You probably don’t recognize the name. Unless you’re deeply into jazz or you’re a hardcore 60s chart hound, you most likely don’t know Guaraldi’s lone Top 40 hit. His name may ring bells if you pay close attention to TV credits, and you certainly might recognize his distinctive style, especially if you’ve been watching Halloween and Christmas specials for the last 50 or so years.
Vince is nothing if not distinctive. Just look at the man’s mustache.
In 1962, billed as the Vince Guaraldi Trio, he and his rhythm section released an album titled Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus. The single chosen by the record company, “Samba de Orpheus,” flopped, but luckily the radio DJs flipped, and began to play the B-side, a Guaraldi-penned tune titled “Cast Your Fate To The Wind.” The song peaked just outside the US Top 20 in early 1963 and won the Grammy for Best Original Jazz Composition. “Cast Your Fate To The Wind” was Guaraldi’s only Top 40 hit, technically making him a one-hit wonder, a pop footnote waiting to happen.
Cast your ears to this:
The story could have ended there, with Guaraldi carving out a quiet little jazz career, if it wasn’t for the serendipitous appearance of a gentleman named Lee Mendelson. In 1964, Mendelson was attempting to produce a documentary about Charles M. Schultz and his comic strip, Peanuts, but couldn’t figure out what music to use for the soundtrack. While riding in a cab across the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco, “Cast Your Fate To The Wind” came on the radio, and Mendelson immediately knew this tune captured exactly the feeling he wanted. In a fine example of fortunate fate, Vince Guaraldi happened to live in San Francisco. Tracking him down proved fairly easy.
Guaraldi gladly accepted the commission, and two weeks later played this track over the phone to Mendelson:
The documentary never saw the light of day but the soundtrack, A Boy Named Charlie Brown, did hit the stores in 1964 with the first appearance of what became known as the Peanuts theme song, but actually bears the title “Linus And Lucy.” When the song featured in A Charlie Brown Christmas the following year, it became forever associated with Snoopy, Charlie Brown, and the whole Peanuts gang. Guaraldi composed all the music featured in Peanuts for the next 10 years.
And it all started with a now somewhat forgotten jazz hit.