Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Thanksgiving comes early this year!

Big news, gang.


We’ve all held our breath since late last year, hoping that the reception for the Definitive, Super Deluxe Charlie Brown Christmas — and the recently discovered, isn’t-it-fabulous original session recordings that produced a superior soundtrack for Great Pumpkin -- would translate, moving forward, into additional releases from Guaraldi’s Peanuts canon.


It has come to pass.


October 20 will see the debut of the full soundtrack from A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, just in time for the 1973 special’s 50th anniversary: 13 themes and cues used in the show, along with nine never-before-heard bonus and alternative tracks. The album will be available in three states: CD, vinyl and digital download.


Check out the official press release here.


Pre-order the CD from MVD here.


Pre-order the standard (black vinyl) LP from MVD here.

Pre-order the above CD or LP from Amazon here and here.

Pre-order the special Record Store Day jelly bean green vinyl LP here.

Pre-order the Target exclusive cranberry vinyl LP here.

The track list:


Show score:

    1. Charlie Brown Blues

    2. Thanksgiving Theme

    3. Thanksgiving Theme (Reprise)

    4. Peppermint Patty

    5. Little Birdie

    6. Thanksgiving Interlude

    7. Is It James or Charlie?

    8. Linus and Lucy

    9. Fife & Drums Theme

    10. Charlie Brown Blues (Reprise)

    11. Thanksgiving Interlude (Reprise)

    12. Thanksgiving Theme (2nd Reprise)

    13. Thanksgiving Theme (3rd  Reprise)


Bonus/Alternate tracks:

    14. Thanksgiving Theme (Alternate)

    15. Peppermint Patty (Bonus Mix)

    16. Linus and Lucy (Bonus Mix)

    17. Thanksgiving Interlude (Alternate take 2, 4, and 6)

    18. Thanksgiving Interlude (Alternate take 10)

    19. Thanksgiving Interlude (Alternate take 14)

    20. Is It James or Charlie? (Bonus mix with Whistling)

    21. Clark and Guaraldi

Preview Track 16 here.

Preview Track 20 here.


The recording features Vince Guaraldi, piano, keyboards and vocals; Tom Harrell, trumpet and brass arrangements; Chuck Bennett, trombone; Seward McCain, electric bass; and Mike Clark, drums. The album is produced by Sean and Jason Mendelson, re-mixed by Terry Carleton at Bones and Knives, and restored and mastered/re-mastered by Vinson Hudson.


Avid Guaraldi fans have long regarded this Emmy Award-winning TV special as a favorite, which is no surprise; the show is wall-to-wall music, bouncing between acoustic and electric keyboards, going silent only during Linus’ gentle sermon about the first Thanksgiving (a speech almost as eloquent as the one he delivers in Charlie Brown Christmas).


That sequence aside, Guaraldi was allowed to stretch and supply longer cues, each one beginning as the previous one fades. The show boasts three new tunes, starting with a lyrical title theme constructed from acoustic piano filigrees that evoke the keyboard cascades in “Skating.” An impudent cue titled “Is It James or Charlie?” adds a bit of James Brown sass to the mix; and the stand-out newcomer is Guaraldi’s vocal on “Little Birdie,” played at length when Snoopy — tasked with setting up the outdoor dining arrangements — wrestles with a basketball net, a garage door, a ping-pong table and an impressively sentient folding chair. 


Returning cues include one of Guaraldi’s best arrangements of “Linus and Lucy,” with brass adding a spirited counterpoint to the primary theme, and also shading a new four-chord climb at the end of each verse’s fourth measure: heard while Snoopy orchestrates the Thanksgiving “dinner” of buttered toast, popcorn, pretzels, jelly beans and ice cream parfaits. “Peppermint Patty” gets a quiet, leisurely arrangement on electric keyboard: perfectly echoing the girl’s coquettish side, notably when she flirts with Charlie Brown over the phone, while inviting herself — and Marcie and Franklin — to a party that doesn’t yet exist. 


The show’s final reprise of the title theme introduces a sparkling brass counterpoint: a terrific conclusion to a half-hour of solid combo jazz.

What’s not to love?

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Affectionate nods

Fellow Guaraldi fan Scott alerted me to a pair of just-discovered tributes, which have eluded our sharp little eyes until now (rather surprising, since neither is recent).

Guaraldi's combo and Northern Irish singer-songwriter Van Morrison occasionally appeared together for not quite half a year, from December 1972 through April 1973. These gig dates are certain:

• December 1 — The Alhambra Theater, Sacramento, at a benefit to save that venerable movie palace (an effort that failed, alas)
• December 15 — Berkeley Community Theater
• February 5 — The Lion's Share, San Anselmo
• April 27-28 — Cal-Neva Lodge, North Lake Tahoe

The Lion's Share appearance was broadcast live by KPFA; bootlegs circulate freely, including here.

Unfortunately, as I note in my book, the collaboration proved rocky, at best.

“They went down to Santa Monica once,” Guaraldi's girlfriend Gretchen Katamay recalled. “Vince told me later that he had driven up to the venue, looked at the marquee, and was shocked to discover that his name wasn’t included.

“Another time, Vince was going to record an album with Van. Everybody was sitting in the studio, waiting for Van; an hour and a half went by, so Vince got up and walked out. It was ‘leader’s attitude.’ Even though Vince had it himself, he wasn’t going to put up with it from somebody else. It wasn’t that important.”

Morrison's “rock star” attitude notwithstanding, he obviously thought back fondly on the partnership, as the decades passed. His’s 2016 album, Keep Me Singing, includes “In Tiburon,” a poetic ode that name-checks the hungry i, the Trident, the Cliff House, Lenny Bruce, Chet Baker and Jack Kerouac, among others. 

Dr. Funk gets his own line, sung twice: “Vince Guaraldi would play ‘Cast Your Fate to the Wind’ in the distance.”

Full lyrics can be found here.


This one's a bit unusual.

In February 2012, poet, essayist and literary critic Robert Pinsky — former Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the U.S. Library of Congress — teamed with Grammy Award-winning jazz pianist/composer Laurence Hobgood, for an album titled PoemJazz. Pinsky “performs” his poetry with melody and rhythm, in a harmonic/counterpoint “conversation” with Hobgood’s keyboard work: a style that hearkens back to the 1950s beat poets. 

One of the album tracks, “Ginza Samba,” begins as an ode to the saxophone, and then expands into a wealth of poetic imagery. 

We all know that "Ginza Samba" — sometimes called just plain-vanilla "Ginza" — is one of Guaraldi's early compositions. And, indeed, the tune can be recognized during this March 11, 2013, performance at Boston University; Pinsky is joined by Hobgood, piano; Stan Strickland, saxes; and John Lockwood, bass. Pinsky acknowledges this collaboration's origins: "This next poem, 'Ginza Samba,' is taken from the name of an actual jazz tune." (No, he didn't cite Guaraldi by name.)

That said, the version on the 2012 album doesn't sound at all like Guaraldi's tune.

Pinsky subsequently published the piece in a 2014 collection titled Ginza Samba: Selected Poems. (The full text of the title poem can be read here.) He and Hobgood frequently performed the piece thereafter, and I suspect the latter's keyboard accompaniment varied each time; after all, that's the nature of jazz.

You just never know when — or where — another reference to Guaraldi will pop up...

Friday, February 17, 2023

Bits & bobs: Winter 2023

Late last year, I spent a delightful couple of hours chatting with Bill Carter, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania. As some of you know, he's also an accomplished jazz pianist who heads the swingin' Presbybop Quartet, making him a member of the small but wonderfully active "jazz praise" musicians' network.

Longtime followers of Guaraldi and this blog will recall that Bill spent a year getting ready for his church's 50th anniversary celebration of Guaraldi's Grace Cathedral Jazz Mass, which resulted in a marvelous September morning in 2015, as I related here.

Bill also has spent the last few years writing a book, Thriving on a Riff: Jazz and the Spiritual Life, soon to be published by Broadleaf Books. Partly as a means of spreading the word about this project, and partly because he so enjoys discussing the intersection of music (notably jazz) and religion, he was encouraged to "enhance his media presence." He therefore began a fortnightly podcast, The Spirit of Jazz, which has been going strong since last August.

(By now you must have realized that Bill is one of those individuals who rarely pauses to eat or sleep.)

He invited me to be a guest for one episode, but — because our conversation continued at considerable length — he wound up with enough material for two full episodes. (Neither of us can be accused of having little to say.) They are:

While you're visiting, be sure to check out his other episodes; they're all quite engaging (just like Bill himself).


Many months have passed, since the two new releases of Guaraldi's Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus were announced, back in September. So many months, in fact, that you've likely forgotten that Craft Recordings' Small Batch One-Step Pressing LP finally will be released next Friday, February 24. (New liner notes are supplied by someone I know fairly well.)

Orders can be placed here, or via Amazon, or — better still — request the album at your local brick-and-mortar music store, to help keep them in business!

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


“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


“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.