How did this song ever become a classic? It’s kind of a melancholy waltz, and the chords are really complicated. It’s not “Jingle Bells” … it’s jazz!
It’s called “Christmas Time Is Here”:
It’s story begins in 1965, when CBS asked producer Lee Mendelson if he could put together a Christmas special in six months.
Jason Mendelson, Lee Mendelson’s son, recalled: “My father called Charles Schulz and he said, ‘Hey, I just sold ‘Charlie Brown Christmas’ to CBS.’ And Charles Schulz said, ‘What’s that?’ And my father said, ‘It’s something you and I have to write over the weekend!'”
Schulz agreed to write the script, but the special would need just the right music – and that’s when Mendelson heard a Vince Guaraldi song on the radio.
Guaraldi was a rising San Francisco jazz pianist; his “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” had won a Grammy. Mendelson thought that it had the perfect sound for Charlie Brown.
He was right. Guaraldi’s music became forever associated with Peanuts. But the opening song of the TV special became forever associated with Christmas.
The song was just piano, bass and drums, but Mendelson thought that it should be sung. With time running out, he wrote the words himself.
“Lee just dashed off some lyrics, like, basically on the back of a paper bag or something,” said Cary Cedarblade.
Christmas time is here
Happiness and cheer
Fun for all that children call
Their favorite time of year
Snowflakes in the air
Olden times and ancient rhymes
Of love and dreams to share
The children’s singing voices belonged to Cedarblade, Dan Bernhard, Dave Willat, and a few other members of the St. Paul’s Episcopal Church youth choir, in San Rafael, California. “It’s fun to work with the kids,” Guaraldi once said. “And this group here is fabulous.”
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Correspondent David Pogue asked, “The recordings you made have probably been played and listened to more than many of the biggest pop singers.”
“Yup, this starts to get a little discouraging when you put it that way!” laughed Bernhard. “Because, you know, that $15 ain’t getting any bigger!”
The kids got $5 for each recording session. No royalties – not even their names in the credits.
“I mean, it’s true that things were a little catch-as-catch-can and haphazard,” said Bernhard, “but you got to hang out with people, and it was late at night!”
Cedarblade added, “And to then just be a part of this iconic show that really touches people for years and years …….