Vince Guaraldi (1928-1976) was a jazz pianist whose music was always a welcome respite from the sound of many of his contemporaries. He was one of the more melodic keyboardists in jazz music, with a style and sound that was relaxing and easy on the ears. His most famous album was 1962s Jazz Impressions Of Black Orpheus, which contained his Grammy award-winning song, “Cast Your Fate to the Wind.”
While his jazz career may be overlooked at times, his television work is eternal. He wrote the music for 17 Peanuts television specials. On May 23, 2012, The Library Of Congress honored his 1965 soundtrack recording of A Charlie Brown Christmas as a new inductee for its cultural, historical, or aesthetic significance. That album is now being re-released in a remastered form with bonus tracks.
While it may not have been the original intent of the project, it introduced jazz music to millions of people who may not have otherwise been exposed to the art form. The special and his music continue to air regularly and new generations of viewers are continually being introduced to his music and light jazz approach. His expanded themes from the television special and jazz interpretations of traditional Christmas music have amused and entertained three generations of fans.
His trio at the time included bassist Fred Marshall and drummer Jerry Granelli. While they are listed in the credits, drummer Colin Bailey and bassist Monty Budwig are also listed and it is difficult to know who played on which tracks. The constant was Guaraldi’s piano work.
The brilliance of the original music is in its simplicity. “Linus and Lucy,” “Skating,” “Christmas Is Coming,” and “My Little Drum” enhanced the story and are immediately recognizable to millions of Peanuts fans. The highlight was the six minute instrumental version of “Christmas Time Is Here,” which gave him room to stretch and provide a notable solo.
His take on “O Tannenbaum” is full of twists and turns while the short “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” finds him expanding his instrumental prowess to the organ. Mel Torme’s “The Christmas Song” is another fine vehicle for Guaraldi’s unique improvisation.
I’m not sure if the bonus tracks fit in exactly but they are welcome. “Great Pumpkin Waltz” and “Thanksgiving Theme” are recognizable Peanuts holiday music. They have a different sound as the first includes a guitar and trumpet while the second has brass. The five minute “Greensleeves” is always a pleasure as it is another tune that allows him to expand the basic theme of the song.
Vince Guaraldi has been gone for 36 years but his music has lived on. Not only is A Charlie Brown Christmas good music, it will make you smile. You can’t ask for a better Christmas present than that.