Only a handful of jazz albums find their way into the collections of music lovers who would never call themselves jazz fans. Miles Davis' Kind of Blue is one, Getz/Gilberto is another, and Coltrane's A Love Supreme also comes to mind. For Christmas time, though, the album is Vince Guaraldi's soundtrack to the 1965 special A Charlie Brown Christmas.
A beloved (and rightly so) half-hour parable about the meaning of the holidays featuring the Peanuts gang, Guaraldi's music plays a pivotal role in etching A Charlie Brown Christmas into the brains of those who love the series. The ballad "Christmas Time Is Here" sounds while Charlie Brown laments finding his mailbox without even one Christmas card; the driving rhythm of "Christmas is Coming" while Charlie enters the local school auditorium to direct a seasonal play; the finger-snapping "O Tannenbaum" while Charlie and Linus search for the perfect tree. While not all the music featured in the special is found on Fantasy's 1988 compact disc reissue, the most memorable numbers are included, along with a couple of additional performances by Guaraldi and his trio of Monty Budwig on bass and drummer Colin Bailey.
The centrepiece of the album is "Christmas Time Is Here," which has become a seasonal standard. While the vocal version with a children's chorus is nice, the instrumental take is quite a bit better, particularly the moving conclusion where Guaraldi gently flutters over the keyboard. Guaraldi goes for a tougher approach for "Linus and Lucy" (pretty much the Peanuts theme song) as well as "Christmas Is Coming" and "Skating," which all have him crafting memorable themes using simple riffs. The swing generated by Guaraldi's trio is best heard in "O Tannenbaum," which locks into a loose jazz groove after a solo introduction by the pianist.
Guaraldi's soundtrack album to A Charlie Brown Christmas offers the best of both worlds. It is accessible enough to delight the non-jazz fan, yet full of enough improvisation to appeal to the serious jazz buff. The recording places Guaraldi in rarefied company and ensures that his music will continue to delight many throughout the Christmas season.
Track Listing: O Tannenbaum; What Child Is This; My Little Drum; Linus and Lucy; Christmas Time Is Here Again (Instrumental); Christmas Time Is Here (Vocal); Skating; Hark, the Herald Angels Sing; Christmas Is Coming; F
I was first exposed to jazz while working overseas in Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I would listen to the Voice of America on the radio and they had a nightly jazz program on at 10:00pm. I learned a lot about jazz listening to this program. I also had a friend who listened to real jazz by artists like Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy and Archie Shepp. On my way home from Africa I landed in New York and had the opportunity to see the George Adams/Don Pullen quartet at the Village Vanguard as well as Kenny Barron and Ron Carter at another club, and was in heaven.