Monday, December 11, 2006

A Charlie Brown Christmas

About a week ago I heard a story on NPR about the soundtrack to the 1965 A Charlie Brown Christmas. I'm a longtime fan of the Charlie Brown specials -- lusting after all those Dolly Madison dessert commercials. One thing I never gave much thought to was the music of A Charlie Brown Christmas, which was composed and played by underrated jazz genius, Vince Guaraldi. The fact, alone, that the man composed "Linus and Lucy," the Charlie Brown theme, places him right next to Mozart and Handel in my book.

Yesterday I bought the CD A Charlie Brown Christmas for my wife. Figuring she would get more enjoyment out of it receiving it before Xmas, I gave it to her last night. We listened to it all day today, and I was just floored by the sheer greatness of the music.

I'm no music connoisseur, and can only haphazardly comment on what moves me. The music of Vince Guaraldi moves me immensely. Particularly his rendition of "Little Drummer Boy." Gosh, the production on that gem really grabbed me. Accompanied by childrens' voices singing a soft, Ella Fitzgerald-esque vocal bassline, Guaraldi's piano glides along every poignant nuance of that song -- one that I have always found exceedingly sad for some reason I haven't fathomed in more than thirty years of hearing it. But Guaraldi gave it a light, gorgeous treatment, reimagining that seasonal favorite in quite a stunning way.

It was no surprise to hear in the NPR report that the TV execs of the day were entirely against all the things that ultimately made A Charlie Brown Christmas an unequivocal success at the time, and a classic today. They felt that jazz was entirely misplaced in a childrens' cartoon. And the theme of the program -- that Charlie Brown was down about the commercialism surrounding Xmas -- was completely inappropriate. Somehow, they lost the battle of these creative issues -- and thank Christ for that.

And I could listen to "Linus and Lucy" all day long. Hearing the full version of that track, with Guaraldi flying off into numerous variations on his theme, was the audible equivalent to flipping through an old family photo album.

I'm so pleased that this classic is back in my life. Guaraldi was an amazingly articulate pianist, capturing the fireside coziness of Xmas along with the slight tinge of melancholy that Charlie Brown felt seeing that this holiday is really just another occasion for bearers of arcana -- the nightly news -- to tell us that this year sales were up by one-half of a quarter percentage point over last year's, which makes it the third best holiday in the past seven years...

Forget that. And forget the Muzak monstrocities that assault us this season at the mall. Vince Guaraldi and the magic of Charlie Brown have brought me back to the side of Xmas that envelopes me like a comfortable chair in a favorite room on a day when I have nothing to do but occupy myself with fun memories.

1 comment:

Jeff said...

I heard that piece on NPR as well. Guaraldi's Peanuts music is great stuff. Years ago I was lucky enough to pick up a compilation on cassette and it's wonderful to listen to. It stands on its own as great music, but of course if you're familar with the old shows it evokes nice memories.

I want to say the cassette had something like "25th Anniversary" in the title, but as I don't remember it exactly I'm not sure. I do recall that BB King sang and played on one of the songs, which was alright if a bit unnecessary-- I would have been happier with just Guaraldi's original music.

I watched one of the old Peanut's Christmas specials the other night. It still cracks me up. Parts of it are so low key and thoughtful that you have to marvel to see it on network television.