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Music Review: Vince Guaraldi – The Very Best Of Vince Guaraldi

Vince Guaraldi is a sometimes forgotten figure in the pantheon of jazz of artists. His music, while sophisticated in places, did not change the course of American music. It was pleasurable, however, as it was very smooth and melodic, allowing the listener to relax. Sometimes that is enough. He is probably best remembered for his music written for the Peanuts television specials, which are still being broadcast, or possibly for his Grammy award-winning crossover hit, “Cast Your Fate to the Wind.”

The Very Best Of Vince Guaraldi is different from many of the other releases in Concord Music Group’s Very Best Of jazz series in that it spans his career rather than just a specific period of time.

Just about every child and many parents have watched at least a part of A Charlie Brown Christmas and other Peanuts programs. “The Charlie Brown Theme” and “Linus and Lucy” are immediately recognizable to several generations of music listeners although they may not have realized they were listening to jazz at the time. Two other tracks are taken from A Charlie Brown Christmas. Even I remember poor Charlie Brown giving directions for the gang’s Christmas play, while Lucy and the rest grooved to the sounds of “Christmas is Coming.” “Christmas Time Is Here” fit well into the theme of the show but also stands on its own as it is an extended and sprawling piece that allows Guaraldi to stretch and improvise.

His classic track will always be “Cast Your Fate To The Wind.” He was always more melodic than many of his contemporaries, which at the time took him outside the traditional or hard jazz approach. Still, his light touch and ability to create intricate arrangements are very apparent on his best creation.

He incorporated a variety of Latin rhythms and sounds into many of his releases. “Manha De Carnaval,” “Django,” and “Outra Vez” may be simple in some ways but his subtle excursions south of the border are worth exploring.

The cream of the album is his own composition, “Treat Street,” complete with timbales, congas, and a string quartet. Heavy orchestration and a driving rhythm set the foundation for his simple keyboard lines.

Vince Guaraldi’s music is well known even if his name is not. This new compilation is a fine introduction both to the man and the music.

About David Bowling

  • http://thismeaneveryone.blogspot.com James A. Gardner

    David, I’m glad to see Guaraldi getting some attention. His music means a lot to me.
    I don’t agree, though, with your comment, “His music, while sophisticated in places, did not change the course of American music.” You go on to say, “Just about every child and many parents have watched at least a part of A Charlie Brown Christmas,” and I agree. And therein is the explanation of just how Guaraldi *did* change American music.
    His score to the Christmas special was groundbreaking, totally unlike standard cartoon soundtrack music or holiday music of the time. It’s considered to be many Americans’ introduction to jazz.
    The Library of Congress considers it significant enough to merit inclusion in the National Recordings Registry and it is one of the all-time bestselling Christmas albums.
    And Guaraldi’s music, overall, has been hugely influential to a generation of piano players, including popular artists like George Winston.
    With all due respect, I suggest that Vince Guaraldi did affect the course of music.
    Thanks for bringing attention to it!

  • Doug Anderson

    I was glad to find this review and to see this new compilation, to help introduce a new generation of listeners to the pleasures of Vince Guaraldi’s unique musical voice. Couldn’t agree more with James Gardner’s comments: In terms of popularizing jazz among new audiences in the 20th Century, Guaraldi arguably had a bigger impact than any other single artist.

    For Guaraldi fans who haven’t devoured it yet, I strongly recommend the new (and first ever) biography, “Vince Guaraldi at the Piano” by Derrick Bang. It’s an unparalleled look inside his life and career, as well as at the West Coast jazz scene during its heyday in the 1950s and 60s.