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Vince Guaraldi

A Charlie Brown Christmas

Review by Gary Hill

Mention A Charlie Brown Christmas to most people, and it will elicit a response. The Peanuts gang, and that movie in particular, have touched so many people. One thing about is though, without the wonderful soundtrack, the cartoon would not be as charming and heartwarming. Interestingly enough, listening to the CD is a bit of a dichotomy. Your brain seems to process it in two ways. The first reaction is in the creation of nostalgia for the cartoon. You remember the images from the scene as you hear the music. But you also begin to process just how good this music really is standing on it's own. This is one fun album, even without Charlie, Linus, Lucy, Snoopy and the rest of the crew. It should make a lot of people's Christmas playlists and wishlists.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2002 Year Book Volume 2 at

Track by Track Review
O Tannembaum
Guaraldi presents us with a smooth, unaccompanied acoustic piano rendering of this melody in the early segments. As the rest of the group joins in, it starts to groove, and this one is quite effective and fun, while stirring at the same time. There is plenty of improvisation to go around in this classic jazz trio arrangement.
What Child Is This
At first this one is really unrecognizable in the trio's off-kilter arrangement. As the cut carries past the introduction, the well-known melody emerges. They play this one loose, and it is all the better for it. The piano winds it way in, out and around the melody line.
My Little Drum
This is an unusual arrangement of the old familiar "Little Drummer Boy". The resulting cut is a bit on the off-kilter side and features very subtle vocal performances and an up front rhythmic pattern.
Linus and Lucy
This is the oh, so familiar Peanuts music. Everyone knows this great original melody, and it is guaranteed to put a smile on your face. The thing is, it's a great groove, too. The guys really get a chance to cut loose and stretch out on this one.
Christmas Time is Here (Instrumental)
As this one opens, if you can get past the images of the cartoon associated with it, you will be transported to a smoky, poorly lit jazz club. The laid back, slow paced performance here is very strong.
Christmas Time is Here (Vocal)
It's dejavu all over again as the track starts up. This is the same piece as the last one, but with vocals this time. The vocals sound as if they are provided by a children's choir.
Another fully original composition, this one is fast paced and bouncy. It is a lot of fun while still getting fairly complex. After a time it transforms into a tour-de-force jam.
Hark The Herald Angels Sing
This one starts with humming of the melody and an organ way down in the mix. After a time it switches gear, the vocals begin actually singing the lyrics and the organ comes out from the background. This is an odd cut and mostly only of interest for the nostalgia factor.
Christmas Is Coming
This is a fast paced jazz romp that should bring a smile to your face. As it carries on it switches gear as a walking bass pattern moves it in new directions. The opening segment eventually returns to usher the cut out.
Fur Elise
What a beautiful and evocative piece this truly is. Guaraldi plays it straight and unaccompanied.
The Christmas Song
Guaraldi brings a killer piano arrangement to this holiday favorite. He plays it solo for a while. Then, as he wanders into more experimental territory, the rest of the group joins him. They stay pretty low key throughout, and this is a classy performance capping off a very strong disc.
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