One thing I’ve learned over the years is not to ever deprive yourself of the Christmas spirit. Sometimes, I start feeling that yuletide glee earlier than I should. Like, in the summer, I’ll be tempted to put on a Christmas Mix CD. But then, I think ‘no…I’ll ruin it for myself by starting too early’. But that’s proved to be mistake. If I squelch it when it crops up, it never seems to come back with the same ferocity when I actually need it to. My holiday spirit won’t be bossed by anyone, least of all me. I thought that maybe I should hold on to this entry until the holiday season but I’m feeling it now. So, I’m sorry…I just can’t suppress it any more. I can’t risk dampening my holiday spirit. So, today’s great thing is:
#30 Vince Guaraldi’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas” Score
If you’re American, you know just what I’m talking about. If you’re from elsewhere, you may not be acquainted yet with this score (or not knowingly at least–it’s been covered and referenced in soooo much pop culture that, chances are, you actually do know it). Guaraldi, known to his peers as “Dr. Funk” was a jazz man from San Francisco. Here’s a quote about him from Jon Hendrick’s:
“Vince is what you call a piano player. That’s different from a pianist. A pianist can play anything you can put in front of him…A piano player can play anything BEFORE you can put it in front of him”.
Vince’s big break came in the nerve-wracking call to stand in for the suddenly unavailable jazz maestro Art Tatum at the Frisco club Black Hawk. (Weirdly both Vince and Art died at the age of 47–different calendar years, but still–woooooohhh!). BCB (before Charlie Brown), he had his biggest hit in 1963 with “Cast Your Fate to the Wind”–a song that actually resurfaced in 1965 when British easy-listening band, Sounds Orchestral, covered it.
In 1965, he was contacted by television producer, Lee Mendelson– for a Peanuts Gang and Charlie Brown documentary–one that, to this day, has never aired. Still, Mendelson was thrilled with the output and asked Guaraldi to score what is now a classic by anyone’s standards, the “A Charlie Brown Christmas” animated special. Here’s a sampling from the special which originally aired in 1965:
This particular piece “Christmas Time is Here” has been outsourced to scads of other films and television shows and covered umpteem times by other musicians. Notably, “The Royal Tenenbaums” used it prominently. In fact, the director of that film, Wes Anderson, comments that he chose Buckley the beagle as the Tenenbaum family dog as a tribute to Snoopy. In typical ‘Hollywood doesn’t know shit’ fashion, the network execs were horrified by Lee’s choice of Guaraldi for the Charlie Brown special and didn’t believe that jazz would work for a kid’s program. They thought it would be a disaster. Thank God nobody listened to those guys. The result is a fantastic example of a piece of music that is both joyful and melancholy at the same time. Throughout the the score, you experience the ebullient lift in spirit that comes with the holiday as well as the bittersweet blues that one can sometimes sink into if left alone with your own thoughts for too long. Sometimes this dynamic occurs within the same song. Or, maybe I’m just bi-polar. Either way, amazing.
Forty years on and we Americans still consider this to be one of our best Christmas offerings. I’m not the only one held in it’s powerful grip. Here’s a video from Rochester, NY of someone who pimped their Christmas lights to synch up to another Guaraldi classic from CB Christmas, “Linus and Lucy”
God bless people who take the time to do these things.
“A Charlie Brown Christmas” moralizes that the true meaning of Christmas lies far far away from commercialism–something we’ve all heard dozens, if not hundreds, of time. But Charlie Brown, with its allegory of the scrawny Christmas tree, is especially touching. The sickly tree that Charlie chooses for the Peanuts Gang’s Christmas pageant is initially, and quite meanly, rejected. Later, it’s adorned with a bauble and appreciated by everyone. The cartoon, famously produced on the fly and on a shoestring budget, shares a few qualities with that tree. Sure its sound and editing is a bit choppy. But anyone with a set of eyeballs…or maybe in this case, even just earholes, can see it’s a beautiful thing.
If you’re hooked on his jazz stylings now and would like more Vince Guaraldi, check out the website, still run in his honor. Vince Guaraldi Also a great place for mustache afficianados….
I’ll leave you with this video that I found on youtube. It was created by Ryan King and Dan Hess. It’s flipping brilliant. Even with my short attention span, I made it through the whole four minutes. I was a bit sick of “Hey-Ya” after all the radio play it got, but I think I might have to watch this every day for the rest of my life.