Vince Guaraldi Trio – A Charlie Brown Christmas 9.0

Reviewed by on 11th December, 2015

Vince Guaraldi – A Charlie Brown ChristmasFrank Sinatra, infamously, once asked composer Hugh Martin to “jolly up” the lyrics to “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”. But then Frank Sinatra didn’t know diddly squat about Christmas, and never really made a good Christmas record. Far from an entirely jolly holiday, Christmas is supposed to have a tinge of loss about it, a nostalgia for lost childhood, sadness mixed with the joy.

Now, you’d expect a website with some sort of arty agenda to say that, seeking to ruin the perfectly jovial. But just look at the most beloved of American seasonal TV programmes, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and it’s exactly that bittersweet, that emotionally complicated. Feelings of alienation, disharmony and angst play as important parts as the warmth, spirituality and friendship; the show is about children, but the themes are surprisingly adult. It’s utterly unlike most animation at the time or since, anything but straightforward, corporate and rousing. And because of this, not in the least despite it, it’s lodged deep into the American psyche. Because people intuitively understand that Christmas is more than fake joy, more than (in a metaphor skillfully employed in the show) an aluminium tree.

A tremendous part of the lasting success and the emotional appeal of that show, now exacty 50 years old, is Vince Guaraldi’s amazing soundtrack. An artist who, in the words of show producer Lee Mendelson, was “simultaneously both adult and childlike”, who perfectly manages to convey the weltschmertz and the snowflakes, the dancing and the exasperation, the dissapointment and the beauty, all in the same tracks. “Christmas Time Is Here”, for instance, uses an amibguous chord structure to suggest both minor and major tonality, both sadness and joy. It’s an amazingly well-concieved soundtrack, that through its deep comprehension of the complexities has become an indispensable part of the season.

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As complex as Christmas should be

I don't think we foreigners quite understand how important this album and Vince Guaraldi is to Americans. It's one of the best-selling jazz albums ever, yet it's as emotionally complicated as anything. Christmas music can do this perhaps better than any other genre.

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