Vince Guaraldi Trio – A Charlie Brown Christmas (review)

Vince Guaraldi Trio – A Charlie Brown Christmas (Fantasy / Concord Music Group) review

A revelatory remastered Christmas classic

Just like the tree that Linus & Charlie Brown purchased at the end of the show, the soundtrack that accompanies this cartoon classic came from humble beginnings.  Originally hated by CBS TV executives, who feared the jazz instrumental music would be too “high brow” for young audiences.  Ironically, the opposite happened.  The piano, bass, and drums format elevated the somewhat primitive animation, giving it a level of sophistication unrivaled in all of holiday specials.  Plus, the jazz music actually gave the songs a buoyancy that was infectious.  The signature track, “Linus & Lucy,” is one of the most recognizable pieces in all of popular music.  Concord Music Group has just re-issued this stone-cold holiday classic in remastered sound with bonus tracks.

The decision to enlist Guaraldi to create the original soundtrack cannot be overstated.  He provides absolutely the perfect accompaniment to this Christmas classic.  In another pianist’s hands, this music might’ve been too precise or exploratory (imagine Thelonious Monk doing “Linus & Lucy!), but with Guaraldi tinkling the ivories, he provides just the right touch.  There’s a warmth to his laid-back style that reminds of us of holiday baking and roaring Winter fires.  And, even though he’s a pro, there’s a childlike quality to his delivery where we can actually picture Schroeder playing his toy piano instead of Guaraldi.  And, for millions of people, this was their first exposure to jazz.

Even if you already own a copy of this disc, this new A Charlie Brown Christmas is worth picking up.  A side by side comparison with the earlier issue on compact disc shows this new version to have so much more warmth and depth.  The piano has a resonating quality, while the bass is deeper and drums more crisp.  It all adds up to a definite improvement.

There’s also an excellent booklet that accompanies the set which details how this classic came to be.  In addition, there’s a Peanuts comic strip which originally appeared in a holiday edition of TV Guide.

This remastered version also contains two additional tracks – “The Great Pumpkin Waltz” and “Thanksgiving Theme,” both coming from later holiday specials.  These melodies, which exude that same inviting quality, will be immediately recognizable to anyone who’s seen these cartoons.  On one hand, it’s nice to have some bonus material.  On the other, it’s hard to go wrong with the original track listing.

Think of any other Christmas TV show – and there’s lots of them out there.  Most of them are steeped in cheese (Rudolph, anyone?).  That’s what makes A Charlie Brown Christmas so remarkable.  Never had a children’s program contained such cool music, yet still was completely accessible.  It’s the only holiday soundtrack that can stand on it’s own.  This one should be in everyone’s holiday music library.  –Tony Peters