now a grandfather, 75-year-old Granelli said he loves working with young choirs.
“I look forward to meeting all these children,” he said.
“I get to go and be their grandpa. A lot of these young choirs now, some of them have done (the show) two or three times. They say 'Ah, Jerry's back! Yay!' It's fun to me, and fun to hang out with them.”
The Vince Guaraldi Trio's inclusion in “A Charlie Brown Christmas” was serendipitous. The producer, Lee Mendelson, happened to catch the group's music on the radio, and thought it was perfect.
CBS thought the cartoon would be ratings disaster because of its jazz score, slow pace and lack of laugh track. But when it premiered on Dec. 9, 1965, it was viewed by 45 per cent of those watching television that evening.
It's still aired on TV every year, and has received both an Emmy and Peabody Award. The jazz soundtrack sold four million copies in the United States.
The cartoon's focus on the commercialization and over-secularization of Christmas — and the melancholy some feel this time of year — still resonates, Granelli said.
“It just cuts right to the heart of the matter, that even then, 50 years ago, was troubling to people,” he said.
He said he's touched at how “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is still so popular across generations. “It's a gift now that I'm old enough and mature enough to appreciate it,” Granelli said.
Ralph McIntosh, general manager of Young Sudbury Singers, said it's a real honour to work with Granelli.
The retired music teacher said he's a big fan of the soundtrack himself — he tried to master “Linus and Lucy” as a teen.
“It's certainly going to be an event that's going to tug at the heartstrings and introduce a whole another generation to the music,” McIntosh said.
The concert takes place starting at 7 p.m. Dec. 2 at Laurentian University's Fraser Auditorium. Advance tickets cost $35 for adults, $20 for students and $15 for children 12 and under (door prices go up by $5).
Purchase tickets at the Jazz Sudbury Office (96 Larch St., Suite 200), online at youngsudburysingers.ca or by contacting McIntosh at 705-662-0115 or firstname.lastname@example.org.