When the holiday season rolls around, I look forward to watching my two favorite programs, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, and A Charlie Brown Christmas. I give Rudolph a slight nod as a TV show, but for music, there is none better than the Vince Guaraldi Trio’s A Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack. Although I did not realize it when I was a kid, A Charlie Brown Christmas also served as my introduction to jazz.
Although the soundtrack is quite naturally relegated to the “Christmas music” genre, it really is a marvelous jazz album. Vince Guaraldi had a long and successful career, but his work on the Peanuts specials are probably his most well-known works. He was an extraordinary jazz pianist, and for a taste of some of his non-Charlie Brown work, I suggest checking out the recent The Very Best of Vince Guaraldi, which I reviewed here on Blinded By Sound a few months back.
For the 2012 holiday season, the Concord Music Group have released a newly remastered and expanded edition of A Charlie Brown Christmas. The timing could not have been better, as the soundtrack was enshrined in the permanent collection of the Library of Congress earlier this year.
I think the official press release from the Library of Congress regarding A Charlie Brown Christmas is worth quoting verbatim, so here it is:
“A Charlie Brown Christmas introduced jazz to millions of listeners. The television soundtrack album includes expanded themes from the animated “Peanuts” specials of the same name, as well as jazz versions of both traditional and popular Christmas music, performed by the Vince Guarldi Trio. Best remembered is the “Linus and Lucy” theme, originally composed by Guaraldi for an earlier “Peanuts” project, which remains beloved by fans of the popular television special, those devoted to the daily newspaper comic strip, and music lovers alike.”
As the statement notes, and as I mentioned earlier, Guaraldi’s music was something of a “jazz stealth bomb” for generations of children. Without a doubt, that impact is an important element of the historical significance of the soundtrack. But we would not be discussing any of this if the music was not as brilliant as it is, and this remastered edition makes it sound better than ever.
I would estimate that I have seen A Charlie Brown Christmas a good 50 times over the years, and have listened to the soundtrack at least twice that number. When queried, the biggest reason I offer in recommending the album is for the instrumental version of “Christmas Time is Here.” I was stunned when I first heard it. The piece removes the boy’s choir from the mix, and is just Guaraldi playing solo piano for 6:06. It is absolutely gorgeous. When listening to it, I am reminded of another transcendent jazz ballad, “Flamenco Sketches,” from the Miles Davis classic Kind of Blue. Yes, it really is that good.
Besides the very notable remastering job, this new edition of the soundtrack adds three songs to the original. They are “Greensleeves;” “Great Pumpkin Waltz;” and “Thanksgiving Theme.” Even though they are not “Christmas” songs per se, the tracks are all quite good, and I appreciate the inclusion of them here.
Just about everyone I know has a few Christmas CDs in their collection, and most already own A Charlie Brown Christmas. So why buy it again? I must say that if any Christmas album in your collection is worthy of an upgrade, this is the one. First of all, the job Joe Tarantino did with the remaster is outstanding. I could not believe how much tape hiss was on the original, and the removal of it makes the music simply sparkle. There are also those three additional tracks, which are a nice bonus. Finally there is the essay from Guaraldi scholar Derrick Bang in the booklet, which provides a nice perspective.
All in all, this is one of those “new and improved” CD reissues that really does live up to the marketing. Make it a Christmas gift to yourself if need be. I think every fan will be pleased with the job Concord did with this edition. I know that I am very happy to finally be able to relegate my original to the position of “eggnog coaster,” and will be listening to this one from now on.