Jazzy ‘Charlie Brown Christmas’ album swings on after 57 years


The Mendelson household would love to seek out the envelope the place their father, Lee, scribbled some lyrics to jazz musician Vince Guaraldi’s composition Christmas Time Is Here for an animated TV particular that includes the Peanuts gang in 1965.

The producer at all times stated it had taken lower than half an hour to jot down, and he doubtless tossed the scrap of paper away. He was in a rush. Everything was rushed. No one even knew, as soon as the particular aired, whether or not it might ever be seen once more.

Instead, A Charlie Brown Christmas turned an indelible vacation custom and so, too, has Guaraldi’s music – maybe much more so.

“Christmas just doesn’t feel like Christmas without hearing that album in the background,” stated Derrick Bang, writer of the biography Vince Guaraldi At The Piano.

The particular itself was a little bit of an oddity: a cartoon story of the which means of Christmas soundtracked by a classy, largely instrumental jazz trio of piano, bass and drum.

Yet it labored. Guaraldi’s cascading piano evokes each movement and calmly falling snow on Skating. The driving melody of Linus And Lucy is the everlasting backdrop to a swinging celebration. O Tannenbaum shifts from the normal carol to a bass-driven groove. A youngsters’s choir provides attraction to Christmas Time Is Here.

The soundtrack has bought greater than 5 million copies. Its nostalgia-fueled recognition has solely grown, getting a vital enhance in 1998 when Starbucks started promoting it in shops, and fed steadily by new merchandise. The newest, a field set of outtakes from Guaraldi’s recording classes, was launched this 12 months.

A Charlie Brown Christmas has aired yearly since 1965, though that custom is about to alter.

The particular’s run on broadcast tv ended final 12 months. Apple TV+ purchased the rights, and streams it completely beginning this 12 months. While a recognition of tv’s new path, will that scale back the possibilities of new generations of youngsters occurring upon the story and music?

This cover image released by Craft Recordings shows the original soundtrack to ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas.’ Photo: APThis cowl picture launched by Craft Recordings exhibits the unique soundtrack to ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas.’ Photo: AP

“I just remember, back in the days of three channels and scheduled programming, that was one of those things we were excited about because we knew it was coming on and we were familiar with it,” stated Harry Connick Jr, who lined Christmas Time Is Here for his personal vacation disc simply out.

“It was actually an amazing opportunity for music like that to be heard by a lot of people,” added Connick, a jazz devotee at the same time as a teenager.

“It was not necessarily the kind of music that would be played on regular radio.”

That’s even much less doubtless now, as jazz recedes into the historical past books or the background of dinner events, stated Nathaniel Sloan, musicologist on the University of Southern California and co-host of the “Switched on Pop” podcast.

During the Nineteen Sixties, jazz was nearer to the mainstream and extra more likely to be performed alongside pop music, he stated.

The music Guaraldi created for the soundtrack is ambiguous and extra complicated than most vacation music, Sloan stated.

Tied to heat emotions for illustrator Charles M. Schulz’s traditional comedian web page characters, time has made it conventional vacation music.

The listing of people that have recorded Christmas Time Is Here is lengthy and diversified. They embody John Legend, Alicia Keys, Gloria Estefan, Mariah Carey, Mel Torme, Dave Brubeck, Sarah McLachlan, Stone Temple Pilots, (*57*), and Toni Braxton.

Similarly, the sudden locations the place the melody to Linus And Lucy have appeared testifies to how ingrained it’s in American life. Michelle Obama performed it on the piano when returning to her childhood house within the Becoming documentary. Foo Fighters included it in a rocking Saturday Night Live vacation medley. Prince banged it out throughout his final live performance.

The music that jazz composer Guaraldi created for the soundtrack is ambiguous and more complex than most holiday music. Photo: Fantasy ArchivesThe music that jazz composer Guaraldi created for the soundtrack is ambiguous and extra complicated than most vacation music. Photo: Fantasy Archives

It all began within the San Francisco space, house base for Guaraldi, because it was for Mendelson and Schulz.

Mendelson’s in style documentary on Willie Mays – Schulz’s favorite baseball participant – satisfied the reclusive cartoonist to take part in a “day in the life” movie about his work.

One of Mendelson’s favorite songs was Guaraldi’s breezy hit, Cast Your Fate To The Wind, so the jazzman was recruited for a soundtrack.

In the times earlier than cable and streaming, Mendelson couldn’t promote the documentary, so it went unseen.

After the recognition of Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer in 1964, a sponsor requested Mendelson if he’d thought-about making a Peanuts Christmas particular. He lied that he had. Schulz agreed to stipulate a narrative, and Guaraldi got here aboard, too, recycling Linus And Lucy from the documentary.

Animation is time-consuming, so the workforce had a good deadline to make it onto tv. It was Mendelson who determined that Christmas Time Is Here was lacking one thing with out lyrics. He requested a number of songwriters to take on the duty, however the deadline was too daunting.

So Mendelson sat in his workplace and did it himself: “Christmas time is here, happiness and cheer…”

“I’ve always loved the music and the melody, but I really didn’t understand how beautiful the lyrics were until I recorded it,” stated Norah Jones, who included her take on the tune on a disc launched final 12 months.

“The version with the children singing is so special,” she stated. “There’s something very unique and heartwarming about children singing.”

The St Paul’s Church Choir from San Rafael, California, was employed to sing Christmas Time Is Here and Hark, The Herald Angels Sing. Producers infuriated the choir director by selecting a barely out-of-tune model of the carol; they thought it captured an innocence they have been looking for, stated Bang, who wrote liner notes for the field set.

Norah Jones included her version of the song 'Christmas Time is Here' on a holiday album 'I Dream Of Christmas' released last year. Photo: APNorah Jones included her model of the tune ‘Christmas Time is Here’ on a vacation album ‘I Dream Of Christmas’ launched final 12 months. Photo: AP

Some at CBS have been nervous earlier than the particular aired. Executives puzzled if viewers would settle for their favorite caricature characters come to “life” with voices and motion. Schulz’s insistence that the present quote from the Bible gave it a spiritual focus that tv leisure usually steered away from.

But it was successful, successful Peabody and Emmy awards, and by no means went away.

Guaraldi by no means had the prospect to see his music age into requirements. He died of a coronary heart assault in 1976, solely 47 years previous.

“He’s the best-known jazz musician whose name you don’t know, because the music from the Christmas special has become so ubiquitous,” stated Bang.

Lee Mendelson died at 86 in 2019 – on Christmas Day. His son Jason, one in all 4 youngsters, is reluctant to say how a lot cash his father earned from his jiffy of writing the Christmas Time Is Here lyrics. Here’s one trace: The tune makes sufficient cash, yearly, to pay for all the prolonged household’s vacation buying.

And he by no means tires of listening to Guaraldi’s music, ceaselessly attending concert events the place the vacation songs are recreated stay.

“I’ve never seen a bad one,” he stated. – AP

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