For my money, few Christmas music collections can rival A Charlie Brown Christmas in terms of both musical quality and nostalgia value. The iconic set of jazz tunes is deservedly the most famous of 17 Peanuts specials for which Vince Guaraldi composed scores. In fact, it’s one of those rare albums that holds widespread, mainstream appeal far beyond the jazz audience. Anyone who grew up (or is currently growing up) watching the special every holiday season will immediately recognize these melodies.
Concord Music Group has remastered the original album and augmented it with three additional tracks. Guaraldi was among the most accessible of jazz pianists, his catalog positively overflowing with hummable, memorable instrumental hooks that have the power to draw in even the most ardent of non-jazz listeners. The most instantly recognizable of his works is also the centerpiece of A Charlie Brown Christmas, “Linus and Lucy.” This one isn’t really a Christmas tune, as it appears in many Peanuts specials and is generally thought of as the series’ theme.
Throughout the album we find a mix of Guaraldi’s originals as well as his arrangements of traditional songs. The second most famous of his originals is “Christmas Time is Here.” The melancholic ballad appears twice, once with a choir’s vocal performance and also a longer instrumental version. Traditional classics include jaunty runs through “O Tannenbaum” and “What Child is This.” A longer arrangement of the latter turns up as a bonus track (“Greensleeves”). All of the tracks are arranged for piano trio, with Guaraldi backed by either Fred Marshall or Monty Budwig on bass and either Jerry Granelli or Colin Bailey on drums.
For good measure, two of Guaraldi’s other Peanuts holiday special themes have been tacked on as bonus tracks. From It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown we hear “Great Pumpkin Waltz.” Then there’s “Thanksgiving Theme” from A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. Derrick Bang’s excellent liner notes explain that these two were taken from mono masters, inferior to the stereo masters for A Charlie Brown Christmas. Still, to my ears they sound entirely listenable—just not quite as sparkling as the remastered album tracks that precede them.
All in all, this is an excellent reissue of a truly classic Christmas album. The Peanuts imagery and comic strip reprints in the CD booklet only enhance the strong nostalgic pull of this timeless music.