It’s hard for me to accept something that was new in my lifetime becoming a classic. From my tail-end-of-the-baby-boomers perspective, compared to the antics of Crosby, Kaye, and Clooney in White Christmas, the animated escapades in A Charlie Brown Christmas are new. Hit me with a brick, where did those 40 years go since I first saw the cartoon featured on prime time television in 1965?
The Peanuts Christmas Classic turns 40 this year and Christmas wouldn’t be the same for me without it. We taped it years ago when the kids were little so we can view it anytime, but I still take note each year which TV network has picked it up and when I should tune in. (Is that me wanting to feel literally “in tune with the big picture”?)
Underlying, and unquestionably supporting, Charles Schultz’s animated story that so simply – yet aptly – conveys the meaning of Christmas, tinkles the cool, unmistakable piano jazz of Vince Guaraldi. Few people fail to recognize the simple, syncopated beat of the Peanuts theme Linus and Lucy. Wannabe pianists like me go nuts with it – like trying to pat your head and rub your tummy at the same time. Guaraldi’s baseline countered against the simple chords of the melody are a gem, gleaming from the musical vaults of centuries.
Guaraldi’s most enduring album, the soundtrack for A Charlie Brown Christmas, is one of the most popular Christmas albums of all time. “Guaraldi’s music elevates the cartoon into a magical experience,” says December’s JazzTimes magazine.”Guaraldi’s gift was that he could make the songs simple enough for a child to understand and beautiful enough for an adult to appreciate.”
A great jazz pianist, Vince Guaraldi scored 15 Peanuts TV specials and one feature movie as part of his creative legacy. His piano trio of the early ’60s was, according to JazzTimes, “subdued but swingin’.” When Guaraldi died in 1976, pianist David Benoit (say Ben-wah) replaced him on the TV shows.
Benoit, who was inspired to take piano lessons after seeing the Christmas cartoon, has produced a recently released tribute to Guaraldi. Called 40 Years: A Charlie Brown Christmas, it features an all-star array of artists, each contributing his take on a Peanuts piece to the musical package which includes three previously unreleased tracks. Jazz aficionados, let’s at least plan to take it for a test drive.
If you’re more into classic Christmas tunes and don’t already have the original soundtrack, this is the year to add it to your bag of music. After 40 years, it is, indeed, a classic. As JazzTimes’ Tad Hendrickson says, “Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas is a gift that gives year after year.”
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