Vince Guaraldi is best known for composing and performing the jazz score to A Charlie Brown Christmas. The Charlie Brown soundtrack is terrific, and has held up for half a century. But Guaraldi (dubbed "Dr. Funk" by his friends) made a lot of music beyond the Charlie Brown songs, and it's worth your time to dig in. Here are five great albums by the San Francisco jazz legend.
1. The Latin Side of Vince Guaraldi (1964)
This is your classic mid-1960s Latin-flavored dinner jazz. It's effortless, light, and fun. Put this on at your next dinner party and dim the lights just a bit.
2. A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing (1957)
This is the second album by Vince Guaraldi's trio. A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing is great "work music" for me. It's smooth, smart, and gentle.
3. From All Sides (With Bola Sete) (1964)
Guaraldi often performed with Brazilian guitarist Bola Sete, collaborating on three albums: Vince Guaraldi, Bola Sete and Friends; From All Sides; and Live at El Matador. They're all great. The interplay between Guaraldi on piano and Sete on classical guitar is fantastic.
Note that Vince Guaraldi, Bola Sete and Friends is on YouTube in its entirety. The video above is just one of many Guaraldi/Sete live performances (on Jazz Casual in 1963).
4. Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus (1962)
This was Guaraldi's breakthrough album, thanks to the tune "Cast Your Fate to the Wind," which won a Grammy and went Gold. Listening to that song, you can hear the groove and style that would make the Charlie Brown music such a hit. As the name suggests, this album is a series of performances inspired by the soundtrack to the film Black Orpheus. Another brilliant song here is Guaraldi's delicate take on "Moon River":
5. Alma-Ville (1970)
Guaraldi's last studio album, Alma-Ville shows him at his Latin-inspired best. On "Uno Y Uno," Guaraldi even swaps his piano for electric guitar (!). The record is straight-ahead Latin jazz, right down to the jazzy cover of The Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby," embedded above. Lovely.
All of these albums are available on streaming services, and in recent years, good CD remasters have come out. In some cases, the songs are even on YouTube (as with The Latin Side of Vince Guaraldi above). Look around, and ye shall find.
Bonus points: If you like Guaraldi's Charlie Brown material, check out George Winston's 1996 album Linus and Lucy: The Music of Vince Guaraldi, which opens with a fantastic take on "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" and just gets better from there.