Classic Christmas: Vince Guaraldi Trio's A Charlie Brown Christmas

Categories: Holidaze

Over the holidays, we're looking back at some classic Christmas albums taking some track by track and just digging on others.

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There are seminal moments in the life of a child and it is not uncommon that some of them involve holidays, Christmas in particular. There's a comfort as a child that comes from the certainty of a holiday each year that promises hope and joy and presents. And, with it, just as sure as Lucy Van Pelt yanks that football away when he tries to kick it, Charlie Brown is back with his classic Christmas special.

To this day, being children of the '80s, we are still surprised when we see Chuck Shultz' comic re-imagined on TV and it isn't still being sponsored by Dolly Madison. Such is the indelible mark that show left on us: We even remember the commercials.

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Yes, A Charlie Brown Christmas is as much a part of holiday pop culture as 24 hours of A Christmas Story on TNT. But, it isn't just the show that makes it so iconic. It's the music.

The show originally aired in 1965 on CBS and executives at the network hated the theme of the show, the use of regular kids instead of child actors for the voiceover work and, most especially of all, they hated the music. They thought jazz was too sophisticated and esoteric for a kids' program.

Over 50 years later, the show is one of the most beloved of all time and the album is a Christmas and jazz music classic. As is often the case, the experts were wrong.

There have been a handful of different variations on the original including a controversial 2006 remastering effort that added bonus tracks not associated with the show. The original actually omits several songs from the show, but it is clearly the best version. In addition to classics like "The Christmas Song" and "O Tannenbaum," the album includes the original "Christmastime is Here" (in both vocal and instrumental form) and the wonderful instrumental "Skating."

In retrospect, it was pretty bold of the show's creators to go with such sophisticated music for a children's holiday special. The simple elegance of the piano/upright/drums trio is generally reserved for cocktail parties and hotel lounges. The sometimes complex melodies and bop rhythms seem almost counter to the simplicity of a cartoon.

But the slapstick of Bugs Bunny was delivered over orchestral sophistication of classical music, so maybe it isn't quite as big a stretch as those execs believed.

And, considering the depth of the story and the realism brought through the children doing the voiceovers, the cool, sparse trio arrangements seem perfect in hindsight. Thankfully for us, the show's creators got their way and we are left with this brilliant music. As one of our friends summed up, "It isn't Christmas without Charlie Brown."

Check out previous classic Christmas album recaps:

Mel Torme - Christmas Songs
Various Artists - A Very Special Christmas
Vince Guaraldi Trio - A Charlie Brown Christmas

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9 comments
RichHB
RichHB

In about 1999, I watched "Charlie Brown Christmas" for the first time since my 70's childhood.  You hit the nail on the head:  The show is wonderful, but the music is heaven sent.  Vince Guaraldi's enitire catelog was soon purchased by yours truly.  Even as a kid, doing the mandatory school yard criticism on the following day after its annual airing, my 9 year old peer focus group always loved the dance scene to "Linus and Lucy."  I recently ran a small club, and two years ago, Shiny Ribs of the Gourds was playing about a week before Christmas.  In the middle of the set, he paused and said "My keyboard player would like to now play the greatest Christmas song ever."  Winfred Cheeks then soloed a kicking version of "Linus and Lucy."

Bad Guy Zero
Bad Guy Zero

Mojo Nixon's "Horny Holidays" is the best Christmas record ever.

MadMac
MadMac

Sorta off topic but Wynton Marsalis does a mind-blowing rendition of "Linus and Lucy."

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

This is the only Christmas music I will happily listen to year-round.

H_e_x
H_e_x

Merry Melodies also stopped around that time, in 1969. I wonder what changed backed then, because there was a time when children weren't as pandered to as they are now.

RichHB
RichHB

Mojo's inclusion of the classic "elementary school silly ass version" of "Jingle Bells" complete with "Batman smells, Robin layed an egg" etc. is a trip back in the time machine that Christmas can be.  He autographed a copy for me sitting at the bar before his show at Fitzgeralds the year that CD came out.

RichHB
RichHB

His whole album "Joe Cool's Blues" is a wonderful tribute to Vince Guaraldi.  The facts that Wynton and his father Ellis recorded it together, and covered the songs written by an Italian guy who wrote inspiring Latin bassed jazz for a children's cartoon makes it even more meaningful.  Brilliant music has time for visual or generational prejudices.

MadMac
MadMac

They didn't fully understand the money they could pull off kids like they do now. Sad.

RichHB
RichHB

Brilliant music has NO time for visual or generational prejudices---stupid editing function has issues!!

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