Welcome to Thanks, I Love It, our series highlighting something onscreen we’re obsessed with this week.
We could all use a blast of wholesome during this dark period in human history. The Snoopy Show is here to deliver.
When I first sat down to check out the Peanuts revival on Apple TV+, I greeted it with a mix of nostalgia and desperation. Charlie Brown and his friends living their innocent kid lives were fixtures of my childhood, and my sleep-deprived new parent brain desperately hoped that my 10-month-old son would take to it as easily.
Blessedly, he did. Immediately drawn to the bright colors and cartoon slapstick, my little baby boy giggled and laughed and bounced as he took in a Peanuts cartoon for the first time. But the thing that seemed to grab him the most was the show’s inherent musicality.
Peanuts has always been an entry point for introducing kids to the beauty of jazz music. Fans of a certain age can no doubt hum the melody of the Vince Guaraldi Trio’s iconic track “Linus and Lucy” without thinking. The music for this new generation of Peanuts on Apple TV+ has been spearheaded by Jeff Morrow, a composer of film and TV fame who, by all accounts, is bringing the right attitude and philosophy to the creation of a backbeat for the show’s wholesome, kid-fueled antics.
“Vince Guaraldi came up with an amazing palette for the show [and] I think I’m responding to a lot of the things that he would have responded to, which is the depth of emotion in these characters,” Morrow said during a recent chat with Mashable.
“When you’re working on it, [jazz] ends up being the natural kind of music that goes with these stories.”
“Jazz ends up being the natural kind of music that goes with these stories.”
Producer Lee Mendelson had already paired the pianist’s soft and airy jazz music with Peanuts for a documentary on Charles Schulz, the comic strip’s creator. He sought to do it again when he sat down to bring together A Charlie Brown Christmas, but CBS “didn’t think jazz fit properly” and wasn’t a fan of the special as a whole.
The network was wrong in the end. A Charlie Brown Christmas was a huge hit, and Mendelson went on to produce 50 Charlie Brown specials over the years alongside animator Bill Melendez. It’s a poetically fitting legacy for Morrow to step into, given his own Peanuts background.
“I did Peanuts in Space: Secrets of Apollo 10 [for Apple TV+], which was a mockumentary,” Morrow said, describing a scenario that mirrors Guaraldi’s own arc into the series. He also brings the background of a school-trained jazz performer who made music on stage as a trombonist before going to work in Hollywood.
“I’ve been scoring for film and TV for about 15 years,” he added. But getting the Peanuts job “was coming back to something that I’ve always loved, and so…it felt like the perfect project.”
The work of creating the score for something with an inherently musical soundscape like The Snoopy Show isn’t far removed from developing tunes with a band. On past Peanuts projects, Morrow worked with a live jazz piano trio roughly every three weeks while programming is in production.
That process has changed slightly during the era of COVID-19. Morrow always starts things off with a demo that he records himself laying out the melodic skeleton of the eventual score. But where the band used to gather and play together as a group, they now record their individual tracks separately, one at a time.
“We lay down the drums with Ryan Shaw, the piano with Jordan Seigel, and then Trey Henry comes in to finish it off with the acoustic bass,” Morrow said. “From doing Snoopy in Space [on Apple TV+] together, these guys have such a musical rapport that it really does sound like they’re sitting in the same room.”
In every session, the scene is what gives the band their direction, along with the notes and harmonies that Morrow has mapped out. There isn’t a specific call for improvisation, but such is the nature of jazz. The music that takes shape as the band performs — whether it’s together or apart — inevitably spirals away from what’s written to some extent. And Morrow wouldn’t have it any other way.
“They bring a lot to the table,” he said of the band. “Which is something you need for the show to have, that really human element of jazz improvisation, working to picture.”
This is especially true for a show that, at its heart, is really about kids and the trials of childhood. Going all the way back to Guaraldi’s formative sound, jazz music has always been a perfect partner to the unpredictable journey every person experiences on the road to adulthood.
“The show’s a little more impressionistic in that way, as were the [original] cartoon strips of kids’ life,” Morrow said. “I think that’s where the jazz thing fits in, you know? It doesn’t need to necessarily go from point A to point B in the quickest possible way, it can sort of meander around a bit. That’s what I think draws me to it.”
The Snoopy Show premieres Feb. 5 on Apple TV+.