As holiday traditions vary, I still make it a point each year to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas on television. If not by choice, then by the demand of my sister.
I truthfully can’t remember a Christmas that didn’t include the viewing of that program. With the exception of perhaps Linus’ spotlight monologue, or the realization that “it wasn’t such a bad little tree after all”, the music, composed and performed by Vince Guaraldi has always been the most memorable aspect of the program, even before I had any appreciation for jazz.
The music is heard throughout the program, be it during a hypnotic Peanuts dance session, an afternoon ice skating while Pig Pen dusts up the ice, or simply while Charlie Brown is walking down the street deep in thought. The music would remain my winter soundtrack as a child. While walking down the street on a quiet snowy afternoon to a pickup football game, I would be hearing in my head or humming would be Linus and Lucy, as opposed to the overplayed Kenny G covers.
It was not simply that the music was tied to winter or the holidays that made it enjoyable. It was the fact that Vince Guaraldi simply knew how to make the music fun, enjoyable, and memorable, similar to his personality. He was often called “Pixie”, which he would not discourage, and would be known to wear funny hats, mustaches, and haircuts. He is quoted as saying that he never thought of himself as a great pianist, but wanted to be liked, play pretty music, and reach the audience.
After becoming a more serious student of jazz, the fact that the music of Guaraldi was fun and that he was most famous for his work with Charles Schulz on Peanuts features didn’t detract from his legitimate contribution to the jazz world. Jazz didn’t and doesn’t always have to be serious or complex, and Guaraldi did well by, if nothing else, making his performances enjoyable.
As the snow begins to fall here in the Pacific Northwest, catching a snowflake on your tongue and agreeing that it does in fact need sugar, seems incomplete without the soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas playing in the background.
Watch a portion of A Charlie Brown Christmas featuring music by Vince Guaraldi: