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Good Grief Guaraldi!

A Charlie Brown Christmas Vince Guaraldi Fantasy, 1965

Almost everyone I know has seen A Charlie Brown Christmas. Even more people know the crisp melodies of Linus & Lucy.

Linus and Lucy has become one of the most popular jazz songs of all time allowing it the rare privilege to penetrate the charts in America’s mass-media cultural vacuum. It is truly an incredible phenomena considering the drastic decline of jazz’s popularity in the US over the past fifty years

While I have never met someone who doesn’t like the song the pop charts only have time for it when the giving season rolls around.

Having lost my itunes library once again to yet another technological failure the day before Christ’s b-day I ended up with a laptop full of only christmas music. Being as slow to replenish the music bank as I am

( I have partially grown weary of the ceaseless battle with digital music, and have realized every album I could ever hope to listen to is now being uploaded to youtube by millions of people across the globe.)

I ended up with A Charlie Brown Christmas coming through my headphones on a sunny February day walking south on Ashland avenue.

What I was immediately struck by was the sun’s bright rays. Have you ever had music match the weather? It’s a great example of the visceral and emotional connections humans make with music.  Music in many cases modifies the atmosphere surrounding me, whether tranquil or brutal. It guides my thoughts and alters my perception of the environment I am encompassed in. It’s quite a beautiful phenomena if you ask me.


On Ashland ave.

Guaraldi rose me towards the boundless blue sky

from the first note on yes, a Christmas album.

It is the fact that it’s not hard to disassociate this album from its seasonal affiliations that proves its worth as a chronically evocative piece of art. It’s a great album. And that’s what so many people forget to appreciate while it softly swirls around them as they cozy up next to family and friends to share love and gifts.

It’s a really great album.

From it’s completely original renditions of classic christmas tunes to the childrens chorus that whimsically echoes words we all remember from childhood, it is compositionally a masterpiece.

It began its existence as a producer of the yet to be Peanuts Christmas special, Lee Mendelson, was resting in the back of a taxi cruising over the Golden Gate Bridge and the jazz tune “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” came on.  Played by the Vince Guaraldi Trio, it immediately impressed Mendelson, who went in search of a jazz columnist in San Fran to find the man behind the tune. Mendelson found his man, and he and Vince talked. Vince was excited by the idea and promptly got to work on composing some music to send back to Mendelson. Vince picked up the phone, dialed Mendelson, hammered out Linus & Lucy over the phone, and the deal was struck.

Pop culture history was forged over that shallow sounding phone.

Part of my motivation for writing this piece was to convey a vital concept surrounding A Charlie Brown Christmas that hadn’t hit me until I strolling down Ashland on that cold day. It’s profound pop music. Its hooks, its melodies, the fact that it is composed partially of some of the most historically popular songs on earth, are consequences of the album’s main purpose, to score a tv show.

It was created during the explosion of t.v. pop culture instigated by television’s invasion into the modern home.  Charlie Brown and his friends were going to be seen all across the United States and even the world, so it had to swing, man. Mendelson cast his fate to the wind on when he decided to pick Guaraldi, a man who had never been in the television world, to score the music. A Charlie Brown Christmas could have been misunderstood and bombed. It could have died in the mass graves of forgotten mediocre television. It didn’t though. Not only because it was incredibly written, taking a unique view of such an integral cultural period of time for many people, but because all of its artistic elements united in the way in which good television does. Singularly the animation of Charlie Brown is phenomenal because of its distinct style which lends itself well to memory, but it is only one of the many elements of tv, all equally important to a shows success.

The music ties it all to together though.

It is the string that interweaves itself between the pieces allowing the whole structure to come together. For A Charlie Brown Christmas I imagine that string being a road in California that passes along the cool pacific ocean, through all of the parts of television existing in their physical states, and somewhere in the golden and warm California sun ends.



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