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Charlie Brown's mum!"

December 21, 2008

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A Charlie Brown Christmas - Vince Guaraldi Trio

Well I better do this one now, as the festive season is upon us...


Who knew back in 1965 when I watched "A Charlie Brown Christmas" for the first time, that I was developing a lifelong taste for jazz?

It was always a cozy night when this holiday special was on TV. A bowl of popcorn with the family, the ads for Dolly Madison cakes and Kraft with some hideous recipe that mixed Kraft Mayonnaise with Kraft Mini Marshmallows and Kraft Crunchy Peanut Butter (bless you, Bruce Marsh)...but I digress.

The show was funny, spiritual, and just a little bit cool. I didn't know why it was cool until the mid-70s when I started playing the piano. I taught myself Elton John, and "These Eyes" by the Guess Who. Then I started playing "that Charlie Brown kids dancing song" and got the best reaction from friends and family. Even playing it badly got a smile from anyone in listening range. This was a tune that struck a chord with some deep, childhood memory shared by everyone.

But I realized it was so much more. Vince Guaraldi had written a piece (Linus and Lucy) that was both a peppy little kids' song, and a complex jazz number.

Complex you say? Listen to it again. Listen to the beat. The piano is actually playing off beat and I can't for the life of me figure it out. Only in the middle bit does the song really have a swing, a consistent beat. And then before you know it, we're back to the signature melody with that counter-rhythmic thing going on.

Or maybe it's just me.

Nevertheless, when I would listen to the soundtrack year in year out on those special Christmas television nights, it always struck me that I'd hear something that I hadn't heard before. That fabulous piano diminished chord walk down - that's my technical term for it anyway - on "Christmas is Coming." The 6-8 time and snowflake-like melody of "Skating." And Guaraldi could even make an old Mel Tormé classic even cooler and jazzier than the velvet fog himself.

To this day, 43 years after the first time I heard the music of the Vince Guaraldi Trio, I hear something new. I just purchased a remastered version of the disc that includes several outtakes of the classics that are the soundtrack of my childhood. And I'm blown away all over again by how Guaraldi could be so simple and so complex at once. And isn't that what jazz should be? Something to tap your toes to and think deep thoughts to over a lifetime? This album does it for me any time of the year!

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