A Charlie Brown Christmas

Vince Guaraldi Trio

Fantasy Records, 1965


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Nine days to Christmas, and here in the Pierce Memorial Archives ("Honey, I wrapped the toddler"), we're really starting to get into the holiday mood. So much so, that I dug out a favorite Christmas tape of mine, and played it while I began wrapping gifts. (Just because I'm a reculse doesn't mean I'm not generous.)

As a 26-year-old male, I can not picture Christmas without the television specials I grew up on. Oh, sure, some of them have animation so bad that you need to be really stoned to watch them as an adult. But without fail each year, I find myself parked in front of the television to watch "A Charlie Brown Christmas." It's as much a part of my holiday tradition as using the fruitcake "Duke" Williams gives me each year as a doorstop.

Pity poor Vince Guaraldi -- already a noted jazz musician, his contribution to the show's soundtrack secured him a place in history. A Charlie Brown Christmas is a powerful tape that packs all the memories I have of the show and creates an album that I could easily listen to in the middle of July.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Guaraldi and the other two members of his trio -- bassist Monty Budwig and drummer Colin Bailey -- put out more true music amongst themselves than some larger rock bands I know of. The performances here -- much like jazz itself - are raw and prone to the occasional mistake (normally only heard when blaring the tape at loud volumes). It is interesting to hear kind of a be-bop approach applied to such standards as "O Tannenbaum" and "Greensleaves" -- as well as an original number, "Christmas Is Coming," which is a raucous good time. Taken from the approach of a jazz trio, this album already is a great portrait of the music's form in the mid-'60s.

Ah, but there is that link to Charles Schulz's timeless cartoon characters - and while this move might have killed Guaraldi's link to pure jazz, it has built him a much more emotional legacy amongst the kids who grew up hearing him play "Linus And Lucy" on countless "Peanuts" specials. (And as much as I think the recent Nissan ad featuring "Linus And Lucy" is cute, it kind of cheapens the song in my mind.) I can see Charlie Brown and his friends as the gentle piano lines from Guaraldi build on "Skating." I can see the whole gang gathered around the scrawny Christmas tree on "Hark, The Herald Angels Sing," featuring Guaraldi on organ. I can even see Schroeder sitting at his piano as Guaraldi plows through "Fur Elise," though I doubt his style of playing would have held up to other piano works in classical music.

But A Charlie Brown Christmas is much more than an album I use to remember Christmas specials past. The songs embody the season to me, and though I've only owned a copy of this album for a few years, I couldn't imagine a Christmas without it. And that, kids, is what makes any album special - not just an album of holiday music.

In one sense, the rawness of the performances gives the album its edge that transcends it past just Christmas. If you didn't see the title "Christmas Is Coming," you could easily play that song for someone and they'd never guess where it came from.

Guaraldi might have never shaken the "Peanuts" tag after this album, but if he knew how much happiness he has brought to the season, I don't think he'd mind too much. A Charlie Brown Christmas is both a classic to treasure and a legacy to pass on to our children. Give it a spin -- rediscover the magic, or discover it for the first time.

Rating: A-

User Rating: A



© 1997 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Fantasy Records, and is used for informational purposes only.