Vince Guaraldi,
A Charlie Brown Christmas
(Concord, 2006)

I'll wager you don't know who Vince Guaraldi is.

A jazz composer and pianist, his name and his trademark handlebar mustache have been forgotten by many people who, without knowing it, listen to his music at least once each year. Guaraldi, whose fluke hit "Cast Your Fate on the Wind" in 1962 brought him to the attention of television producer Lee Mendelson, is the real-life Schroeder, the musician whose hands tickled the ivories in dozens of Peanuts TV specials, the man who wrote and arranged jazz-piano melodies that are engraved in the memories of anyone who has ever been captivated by the onscreen hijinks of Charlie Brown, Snoopy and all the rest of Charles Schulz's delightful, beloved Peanuts gang.

Now, 40 years after its initial release, the soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas has been remixed, remastered and rereleased to introduce Guaraldi's genius to a 21st-century audience. Just in time for the Christmas season, it's a perfect, subtle accent to any holiday festivities.

This music -- mostly featuring Guaraldi on piano, supported only by bass and drums in a classic jazz trio -- doesn't demand your attention. It's pleasantly familiar. It's gentle and soothing, resting comfortably in the back of your head like an old security blanket. It says "Christmas" every bit as much as Jimmy Durante's crusty old "Frosty the Snowman" or Burl Ives' "Have a Holly Jolly Christmas," both of which are more radio-friendly and yet grate on the nerves after the first several repetitions.

The disc of course includes "Linus & Lucy," better known to many fans simply as "The Peanuts Theme," as well as the deceptively melancholy "Christmas Time is Here" as both an instrumental piece and a vocal number featuring a children's chorus. There are also Peanuts versions of familiar carols such as "O Tannenbaum," "What Child is This" and "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing." This remastered disc ends with alternate takes on four previous tracks.

So, what are you waiting for? How better to celebrate the memory of Christmasses past than with Charlie Brown and the gang, after all?

by Tom Knapp
9 December 2006

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