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Charlie Brown Christmas (Fantasy, 1965) here not because it's a jazz classic.
Of course, it is - a fine example of the post-bop piano trio, particularly on Vince
Guaraldi's original compositions. I mention it, rather, because it conjures the
feelings of Christmas from my childhood better than any album I own. If you, like
me, watched cartoonist Charles Schulz's 1965 "Peanuts" Christmas
TV special every year with rapt awe, you'll understand. There was something about
that show that moved my little heart - and still does. When Linus (the moral center
of Schulz's universe) took center stage to tell the Christmas story at Charlie Brown's
Christmas pageant, I believed - more than a thousand Sunday schools could ever make
me believe. Maybe it was Schulz's austere, graceful animation, or his gentle, cagey
sense of humor, or his sweet, circumspect sentiment....
Or maybe it was the music. Vince Guaraldi had played piano with Woody Herman and
Cal Tjader, and his trio scored a major pop hit in 1962 with "Cast Your Fate
To The Wind" from his acclaimed album Jazz
Impressions of Black Orpheus - a rare accomplishment for jazz artists in those
days. Guaraldi's deft touch on the keyboard soon spawned a collaboration with Schultz,
the creator of "Peanuts," a groundbreaking comic strip that was cause
célèbre among children and intellectuals alike.
and Guaraldi, along with TV producer Bill Melendez, began their longstanding relationship
Impressions Of A Boy Named Charlie Brown (Fantasy, 1964), the soundtrack to a
documentary about the cartoonist and his creations. The foundation of the "Peanuts" sound
was laid here, including Guaraldi's "Linus & Lucy," the song most listeners
will identify as "The Peanuts Theme." The bouncy, bossa nova-inspired track
also shows up on both A
Charlie Brown Christmas and Oh,
Good Grief! (Warner Brothers, 1968), Guaraldi's third and final LP of "Peanuts"
Charlie Brown Christmas was the first full-fledged "Peanuts" special,
and it told the story of the hapless title character's search for the true meaning
of the holiday. Guaraldi's playing is woven inextricably into the story, a near
constant presence; the soundtrack album, actually, is nearly twice as long as the
TV show itself. Accompanied by bassist Monty Budwig, drummer Colin Bailey (and,
on some numbers, by a children's chorus), Guaraldi assays several Christmas standards.
These include a swinging "O Tannenbaum," a moody "What Child Is This" (also included
in a longer version as "Greensleeves"), and a variation on "Little Drummer Boy"
called "My Little Drum."
course, there is "Linus And Lucy" (which isn't a Christmas song) and "Christmas
Time Is Here," a vocal number that is the soundtrack's most straightforward
Christmas song. These tracks are instantly recognizable, but it's two Guaraldi-penned
instrumentals - "Skating" (written with Mendelson) and "Christmas
Is Coming" - that form the heart of A
Charlie Brown Christmas. Both of these songs conjure strong associations with
the season. This could simply be a result of their association with the cartoon,
but I'd venture that such powerful impressionism is a measure of Guaraldi's compositional
Charlie Brown Christmas has been remastered and/or reissued by Fantasy Records
several times over the years, including in 2006 with
restored artwork and bonus tracks and 2012 with two different bonus tracks. And, there's another
Brown's Holiday Hits (Fantasy, 1998), which combines a couple of the Christmas
tunes with other holiday-oriented offerings from "Peanuts" specials.
Personally, I'd stick with the original, but Holiday
Hits is a great way to sample Guaraldi's other "Peanuts" work (spanning
15 TV specials and one feature film). Plus, many of the tracks are otherwise
unavailable on CD.
Finally, at least two jazz tributes to Guaraldi's most celebrated album have been
released. One, by pianist Cyrus Chestnut (2000), is pretty
good. The other, 40 Years (2005), is a collection
of smooth jazz (Rippingtons) and soft R&B (Toni Braxton) that should be avoided
at all cost. [top of page]
- O Tannenbaum
- What Child Is This
- Christmas Time is Here
- Christmas is Coming
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