In the nearly 50 years since its original debut A Charlie Brown Christmas has become as much a tradition of the holiday season as Santa Claus, Christmas stockings and candy canes, for many far outstripping its animated rivals Rudolph, Frosty and even the Grinch. For the sentimental joy of the remembrance of things past, it is unsurpassed, guaranteed to bring a happy tear to the eye of even the most jaded among us. And there is no denying that the film's success is in no small part due to the score created by pianist Vince Guaraldi and played so joyfully by his trio.
So Fantasy Record's newly released 2012 remastered and expanded edition of the original 1965 recording comes as something of an early Christmas gift to the show's many fans. Although the album had been released on CD in 1988, this new edition utilizes many of the advances in digital conversion to enhance its sonic qualities. And while I don't claim to be much of an audiophile myself, I must say that the recording sounds excellent, whether so excellent that it justifies those of you who still have your copy of the '88 disc buying this new one I leave to better ears than mine.
Audio engineering and nostalgia aside this is a truly important album. As the media release upon the album's induction into the Library of Congress explained A Charlie Brown Christmas was responsible for introducing "jazz to millions of listeners." Guaraldi's score is appealingly melodic. The music is accessible, and while the jazz 'maven' may have found it a bit too facile for his taste preferring something more innovative and complex, the novice has found its simple lyricism a welcoming entry point. This is one of those many cases where simple is better.
Guaraldi may not be the most virtuosic of jazz pianists, but there is no denying he has style, and it is a style all his own. As he told critic Ralph Gleason back in 1958: "I don't think I'm a great piano player, but I would like to be able to have people like me, to play pretty tunes and reach the audience." As early as his Grammy Award winning chart topping "Cast Your Fate to the Wind," Guaraldi got that wish, and the Charlie Brown themes like "Linus and Lucy," "Christmas Time is Here," and "Christmas is Coming" leave no doubts he deserved it.
The new release includes three bonus tracks not included on the original LP: "Greensleeves," "Great Pumpkin Waltz," and "Thanksgiving Theme." There is also an accompanying booklet featuring an introductory essay by Derrick Bang, author of the 2012 study, Vince Guaraldi at the Piano and some nice illustrations with the Peanuts characters.