Vince Guaraldi’s music for “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” perhaps the most beloved of all holiday specials, is getting a surprising new multi-disc release thanks to the recent discovery of long-forgotten tape reels in the Fantasy Records vaults.
The 1965 “Charlie Brown Christmas” soundtrack ranks among the best-selling jazz albums of all time, having been recently certified 5-times platinum by the RIAA. It was the first of 15 TV specials scored by the San Francisco-based pianist, best known for his Grammy-winning 1962 instrumental “Cast Your Fate to the Wind.”
Most elaborate of the new Craft Recordings packages is the Super Deluxe Edition, consisting of a new stereo mix of the 11-track album and a remastering of the original 1965 version; three full discs of the original recording sessions from September and October 1965, in which Guaraldi, his drummer and bassist developed the various themes; and a fifth, high-resolution Blu-Ray audio disc.
It’s already out in digital form. The full physical package, including a 59-page hardcover book with extensive notes by Guaraldi biographer Derrick Bang, will be released on Dec. 2. The 2-LP, CD and digital Deluxe Edition, also out now, consists of the original 1965 album plus excerpts from the recording sessions. There is also a limited-edition Gold Foil version available on vinyl.
According to Jason Mendelson, son of longtime “Charlie Brown” producer Lee Mendelson (who died in 2019), the search for original Guaraldi masters began as they prepared for the 50th-anniversary airing of the original Christmas special in 2015. “I was just trying to find the best source material I could, something other than just the show masters,” he recalls.
Only when the pandemic hit did those searches prove fruitful. Mendelson wanted to release a complete album of Guaraldi’s “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” (third of the specials featuring Charles M. Schulz’s beloved “Peanuts” characters) after boxes of quarter-inch tape were found; Craft Recordings issued that album earlier this year.
The “Charlie Brown Christmas” soundtrack turned out to be a perennial best-seller for Fantasy Records, whose vaults contained most of the original recordings, also on quarter-inch tape.
Fifty-eight of the 80 tracks on the multi-disc set are Guaraldi’s trio working through the various compositions, including “Skating” (the waltz-time snowfall music in the show), “Christmas Is Coming” (the bossa-nova number to which Linus, Lucy and Snoopy dance during rehearsals of the Christmas pageant Charlie Brown is directing) and “Christmas Time Is Here” (the song that Guaraldi wrote with Lee Mendelson, sung by a small children’s choir).
Also included are multiple takes of Guaraldi’s definitive piano arrangements of “O Tannenbaum” and “Greensleeves” as well as “Linus and Lucy,” his most familiar theme and the one heard in all the “Peanuts” specials over the years.
Guaraldi biographer Bang reports that the young singers on “Christmas Time Is Here” were children from the St. Paul’s Church Choir in San Rafael, Calif., some of whom still remember being paid $5 and being treated to ice cream after their recording sessions. Listening to the kids sing, hum and laugh during rehearsals is a special treat of the new album package.
“The music evokes that feeling of sincerity and innocence that is so universal, and which has kept the show relevant, and the music important, for 57 years,” says Mendelson. “It gives you that feeling of the holidays.”
Bang recalls watching the original show in his pajamas on the night of Dec. 9, 1965. He was 10 years old. “The music just blew me away, it was so perfect,” he says. “Lee Mendelson said more than once that he was convinced that, had it not been for Guaraldi’s input, they would not have had a series.
“That album,” Bang adds, “has become an integral part of the American celebration of Christmas and the holidays in general, as much as putting up a tree or lighting a menorah or opening presents.”
Guaraldi died in 1976. He was only 47, and during his lifetime released only three albums of “Peanuts” music: the “Christmas” album; “Jazz Impressions of a Boy Named Charlie Brown,” music from an unreleased Mendelson documentary; and “Oh Good Grief,” a 1968 collection of themes from the first five specials.
As for the music of other classic “Charlie Brown” specials discovered in the vaults, Mendelson says, “We found a lot of great stuff, including alternate versions and songs written for the shows that have never been heard. Stay tuned.”
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