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Vince Guaraldi’s Classic Peanuts Soundtrack Music Reissued on LP

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When television producer Lee Mendelson heard jazz pianist/composer Vince Guaraldi's hit single "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" on his car radio, he thought he had found the right composer for the soundtrack to the documentary on Charles Schultz's cartoon series Peanuts that he was working on. Guaraldi indeed turned out to be the perfect man for the job, eventually creating original holiday standards in the process, as well as some of the most popular jazz music ever recorded.

While that documentary was never aired, Guaraldi's soundtrack was released. An animated Peanuts Christmas special produced the following year (1965) resulted in additional holiday-themed music, a hit both on television and as an LP. Music from the 1966 animated Halloween special was not released on audio until 2018. Guaraldi continued scoring Peanuts specials through the mid-1970s until his sudden death in 1976 at age 47, increasingly favoring a more electric, jazz fusion-influenced sound. These three LP reissues feature what are generally regarded as the classic Guaraldi Peanuts compositions and performances.

Vince Guaraldi Trio
Jazz Impressions of A Boy Named Charlie Brown
Fantasy Jazz
1964

Recorded with Guaraldi's trio at the time—double bassist Monty Budwig and drummer Colin Bailey—this album has the rare distinction of being a soundtrack for a documentary that was never made. It includes the first appearance of the iconic song "Linus and Lucy," composed as the theme music.

The album opens with the swinging "Oh, Good Grief," a brief introduction to Guaraldi's melodic playing style. "Pebble Beach" is a bossa nova excursion (and a reminder that "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" first appeared on an album of music from the Brazilian film Black Orpheus). "Happiness Is" is a gentle waltz, which leads into the piano solo "Schroeder" (it appropriately has the sound of a classical piano etude).

"Charlie Brown Theme" may lack the gravity of a true theme, but "Linus and Lucy" comes next, with all the gravitas we remember from the later animated series soundtrack, as well as some swinging jazz piano trio playing. Most of the tracks are fairly short, as befits a soundtrack cue. But "Blue Charlie Brown" is the blues promised by the title, and takes its time. "Frieda (With the Naturally Curly Hair)" concludes the album with more solid swing, Soundtrack music, but jazz all the way. It provides the best jazz listening experience of the three albums, and the most free of programmatic influence.

This Craft Recordings LP reissue is the "Baseball Card Edition" (including a set of eight baseball cards featuring the Peanuts characters), and employs all-analog mastering from the original stereo tapes on "green grass vinyl."

Vince Guaraldi Trio
A Charlie Brown Christmas
Fantasy Jazz
1965

Here we get to the heart of the matter: piano trio music with double bassist Fred Marshall and drummer Jerry Granelli accompanying the massively successful animated Christmas special A Charlie Brown Christmas. Guaraldi reprised "Linus and Lucy" from the previous soundtrack album, so it could be heard for the first time by a huge television audience, then multiplied by perennial holiday album sales. But the holiday theme also inspired the soon to be standard "Christmas Time Is Here," which is heard in a trio version as well as a vocal version with members of the choir of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in San Rafael, California. The children's choir also contributed to the traditional carol "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing."

It is striking how unambiguously the album embraces the Christmas theme (along with a bit of music with a general seasonal winter focus), something that has become rarer nowadays. The set begins with gentle, introspective arrangements of "O Tannenbaum" and "What Child Is This," followed by "My Little Drum" (clearly inspired by "The Little Drummer Boy''). In addition to "Linus and Lucy" Guaraldi also composed the lovely waltz "Skating" and the Latin jazz tune "Christmas Is Coming." The program concludes with the modern Mel Torme composition "The Christmas Song" and the traditional British folk song "Greensleeves." Since "What Child Is This" is set to the melody of "Greensleeves" there is no clear distinction between them in these instrumental versions, but the title makes another mark in the secular column.

It is easy to understand the broad appeal of this music: it wears its love of the Christmas season on its sleeve. But at the same time, Guaraldi and his trio are always lyrical and swinging, usually keeping shallow sentimentality at bay.

This Craft Recordings LP reissue is the "Silver Foil Edition," housed in a limited silver foil and embossed album jacket.

Vince Guaraldi
It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown: Music from the Soundtrack
Craft Recordings
2018

In many ways this soundtrack represents the most refined version of Guaraldi's classic soundtrack compositions. He led a sextet, allowing for more complex arrangements than the earlier trio music. Hard as it may be to believe now, the "Linus and Lucy" theme was not yet firmly established as the primary Peanuts theme—it was not included in the soundtrack of the preceding special Charlie Brown's All-Stars. But Guaraldi was persuaded to lead off the collection with it, in an arrangement that arguably was the height of his Peanuts music.

The new arrangement has all of the verve of the original, with the additional tonal color of expanded instrumentation. Ronald Lang's flute provides a prominent counterpoint to the piano, here and elsewhere. There is no dialog included, but there are sound effects, which are even more prominent in the following track "Graveyard Theme." There are apparently no surviving studio audio tapes of the sessions, so the music had to be taken straight from the soundtrack, which results in some very short audio cues, sometimes with abrupt endings.

"The Great Pumpkin Waltz" is a charming exception, also giving guitarist John Gray some time in the spotlight. "Trick Or Treat" is a trio with flute, double bass and drums: an effective contrast to the rest of the soundtrack. The other main interest comes from hearing the compositions arranged in different ways over multiple cues. There are three versions of "Linus and Lucy," "The Great Pumpkin Waltz," "Trick or Treat" and "Charlie Brown Theme." In the end this EP-length program is imperfect, but it offers a richer musical experience than its length suggests.

This Craft Recordings LP reissue appears on an orange limited edition pumpkin-shaped EP (double-sided, playing at 45 RPM). It includes liner notes by Peanuts historian Derrick Bang and an introduction by Lee Mendelson, the executive producer of all of the Peanuts animated shows.

Tracks and Personnel

Jazz Impressions of A Boy Named Charlie Brown

Tracks: Oh Good Grief; Pebble Beach; Happiness; Schroeder; Charlie Brown Theme; Linus and Lucy; Blue Charlie Brown; Baseball Theme; Freda (With the Naturally Curly Hair); Fly Me To the Moon.

Personnel: Vince Guaraldi: piano; Monty Budwig: bass; Colin Bailey: drums.

A Charlie Brown Christmas

Tracks: O Tannenbaum; What Child Is This; My Little Drum; Linus & Lucy; Christmas Time Is Here (instrumental); Christmas Time Is Here (vocal); Skating; Hark, The Herald Angels Sing; Christmas Is Coming; Für Elise; The Christmas Song; Greensleeves.

Personnel: Vince Guaraldi: piano; Fred Marshall; bass; Jerry Granelli: drums; Monty Budwig: bass ("Greensleeves" only); Colin Bailey: drums ("Greensleeves" only).

It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown: Music from the Soundtrack

Tracks: Linus and Lucy; Graveyard Theme; Snoopy and the Leaf/Frieda (With the Naturally Curly Hair); The Great Pumpkin Waltz; Linus and Lucy (Reprise); Charlie Brown Theme/Happy Linus; The Great Pumpkin Waltz (Reprise); The Red Baron/Military Drum March; The Great Pumpkin Waltz (2nd Reprise); Trick or Treat; Fanfare/Breathless/Trick or Treat (Reprise); Charlie Brown Theme (Reprise); Breathless; It's a Long Way to Tipperary/There's a Long, Long Trail A-Winding/Pack up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag/Roses of Picardy; Trick or Treat (2nd Reprise); Linus and Lucy (2nd Reprise); Charlie Brown Theme (2nd Reprise).

Personnel: Vince Guaraldi: piano, electric keyboards, arranger; Emmanuel Klein: trumpet; John Gray: guitar; Ronald Lang: woodwinds; Monty Budwig: bass; Colin Bailey: drums.

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