April 18, 1962—Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus was released on this date by Fantasy Records, which soon found a happy surprise: A pair of deejays, instead of playing what was supposed to be the breakout single of composer Vince Guaraldi’s LP, began giving heavy airplay to the B side. A year later, “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” would earn gold record status and a Grammy as Best Instrumental Jazz Composition.
As a teen, growing up listening to the New York progressive rock station WNEW-FM, I would be enthralled by the soaring closing theme played by deejay Dennis Elsas. Eventually, I learned that this was “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” and that the talented pianist highlighted there had also composed the soundtrack for the Yuletide classic A Charlie Brown Christmas as well as other TV Peanuts specials.
Go through all kinds of jazz anthologies, though, and you’ll be lucky to find anything on the San Francisco-based pianist. At the same time, many of the artists who are featured in these books never attained the level of commercial success achieved, albeit for only the length of his shortened life, by Guaraldi.
His non-Peanuts compositions deserve to be known as widely as wonderful work such as “Linus and Lucy” and “Christmastime Is Here.” “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” is the natural place to begin.
As the title of the LP indicates, the starting point for this was Antonio Carlos Jobin’s soundtrack to the 1959 film, Black Orpheus. As another jazzman, Stan Getz, would be two years later with "The Girl From Ipanema," Guaraldi was much taken with Jobin’s work, and several songs from this LP--his first with a newly formed trio--would be inspired by it. When Fantasy Records got Guaraldi’s finished product, they decided to promote, as the first single, "Samba de Orpheus."
Buck Herring and Tony Bigg, program director and music director (respectively) at Sacramento's KROY, had other ideas. They began playing “Cast Your Fate to the Wind”—in a big way. Every two hours, actually. The song then entered the charts, where it stayed for another 18 weeks.
The song opened a window of commercial opportunity for Guaraldi, who had been reluctant to expand beyond his fervent San Francisco base by extensive touring. That window widened further with the Peanuts specials.
There are musicians who tire of fan demands for their most famous works. (Joni Mitchell, for instance: "Nobody ever said to Van Gogh, 'Paint a Starry Night again, man!'") Not Guaraldi. His response invariably was, "It's like signing your name to a check."
Fans came to appreciate other, non-musical aspects of "Dr. Funk," too, such as his widely varying haircuts, unusual hats, and, as can be seen in the image accompanying this post, a flamboyant moustache.
Guaraldi had finished his 16th Peanuts soundtrack when he was stricken dead by a heart attack in 1976. None of the composers who succeeded him in his Peanuts role lasted as long or made as indelible an impact.
Since Guaraldi’s death, cover versions of his songs—especially Charlie Brown Christmas tunes—have been released by the likes of Shawn Colvin, Dianne Reeves, Diana Krall, She and Him, and Sarah McLachlan, to name just a few. But perhaps his most devoted musical acolyte is George Winston, who has recorded two CDs of Guaraldi material: Linus and Lucy and Love Will Come.
It also appears that, at long last, Guaraldi is receiving sustained biographical treatment, courtesy of Derrick Bang’s Vince Guaraldi at the Piano. Many fans, I’m sure, will be anxious to hear about this fine musician and composer who died way too soon.
In the meantime, sit back and click on this YouTube audio clip of "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" and let yourself be swept away.