Friday, January 6, 2023

Chart success: 2022

After the excitement generated by last year's holiday-season sales of Guaraldi's soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas, the question was whether the results would be as spectacular this year.

Not quite ... but still very impressive.

Three Billboard charts held our attention this year:

• The Billboard 200, which tracks album sales across all platforms (the formula being 1,500 on-demand audio and/or video song streams = 10 tracks sales = 1 album sale);

Billboard's Top Album Sales, which preserves the traditional methodology of counting solely pure album sales (which is where all those variant vinyl LPs play an important role); and

Billboard's Hot 100, which tracks the popularity of individual songs.

Last year, A Charlie Brown Christmas rose to #6 on the Billboard 200. So, how did it do this year?

The album entered the chart (once again, a "re-entry") for the week of November 19, at #90. It quickly rose to #43 the following week, and then #17 on December 3. It entered the top 10 — at #10 — the next week, but dropped to #12 on December 17. Then it rallied, and rose to #9 on December 24 ... and then #8 on December 31. Alas, that proved to be its peak, as it dropped back to #10 during the week of January 7.

Ah, but the news was much better in the Top Album Sales chart, where A Charlie Brown Christmas entered at #11 on December 3. It rose to #7 the following week, and then to #5 on December 17 ... which surpassed the previous year's peak position (#6). But Vince wasn't finished; his album hit #2 (!) on December 24, trailing behind only Taylor Swift's Midnight.

We held our breath, and wondered ... could Charlie Brown overtake Ms. Swift the following week?

(Highly unlikely. A Charlie Brown Christmas sold 17,000 units that week, to achieve its #2 status ... while Midnight's sales were in the low six figures.)

Alas, A Charlie Brown Christmas dropped to #3 on December 31, and then to #8 on January 7.

UPDATE: It dropped to #40, for the week ending January 14. (Guaraldi vanished from the other two charts.)

The Hot 100 chart offered a bit of solace. "Linus and Lucy" popped up for one week, at #49 on December 31, giving that tune its second run on this chart, following the previous year's surprise appearance (at #37). It disappeared on January 7, when "Christmas Time Is Here" debuted, at #50. It, too, did better the previous year, with a two-week run (#48, then #41).

Albeit a bit disappointing, we must put this chart action in perspective; we're talking about music that was produced almost seven decades ago, by a jazz artist who's been dead for almost half a century. If that isn't unprecedented, it's certainly astonishing!

Sunday, November 27, 2022

A jolly Guaraldi holiday 2022

It's time once again for this annual round-up of Guaraldi-themed concerts taking place between now and the end of the year, most of which (of course!) are tied in to his music from A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Following 2020's much smaller list of streaming-only performances, things initially looked more promising last year. Numerous artists and groups optimistically scheduled live performances, most of which took place as planned. Some, alas, were derailed by Covid's mid- to late December "winter bounce." 

Although we definitely aren't out of the woods yet — with hospitals and caregivers currently getting slammed by the terrible trio of Covid, annual flu and RSV — we seem to have decided, to borrow that wonderful phrase from the British, to keep calm and carry on. This year's roster of performances already is approaching the impressive pre-pandemic numbers. Some musicians no doubt will be masked; some clubs likely will insist that patrons take similar precautions. That said — to borrow yet another famous phrase — the shows will go on. Indeed, some groups have booked impressively lengthy schedules.

Even so, it'll be best to keep an eye on the web site(s) of any artist and/or venue that catches your fancy, to determine if the schedule has shifted.

I first traced the history and growth of this delightful annual tradition back in 2012, with a modest schedule that now seems quaint. This year's post will serve as a clearinghouse for any and all 2022 concerts that come to my attention. As always, I'll add to this schedule as new information becomes available, so you'll want to check back frequently. New entries and listings will be tagged as UPDATES

Let's dig in!

• The Eric Byrd Trio — Byrd, piano and vocals; Bhagwan Khalsa, acoustic bass; and Alphonso Young Jr., drums and percussion — has made a cottage industry of Guaraldi's Charlie Brown Christmas music, having thus far released two cover albums: a 2009 studio project, and a 2021 live performance. Both are available here. Byrd's combo began its 10-show run on November 26, with upcoming performances in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., concluding Friday, December 23, at the Weinberg Center for the Arts, in Frederick, Maryland. Details.

Doc Watkins and his Orchestra began their month-long Christmas in Jazz tributes to the music from A Charlie Brown Christmas at San Antonio's JazzTX, Texas, on November 25. Upcoming shows include December 1-4, 8-11, 15-18 and 20-22. Details. They also scheduled a December 14 performance at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, also in San Antonio. Details. The icing on the cake: Watkins just released a terrific new album, The Music of A Charlie Brown Christmas. Check it out!

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Publicity galore!

(Please forgive the total lack of modesty in what follows. I'll try to keep the bubbling enthusiasm under control, but — really — this is new territory.)

The recent — and still upcoming — releases of the new-and-improved score for It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown, along with the Super Deluxe five-disc collection of music and studio sessions for A Charlie Brown Christmas, have generated a wholly unexpected degree of interest from some high-profile web and print publications.

I suddenly found myself in demand as a "hot get" interview subject ... which is to say, folks came after me, rather than — as was the case when my Guaraldi biography was published, back in 2012 — my having to cold-call jazz radio stations across the country, hoping to find sympathetic DJs willing to plug the book.

To borrow a marvelous line from Chuck Mangione back in the day, when confronted by a massive sold-out venue that he couldn't have imagined, even a few years earlier: "Mother never said there'd be a day like this."

Taking them in publication order:

I had fun chatting with Tony Sokol, at Den of Geek; some of his questions were a bit silly and arch — as befits their style — but they were just as fun to answer, as his more serious queries.

Erik Adams, at Indiewire, probed deep into the back-story of It's the Great Pumpkin, and he emerged with one of the best-researched, engaging and superbly written stories I've ever encountered.

Next up was something I didn't even realize was on my bucket list, until it occurred: Getting interviewed by Variety was an honor all by itself. The fact that the interviewer was Jon Burlingame — The Man, when it comes to soundtrack history and analysis, and author of numerous books including TV's Biggest Hits, The Music of James Bond, and the upcoming Music for Prime Time (all of which I own, or will own) — was akin to getting an audience with the Dalai Lama. Like, wow...


On a more local level, I shared microphones with Sean and Jason Mendelson for a captivating episode of the public affairs radio show Davisville, hosted by Bill Buchanan. (It's a shame the show couldn't have expanded to include the lively chatter before and after taping, which was just as entertaining and informative.)

And Fate had one more surprise in store. When I received the LP copies of Great Pumpkin and the double-disc Charlie Brown Christmas highlights, I was astonished to see that the promotional sticker, attached to the plastic wrap, cited me for the liner notes. How often does that happen?

My understanding is that one more major publicity/promotional event will live-stream toward the end of this month. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Playing for Peanuts

Sunday afternoon was way too much fun.

Constant Companion and I were among the full house present at Santa Rosa’s Luther Burbank Center for the Arts this past Sunday, October 9, for the world premiere of Playing for Peanuts: The Music of Vince Guaraldi.

 

Jazz pianist David Benoit, well regarded as the primo torchbearer for Guaraldi’s Peanuts legacy, along with his trio — Roberto Vally, bass; and Dan Schnelle, drums — were joined by the impressively large Santa Rosa Symphony. (Honestly, I’m not quite sure how all those musicians fit onto the comparatively small stage.) The Symphony was directed by Francesco Lecce-Chong, although Michael Berkowitz earned the spotlight as Principal Pops Conductor (beginning his final season with the Symphony).

 

Berkowitz was an ideal choice as conductor; he’s almost as animated as Bill Melendez’s TV special renditions of Charlie Brown and his friends.

 

This ambitious project has been a collaborative effort, for the past couple of years, between Benoit, Sean Mendelson and Jason Mendelson. Designing, developing and fine-tuning these new orchestrations of Guaraldi’s music — all arranged by Benoit — kept all three occupied while they were sequestered by Covid.

 

Their approach was quite clever: blending Guaraldi’s iconic themes — along with equally delightful, but lesser-known score cues — into themed “medleys.” The long-term goal is to take these new orchestrations “on the road,” and also to make them available for orchestral units across the United States (and anywhere else in the world). For the most part, the medley sequencing is immaterial, as is the decision on how many to include in a given performance by an ensemble of any size. Two, three or four medleys could serve as one-third of an orchestral performance; alternatively, many could be blended to make a two-hour Peanuts Guaraldi extravaganza.

 

Sunday’s Santa Rosa performance, at slightly more than an hour, came somewhere in the middle.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Orpheus rising ... again!

Between the new and improved score for It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (released on August 26) and the five-disc “Definitive, Super Deluxe Edition” of A Charlie Brown Christmas (coming on October 14), this already has been a banner year for Guaraldi fans.

 

As the old television advertising catch-phrase promised … But wait, there’s more!

 

Craft Recordings will release two enhanced editions of Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus in the next several months.

 

First up is the two-CD Deluxe Edition, scheduled for release on November 18. It also will be available in a digital configuration, and a three-disc vinyl format, the latter expected to ship by February 24, 2023. This edition features oodles of bonus tracks.

 

It will be followed by a Small Batch, One-Step Pressing vinyl edition of the original album (no bonus tracks), also expected to ship by February 24, 2023.


Additional details about both can be found here, and do check out this sleek promotion video.

 

I’ll also supply some pertinent data.



The Deluxe Edition features 16 bonus tracks, 12 released for the first time, with outtakes and alternate takes of nearly every track on the original 1962 LP. The package is produced by Nick Phillips, and includes new in-depth liner notes by Andrew Gilbert, a veteran jazz writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Jose Mercury News, KQED Arts and other outlets.

 

The track list is as follows, in the two-CD configuration:

 

Disc 1:

“Samba de Orfeu” 5:42

“Manhã de Carnaval” 5:50

“O Nosso Amor” 4:56

“Felicidade” 4:49

“Cast Your Fate to the Wind” 3:10

“Moon River” 5:21

“Alma-Ville” 5:00

“Since I Fell for You” 4:23

ALTERNATE TAKES

“Samba de Orfeu” (Short Version: Take 1, Set 3, Previously Unreleased) 3:29

“Samba de Orfeu” (Long Version: Take 1, Set 3, Previously Unreleased) 5:48

“Manhã de Carnaval” (Take 1, Set 3, Previously Unreleased) 6:32

“Manhã de Carnaval” (Take 2, Set 3) 6:17

 

Disc 2:

“O Nosso Amor” (Take 1, Set 3, Previously Unreleased) 5:08

“O Nosso Amor” (Take 2, Set 4) 5:00

“Felicidade” (Take 2, Set 2) 4:55

“Felicidade” (Take 4, Set 3 Previously Unreleased) 4:58

“Cast Your Fate to the Wind” (Take 2, Previously Unreleased) 3:02

“Cast Your Fate to the Wind” (Take 3) 3:04

“Cast Your Fate to the Wind” (Take 5, Previously Unreleased) 3:00

“Alma-Ville” (Take 2, Previously Unreleased) 5:03

“Since I Fell for You” (Take 3, Previously Unreleased) 4:21

OUTTAKES

“Jitterbug Waltz” (Take 1, Previously Unreleased) 6:53

“Jitterbug Waltz” (Take 1A, Previously Unreleased) 6:25

“Jitterbug Waltz” (Take 2A, Previously Unreleased) 6:36


Preview "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" (Take 5, Previously Unreleased) here.


(As wonderful as all these freshly released takes are, it's a shame this package doesn't include Ella Jamerson's vocal version of "Cast Your Fate to the Wind," backed by Guaraldi's trio, which still remains unreleased. That would have been a particularly delectable bonus.)

 

********



The Small Batch edition is limited to 3,000 copies worldwide. Each pressing is individually numbered and encased in a foil-stamped, linen-wrapped slipcase featuring an acrylic inset of the original artwork. The vinyl disc — extractable through a frictionless ribbon pull-tab — is housed in a reproduction of the album’s original, tip-on jacket and protected by an archival-quality, anti-static, non-scratching inner sleeve. 

 

This edition has new liner notes by Yours Truly, who is jazzed to note (apologies for the lack of modesty) that Craft’s publicity regards me as “the foremost Guaraldi historian.” That’s pretty cool.


So … fatten up your bank account, because it’s gonna be an expensive couple of months! 

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Vinyl madness 2022

Here we go again...

The vinyl variants of the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack album — an annual merchandising gimmick that has been going strong since 2015 — obviously have been selling well. Concord must be pleased ... particularly since it's quite likely that these sales helped push the album to its spectacular position on the Billboard charts last December, as detailed in this earlier post.

This year's batch will bring the overall total to somewhere slightly north of three dozen, which is astonishing. (And I wonder how many folks have all of them...!)

Important detail: All of these variants will use the album's original mix and mastering, not the new 2022 mix coming with the Deluxe Edition in October.

Let's take a look at what's in store for this holiday season. All items cited below will hit stores on Friday, September 16.


Concord/Craft will tempt us with this lovely "skating pond" vinyl.



Target's green and gold disc will be packaged with a special poster.


Barnes & Noble has a gorgeous picture disc, with different images on the two sides.




Urban Outfitters features this tantalizing red and green "splatter" vinyl.

Walmart has this intriguing red vinyl, with gold flecks.





This "snowstorm" disc is a Record Store Day "Essential."



Finally, vinylmeplease was a late entry, with this olive-green disc.

(I dunno ... olive green just doesn't say "Christmas" to me!)

This is all I know about at the moment, but it's entirely possible that one or more additional outlets will jump on board, as autumn proceeds. If so, I'll add them to this post ... so keep checking back.



Saturday, August 20, 2022

The ghost of Christmas past

Sit back, folks. This post has been a long time coming, and what follows is detailed. 

It's also huge.

I was prompted to finally finish this research after noting — with pleasure — the enthusiastic and rapidly expanding chatter in several audio forums, regarding the just-announced release of the 5-disc mega-set of music from A Charlie Brown Christmas. I've also seen a few probing questions, and received a few e-mails on the same subject, regarding what is and isn't included in the set, and (in a few cases) lamenting the apparent absence of tracks such as "Air Music" (aka "Surfin' Snoopy"), "Charlie Brown Theme" and a few others.

Allow me to clarify such issues, while (hopefully) finally putting some theories and speculations to bed.

To repeat the essential details of Craft Recordings' press release, and my previous post, the prize items within this mega-set are five complete studio recording sessions — full alternate song versions, blown takes, false starts and occasional chatter between the musicians — taking place between September 17 and October 28, 1965, which produced the bulk of the Fantasy soundtrack album. This music must be distinguished, in at least some cases, from the music that was used in the TV special itself, which almost certainly involved cherry-picking cues from other (different) recording sessions, very likely involving different sidemen. (Remember, four sets of sidemen have claimed to be involved with this TV score and/or album, and — because Fantasy kept such poor records — it's impossible to positively state who laid down what, and when, and whether it was used, and where. So let's not go there.)

Let's instead start with the bombshell, a detail already known to some of you, but not all:

The version of A Charlie Brown Christmas that we've all been watching for decades, whether via TV reruns, VHS tapes, DVDs, Blu-rays or streaming options, is not what viewers saw on December 9, 1965.

At some point — likely in the spring or summer of 1966, prior to the special's repeat that December — Lee Mendelson and Bill Melendez went back and "spiffed up" the show.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Christmas comes early!



If the upcoming release of the newly discovered Great Pumpkin score made your eyes sparkle...

...as the old Hollywood saying goes, You ain't seen nuthin' yet.

Craft Recordings has just announced what they're (modestly) calling the "Definitive, Super Deluxe Edition of A Charlie Brown Christmas."

And, honestly, the hyperbole for this five-disc set is justified.

While audiophiles likely will salivate over Disc 5's Blu-Ray Audio 2022 stereo mix and 2022 Dolby Atmos mix of the original 1965 album, the set's true buried treasures will be found on Discs 2 through 4: five original studio recording sessions, taking place between September 17 and October 28 that year, during which most of the album's tracks — and particularly Guaraldi's original tunes — were shaped, rehearsed, modified and occasionally fluffed.

The new stereo mix, along with 13 of the best alternate takes, also is available on a Deluxe Edition double-LP and CD.

The release date for everything above originally was scheduled for October 14.

UPDATE: As of October 4, the single-disc edition has been delayed to November 4, and the five-disc Definitive, Super-Deluxe Edition has been delayed to December 2.

Full details can be found within Craft's press release, which debuts today.

Check out the promotional video here.

As I discuss, within the 56-page booklet that accompanies this release, some of Guaraldi's new songs — notably "Christmas Time Is Here" — began life quite close to the version we know and love today. Others, such as "Skating" and "Christmas Is Coming," had a difficult birth, as Guaraldi wrestled with different bridges and ways to conclude them.

These sessions haven't been edited to remove commentary — and occasional bursts of frustration — between Guaraldi and his sidemen; you'll hear everything precisely as it all occurred, as if you were sitting alongside the recording engineer.

Three tracks are available to preview:




Now — in an effort to forestall some pointed questions — let's discuss what will not be found within this set:

These are, almost entirely, album studio sessions — exceptions noted below — which must be distinguished from the additional sessions (likely with different sidemen) that produced the score as heard in the TV special. (I know this can seem confusing, but they are two entirely different animals.) TV versions of some cues display subtle differences, and — thus far — those studio sessions have yet to be located.

On the other hand, Disc 3 does include one session with the young members of San Rafael's St. Paul's Church Choir, who "doubled" the young actors who voiced Charlie Brown and his friends, when they sing "Christmas Time Is Here." The take which ultimately is accepted appears both on the album, and in the TV special.

And yes: Disc 3 also includes Guaraldi's different versions of "Jingle Bells," as an increasingly annoyed Schroeder attempts to please Lucy. (And even Guaraldi doesn't get each version right, the first time!)

Sadly, the reel(s) for the choir's additional session(s) — which produced the vocal versions of "My Little Drum" and "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing — have yet to be located ... and, believe me, folks looked hard. Ergo, you also won't find those in this set.

But that's hardly cause for major complaint, when we have — as just one example — 16 takes (!) of "Christmas Is Coming," as Guaraldi and his sidemen shape this rockin' tune into its final format.

I had a blast, earlier this year, listening to all of this stuff while writing up fresh liner notes.

I'm sure you gentle readers will be just as jazzed.
 

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

This definitely isn't a rock!


I've been sitting on this information since December.

Craft Recordings went public with the news today, which makes it fair game for this blog.

As I describe in my fresh liner notes, this is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow: the sigh of rapturous satisfaction from Guaraldi fans who for decades believed — nay, insisted — that original Great Pumpkin recording session tapes must exist. Somewhere.

(Yes, I had to borrow a note from one of Charles Schulz's most famous quotes: With this set of liner notes, I had to write the same thing without repeating myself. You can tell me whether I succeeded.)

I guess we can thank Covid.

Assuming one managed to escape getting sick, pandemic-enforced isolation had a few benefits, such as encouraging some of us to finally tackle massive, long-postponed projects of one sort or another. Honestly, what else were we able to do with our time?

The folks over at Lee Mendelson Film Productions spent a year and change spelunking in the darkest corners of their voluminous archives. Marvelous Guaraldi artifacts — some believed lost forever — were unearthed.

This is the first.

Craft's official announcement includes quite a lot of detail, so check it out.

Craft also released a short promo video, which can be seen here. (And I was pleasantly surprised by the shout-out.)

This release actually is better than we could have hoped for, because it includes a number of alternate takes ... and, yes, full-length versions of iconic Peanuts themes heard only partially during the TV special.

"The Great Pumpkin Waltz" (Alternate Take 2) can be heard on various digital platforms, including YouTube.

Barring supply-chain issues, all formats should be available on August 26.

The sole vexing note is that the cover of this new release is almost identical to its inferior 2018 predecessor; fans will need to be extremely careful — particularly with online orders — when purchasing a copy. Yes, the 2022 copyright date is helpful; and yes, the presence of the aforementioned alternates takes, in the track list, is a giveaway. But the quickest distinction is that the 2018 release is called "Music from the soundtrack" (above the album title), whereas the 2022 release is an "Original soundtrack recording."

Even so, I do fear that some casual buyers may not look that closely.

To anticipate the obvious next question, yes, there may be more to come. The Mendelson vaults have yet to be fully archived, and future plans also will depend upon this release's sales (so tell all of your friends and family members to buy one!).

Meanwhile, Linus would be pleased: The Great Pumpkin really did show up this time!

UPDATE 8/26: Although CDs are "in the world" as of today, the street date of the vinyl versions has been bumped back to September 9.


Friday, May 20, 2022

Another sales milestone!

Guaraldi’s soundtrack to 1965’s A Charlie Brown Christmas has just been certified quintuple platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

 

Back in the day, such a count would have been tabulated by physical album sales: LPs and CDs. The RIAA included streams beginning in February 2016, so this Charlie Brown Christmas milestone is based on more than 4 million copies purchased over various formats, and 1.14 billion streams.

 

(The formula is 1,500 on-demand audio and/or video song streams = 10 track sales = 1 album sale.)

 

As always gets mentioned in the same breath, this makes A Charlie Brown Christmas the second-best-selling jazz album of all time, behind Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, which went quintuple platinum in 2019. And as I always point out — most recently in this post, when A Charlie Brown Christmas went quadruple platinum in December 2016 — these RIAA figures are based mostly on electronically recorded sales made subsequent to 1991, when Neilsen SoundScan began tracking data. Clearly, Guaraldi’s album sold many, many copies during the previous quarter-century … but because Fantasy’s record-keeping was so sloppy during those earlier years, a precise figure has been impossible to determine.

 

It’s therefore entirely possible that Guaraldi’s album has surpassed Kind of Blue … but we can only speculate. (In fairness, Davis’ album also sold plenty of copies prior to 1991.)

 

Meanwhile, this is merely the latest in a long line of accolades showered upon Guaraldi’s score. The album first was certified platinum in 1996; was inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2007; and was added to the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry in 2012. Just last December, as detailed in this post, the album reached its highest-ever Billboard chart position, 56 years after its original release. Nor can we overlook Billboard citing A Charlie Brown Christmas at the top of its 50-position Greatest of All Time Holiday Albums List (followed, for those who are curious, by Michael Bublé’s Christmas, Mariah Carey’s Merry Christmas, and Mannheim Steamroller’s A Fresh Aire Christmas and Christmas).


Good ol’ Charlie Brown may not have shone during baseball and football place-kicking, but he’s certainly no slouch when it comes to album sales!