It may seem a little preemptive to be speaking about Christmas releases in the middle of the summer however in the recording business if you don’t have your Christmas releases ready to go by the end of summer you’ve missed the boat. With that in mind a few days ago we got news from Craft Recordings that they will be releasing a special vinyl edition of one of the most iconic jazz releases of all time and one that perhaps younger jazz fans would have never heard of, “A Charlie Brown Christmas”, Vince Guaraldi Trio’s enduring soundtrack to the 1965 Peanuts animated special.
To illustrate just how popular this album was, Guaraldi’s soundtrack, has since it’s original release become one of the best-selling jazz albums in history, second only to Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, and regularly ranks among America’s top-selling holiday albums every December. In 2016, A Charlie Brown Christmas was certified 4x platinum by the RIAA, while last year, A Charlie Brown Christmas entered the Billboard 200’s Top Ten for the very first time—55 years after its initial release. The album has also been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and added to the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry.
It all began in 1964 when producer Lee Mendelson set out to make a TV documentary about cartoonist Charles M. Schulz, the creator of the immensely popular Peanuts comic strip. For the film’s score, he hired Bay Area jazz artist Vince Guaraldi, a fast-rising star who had recently earned a Grammy® for his instrumental crossover hit, “Cast Your Fate to the Wind.” Although A Boy Named Charlie Brown never made it to the airwaves, Mendelson was struck by Guaraldi’s sophisticated cues and the soundtrack for the unaired documentary was released on Fantasy Records.
The pair had the chance to collaborate again just one year later when A Charlie Brown Christmas was greenlit for holiday programming. Working primarily with bassist Fred Marshall and drummer Jerry Granelli, Guaraldi brought the animated characters to life with his music, pairing inspired interpretations of traditional yuletide fare (“O Tannenbaum,” “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” “What Child Is This”) with original compositions, including the iconic “Linus and Lucy” theme, “Skating,” and “Christmas Time Is Here.” The latter song, available as both an instrumental and vocal track, featured young choral singers from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in San Rafael, CA.
While TV executives were wary of the unconventional special, which featured the voices of child actors, a jazz score, and no laugh track (among other concerns), their worries proved to be unfounded—and then some. Airing December 9, 1965, A Charlie Brown Christmas captured nearly half of the nation’s TV audience and garnered broad critical acclaim. 50 years later, the Emmy®- and Peabody®-winning special, which now streams on Apple TV+, continues to be a holiday tradition and has spawned more than two dozen subsequent Peanuts specials.
Guaraldi, who continued to score Peanuts specials until his death in 1976, had an immeasurable impact on the generations of young people who watched or listened to A Charlie Brown Christmas. “Guaraldi showed how a piano, bass, and drums can capture a feeling and character in living color, particularly if those feelings are complex, conflicted, or even simply too beautiful for words,” wrote Los Angeles Times in 2012. “It’s the kind of realization that, even unconsciously, opens the door for later discoveries in Bill Evans, Thelonious Monk, Robert Glasper, and everything beyond.” Ranking the album at No.4 in their 2019 round-up of the Greatest Christmas Albums of All Time, Rolling Stone added that the album has “become some of the most visually evocative American music.”
Now available for pre-order, this collectible release reimagines the album’s classic jacket, wrapping it in an elegant silver foil. The embossed PEANUTS characters on the cover, meanwhile, have never been more striking as they gather around the Christmas Tree. The limited-edition pressing hits stores on October 1st.
More information and pre-orders can be made here.
Last modified: July 21, 2021