A Charlie Brown Christmas


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:

Jaco and His Best Birthday

jaco-pastoriusDecember 1st marked the 57th anniversary of the birth of the greatest electric bass player ever, Jaco Pastorius. It also marks the 27th anniversary of Jaco’s live recording of his album The Birthday Concert.

This concert remains my all time favorite live concert recording. Not only for the amazing band that Jaco put together (including Michael Brecker, Bob Mintzer, Don Alias, and Peter Erskine), or for the amazing performance that the band and Jaco put forth. But also because it was a time where a musician like Jaco Pastorius, someone troubled by alcohol abuse, and seeming only held back by that, could find the opportunity to surround himself with friends and family, and simply celebrate with music. Jaco was in amazing form, as were the musicians around him, and they were all enjoying themselves in celebration. Losing Jaco a short while later was a tragedy to the music world, and this concert represents one point in time where he could be surrounded by the people important to him and celebrate his milestone.

Below is the opening track to the concert, featuring the before mentioned musicians, as well as Melton Mustafa on the trumpet. This album is a must for anyone wanting to hear Jaco, quite possibly at his best. Enjoy!

Click here to listen to Jaco Pastorius and the band play Soul Intro/The Chicken from The Birthday Concert.

Remembering Bunny Berigan on his 100th Birthday

Bunny Berigan
Bunny Berigan

Today, November 2nd, marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of trumpet legend Bunny Berigan. If his name doesn’t quite ring a bell the same way hearing Louis Armstrong does, it certainly isn’t due to his lack of talent. Unfortunately, Bunny’s career was relatively short, spanning the better part of the thirties. In fact, it was widely believed that Louis Armstrong was simply competition for Bunny, but never considered better than or equal to. Moreover, it was said that Armstrong refused to perform Berigan’s biggest hit, I Can’t Get Started (still a massive jazz standard today), because “it was Bunny’s Tune”, and no one could play it as well.

Unfortunately, and not unlike Charlie Parker, Berigan died in his early thirties, looking twice his age, accelerated by substance abuse. While Parker’s vice was heroin, Bunny Berigan was a victim of the bottle, and ended up drinking himself to death. While an argument can and has been made that both Berigan and Parker were the best at their instrument during the time of their career, Parker had the opportunity to help define the bebop era. One can only wish to have seen what Berigan might have contributed to bop had he been around.

Bunny Berigan made a name for himself in just about every group he played with, which is why he was in such high demand. Berigan spent a decent chunk of the early 30’s with Fred Rich’s orchestra, cranking out great trumpet solos, and singing, when he had to. Most notably was his time spent with Benny Goodman, where his performances on works like King Porter Stomp and Sometimes I’m Happy helped make them huge hits. Berigan also spent time with Glenn Miller’s band and worked with Billie Holiday and Tommy Dorsey, where he was hugely responsible for the hits Songs of India and Marie.

To this day, Bunny Berigan box sets of recordings are still in demand, and typically receives wonderful reviews. In addition, the tiny town of Fox Lake, Wisconsin, where Berigan was raised, celebrates the musician annually each May with a three day festival.

It is always easy to speculate what role a musician might have played had he or she lived longer, but with Bunny’s great range, tone, and overall ability, one can safely assume that he would have easily made even more contributions to future eras and styles of jazz.

Below is an extremely rare video clip of Bunny Berigan singing and playing Until Today with the Freddie Rich band in 1936.