A Charlie Brown Christmas

Vince Guaraldi Trio

Fantasy Records, 1965


REVIEW BY: Bruce Rusk


A Charlie Brown Christmas (ACBC) debuted in 1965, and has run annually since then. In that time, the original music created for the special has become an iconic landmark of the holiday season. Producer Lee Mendelson was looking for music to support the upcoming production of the first Peanuts animated special, and heard a song by the then relatively unknown Vince Guaraldi Trio (Guaraldi on piano, Fred Marshall on bass and drummer Jerry Granelli) and was captivated. He sought out Guaraldi and commissioned him to compose and play the score for what would become the most famous and loved animated TV show in history. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t recognize this music. Just a few notes of the opening track”O Tannebaum” and there’s no mistaking the unique Guaraldi style.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

For myself and I imagine many others, this was an introduction to the world of jazz music. Famed jazz pianist David Benoit, who took over scoring the Peanuts specials after Guaraldi’s untimely death at 47, credits this music as the inspiration that started his interest in jazz. I remember being 9 or 10 years old and watching this for probably the fifth time, and suddenly realizing that this music was different from anything I was familiar with. It was adult music. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I knew this was not kid’s music made for a kids show. This makes perfect sense since ACBC is not your typical holiday special. Like the best of shows intended for youngsters, it reaches adults too, and its philosophical message has a level of sophistication that transcends children’s entertainment.

Guaraldi’s music fits uncannily well into the visual aspect of the show. The scenes and backgrounds are stark and have a gloomy, wintry quality, and Guaraldi’s casual, meandering style makes the perfect mood with its odd combination of upbeat yet often somber melodies. Guaraldi deftly transforms classic holiday standards into jazzy offspring of their originals. Songs like “What Child Is This” and “The Christmas Song” are given a facelift with a cool, beatnik retrofit, while still retaining the essence of the original arrangements.

The highlight of the disc, a song that has created a life of its own, and is possibly one of the best known jazz instrumentals every recorded, is the stunning “Linus And Lucy.” The arrangement is propelled by Fred Marshall’s walking bass and Guaraldi’s jump-and-jive left hand work, and accented by smooth percussion, moving deftly from bossa-nova to swing to blues and back again.

Listening to this music after many years was a huge nostalgia trip. The graceful, warm textures of “Skating” and “Christmas Time Is Here” paint a vivid picture of a Christmas spirit and tradition that has been all but forgotten. As fresh and solid as any collection of jazz I’ve heard, it took me back to a simpler time when Christmas traditions weren’t driven by the whims of Black Friday marketeers. So grab a cup of hot chocolate, sit by the fire and take a trip back to in time with one of the most moving and memorable Christmas albums of all time.

Rating: A

User Rating: A



© 2006 Bruce Rusk 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.