Nova Scotia·Video

Charlie Brown's Christmas drummer returns after 48 years

For the first time in 50 years, the legendary jazz drummer behind Charlie Brown's Christmas special played the music that has moved generations.

Halifax's Jerry Granelli hadn't played famous piece since 1965 debut

Jerry Granelli says the music soon came back to him. (CBC)

For the first time in almost 50 years, the legendary jazz drummer behind Charlie Brown’s Christmas special played the music that has moved generations.

Jerry Granelli played drums in the Vince Guaraldi Trio for the first airing of A Charlie Brown Christmas in 1965. He didn't play it again until this weekend. 

On Sunday, the Halifax man took to the stage for a reprise. He’s the last surviving member of the trio that created the music.

"I haven't done it in 48 years. There are so many memories. All my friends who were on it are dead," he reflected in true Charlie Brown style.

He also played it Saturday as part of the Ottawa Children's Festival. 

Granelli was 24 when he performed the track the first time. He had just landed the gig with Guaraldi, who was riding a major hit. "A lot of people wanted that job, but I got it," he told the audience at Halifax's Spatz Theatre.  

The trio hadn’t seen the show and it hadn’t been narrated, so they composed and played on their own. "We were just trying to play good music," he said.

It's wonderful. I'm just trying to not drop the drumstick.- Jerry Granelli

They wrote the soundtrack, but "nobody wanted it."

Critics said the show was too religious and the jazz music too cutting edge. But 15 million Americans tuned in to the first CBS airing — almost half of all possible viewers. It became an instant classic and has aired every Christmas since.

25 albums later ...

So why hasn't Granelli played it since?

"I think I was a little too serious and immature, but this had a life of its own. It crept up on me," he said.

He recorded 25 albums and went deep into his own jazz before returning at age 72 to take the stage and play Charlie Brown's music. He received a standing ovation, which was extra special coming from his home audience.

"It was really fun," Granelli said backstage. "As long as it works its magic, we'll keep on doing it. It's wonderful. I'm just trying to not drop the drumstick."

He admitted that for his artistic temperament, a warm reception can be harder to take than rejection. But in old age, he’s come back to the music that means so much to so many. He might even play it again next Christmas.

"What really touches me is that people know that music, and they enjoy it," he said. 

The performance was part of JazzEast's winter fundraiser and the money went to music education programs. Granelli was joined by Simon Fisk (bass) and Chris Gestrin (piano). 


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