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Music Review: Vince Guaraldi – Peanuts Portraits

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Like a lot of people in my age group, I grew up watching the Peanuts cartoon specials. A Charlie Brown Christmas remains a holiday favorite, but there were many others that never quite gained the traction of that classic. We didn’t care, we watched them all. The regular bits of Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown, or the squawking of the adults were always funny. But there was something special about these shows that I did not really understand until I got a little older. That was the music of the great jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi.

I actually recorded A Charlie Brown Christmas on my little cassette recorder one year, just for the soundtrack. Later, when I discovered it was available on LP, it became my first Christmas album. For years, I thought I was all set with Guaraldi’s Peanuts work with that one, until I discovered Peanuts Portraits. It is hard to believe that this collection never existed before, because it is perfect.

Peanuts Portraits is subtitled “The Classic Character Themes,” which is exactly what it is. The classic “Linus And Lucy” kicks things off, as it should, for this is the song most closely associated with the series. As the liner notes point out, the tune is often misidentified as the “Peanuts Theme.”

What really makes Peanuts Portraits special to me are the lesser known pieces such as “Frieda (With The Naturally Curly Hair),” and “Sally’s Blues.” Speaking of the blues, with a character like Charlie Brown, Guaraldi had plenty of opportunity to explore this idiom. “Blue Charlie Brown” and “Charlie’s Blues” are two examples of how he imagined our hero’s inner life.

Schroeder was always an interesting personality to me. He loved Beethoven, and Lucy loved him. I had always wondered what his faux  classical theme was, because it was so different than the rest of the Peanuts’ music. Turns out it was modeled on “Minuet In G,” by (who else?) Beethoven. Snoopy’s pal Woodstock came in very late, having been formally introduced to us by name on June 22, 1970. He actually was named after the famous rock festival. “Little Birdie” was Guaraldi’s theme for him, and the song is the only one here to feature a vocal from Vince.

George Winston has long been a Vince Guaraldi fan, having recorded a tribute to him titled Linus And Lucy: The Music Of Vince Guaraldi in 1996. In addition to the nine Vince tracks on Peanuts Portraits, the producers have included two from Winston. The first sees him playing “The Masked Marvel.” This little known character was Snoopy dressed as a masked, caped crusader– who once beat Lucy in a wrist-wrestling match. The finale’ sees Winston doing his version of “Linus And Lucy,” which adds a little piano business midway through, but mainly sticks to the established arrangement.

Except for the annual ritual of A Charlie Brown Christmas, I have not watched a Peanuts special in years. The release of Peanuts Portraits is a great reminder of how good those shows were though, and how integral the music of Vince Guaraldi was to them.

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About Greg Barbrick

  • Greg, Vince Guaraldi’s music is still a delight after all these years. I too tried to tape it back then, but I lost that tape over the years, but it is just as well because I kept telling my sister to be quiet in the background.

    Now, I watch all the Peanuts specials with my kids, and it is a delight to hear that wonderful sound again. Guess I’ll be adding a few CDs to my music library.

  • Greg Barbrick

    Thanks Victor, that’s funny that you had to keep telling your sister to be quiet. I had the same problem whenever I was recording things too!

  • will have to give this a spin

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Thanks for the heads up…

    Yea, I have that George Winston album and as much as I dig Winston’s passion & talent(his Windham Hill material is fantastic), he never reaches the finger work that Vince Guaraldi showcases(maybe it’s the production,who knows).I think it just has something to do with how Mr. Guaraldi was able to speak to his own talent & passion when he composed. Pure Brilliance!

    Anyways, I need to find the music that accompanied Snoopy during his Red Baron scenes when he was in the bar with Woodstock. Maybe, even the stuff when he was dog-fighting. Man, The Peanuts were awesome! Now, I gotta watch me some.

    I definitely have to pick this one up.

  • Greg Barbrick

    Brian aka Guppusmaximus —

    I totally dig Vince, but I think he was truly inspired when he did the Peanuts music.

    This may sound ridiculous until you have actually heard it, but the instrumental version of “Christmas Time Is Here” ranks right up there with the last cut on Kind Of Blue by Miles for sheer beauty.

    Vince Guaraldi was an amazing talent.