The Charlie Brown Christmas Music Is Still Awesome
When my kids were young, I didn't force them to play T-ball or try dance class or even go to school regularly. One thing I insisted upon was them sitting with me at holiday time to watch the Peanuts specials I eagerly awaited each year as a boy.
I know they found Charlie Brown's blockheadedness boring. My daughter asked why she had to miss Lizzie Maguire to watch Snoopy when we had the Peanuts specials on video and could watch them any time we wanted.
"Because, this is how you watch TV," I explained. "You wait all year for a special you've seen 20 times before to run again and watch it a 21st time."
At the time I didn't know it, but those specials helped develop my appreciation for music. Scored by late jazz great Vince Guaraldi, the music is now as iconic as the Peanuts characters themselves. But don't take my word for it. I asked some of our town's musicians to weigh in on a handful of Guaraldi's best holiday-themed selections.
Jazz guitarist/producer Chris Cortez, Justin Nava from thelastplaceyoulook, pianist/composer Paul English and the merry gentlemen of Blaggards took the time to share their thoughts. Appropriately enough, many have holiday shows approaching.
"Christmas Time Is Here"
Chris Cortez recently teamed with the always-busy vocalist Tianna Hall for Noel, a collection of holiday favorites released on Blue Bamboo Music. He said they'll be performing music from the album at Sambuca on Dec. 16 and 30.
"Christmas Time is Here," is featured as a medley and appears by way of a neat interlude of sorts, on "A Child Is Born," as arranged by Mark Piszczek. Cortez noticed the tempos were similar when performed as jazz waltzes, so one sort of melds into the other on the track, which begins with his acoustic guitar and Hall's vocal before giving way to full orchestration.
"That moment always gives me chills," Cortez says, "because nothing about the introduction suggests it's going to become this larger life force."
Photo courtesy of thelastplaceyoulook
thelastplaceyoulook hosts its Fourth Annual Holiday Bash at Warehouse Live, Dec. 20. But the (Santa) bearded ones were happy to discuss Guaraldi's legacy in advance of all that seasonal fun, which doubles as a release party for its EP, Rip It Out.
Lead singer Justin Nava shared his thoughts on this song, which was featured in the Peanuts Thanksgiving special.
"Now that I'm a grownup and we can use the interwebs, I now see what Vince Guaraldi looks like and I enjoy listening to this song, picturing Ron Swanson from Parks and Rec singing this in an ugly Xmas sweater," he says.
Nava was a little more philosophical with his take on "Christmas Time Is Here," saying it's "the one that makes you almost think these are sweet little children instead of metaphors for adult flaws."
Photo by Chad Smalley Blaggards' Mike McAloon (L) and Patrick Devlin
Blaggards bassist Chad Smalley said he's loved Guaraldi's holiday music since he was a kid and added that A Charlie Brown Christmas is some of his favorite Christmas music.
"It's just one of those records that feels like home," he says, before turning me over to bandmate Mike McAloon, who studied jazz at the University of North Texas.
"'Skating' is another amazing piece of jazz. Jerry Granelli's brushes keeping the upbeat waltz going and Vince Guaraldi's cascading piano riff," says McAloon, as only a drummer could. "Again, they switch to a bebop small-combo sound for the piano solo. [Bassist] Puzzy [Firth] walks in threes and Jerry switches to the ride syncopating hits between the gaps in Vince's solo. It's a decidedly short track but it captures the action of ice skating so perfectly I can't think of anything else to do while listening to it."
Blaggards, Dog Party and the Harbor Light Choir headline the Rock the Shelter Toy Drive, an all ages show 3 p.m. this Sunday at Continental Club. The event benefits the Houston Salvation Army Residence Shelter. Admission is free with a donation.
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