Monday, November 19, 2012

A Jolly Guaraldi Holiday

As the first decade of the 21st century drew to a close, several bands and performance entities throughout the country began to offer what has grown into something of a holiday habit: concerts of music from Guaraldi's score for A Charlie Brown Christmas. California's Pasadena Jazz Institute was one of the first, with 2008's presentation of It's a Charlie Brown Christmas: The Music of Vince Guaraldi; the concert featured the David Arnay Jazz Trio. Starting in 2009, a New York theater company — Road Less Traveled Productions — adapted the entire TV special for the stage, with Guaraldi's music performed by the Julie Arlotta Jazz Trio.

Much more visibly, jazz pianist and Concord recording artist David Benoit has been touring his own ambitious Charlie Brown Christmas show for several years; the 2011 tour kicked off in late November at the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe in Incline Village, Nevada, and later touched down at venues in California, New York, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, New Mexico, Washington, Georgia and Washington, D.C. We caught last year's performance in Livermore, California, and I can report that it's a great show. It's also tremendously sweet, since Benoit and his team work with a children's choir that is local to each venue.

Benoit is part of the Dave Koz and Friends Christmas show this year, and therefore won't be touring his own production, but keep an eye out for 2013.

Meanwhile, we do have numerous other options for this year. One ambitious tour is being mounted by jazz pianist Jim Martinez, with whom I've shared a stage twice this past year. He has a great feel for Guaraldi's touch, and also is an engaging performer with plenty of anecdotes to sprinkle throughout a concert. He often appears with vocalist Laura Didier, who delivers a truly soulful reading of "Christmas Time Is Here." Jim's Music from A Charlie Brown Christmas show kicks off November 24 at Southgate, Michigan; additional appearances have been scheduled for venues in North Carolina and California. Check his web site for details.

The biggest gig on his tour is the one belonging to the illustration at the top of this article — December 19, in Berkeley, California — when Jim will be joined by former Guaraldi sidemen Eddie Duran and Dean Reilly. And if you decide to attend, you might bump into me, as well.

The Eric Byrd Trio also has made a cottage industry of Guaraldi's Christmas music, going so far as to cover most of the album in a 2009 release. Byrd's combo has taken its Charlie Brown Christmas Show on the road for several years now, mostly in Maryland. 2012 gigs begin in Salisbury, MD (December 5), and conclude with three shows in Westminster, MD, on December 14-15. One additional bonus performance will take place December 21, at the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. Check his website for details.

The Ornaments, a jazz trio based in Nashville, Tennessee, released their cover of Guaraldi's album in late 2011; they delivered a mini-tour that year, and they're doing the same thing this year. They have six dates booked between December 18 and 22, most at The Family Wash, a family-style restaurant in East Nashville. Check their Facebook page for details.

The Cartoon Christmas Trio doesn't concentrate solely on music from A Charlie Brown Christmas; they also pepper their performances with tunes from other animated holiday shows, such as Frosty the Snowman and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. I love their album, and they have a busy touring schedule this year, throughout Pennsylvania. Check their website for details.

Other groups also are getting into the act, and I'll cite them below, and add to this list as new information becomes available (so do check back on occasion). Be advised, though, that these are listings, not endorsements. Not having heard any of these other acts, I'm not in a position to judge (as opposed to Jim Martinez and David Benoit, about whom my enthusiasm knows no bounds).

• Charlie Brown Jazz Christmas, with the John Milham Jazz Trio; Friday, November 30, during Canton's Light Festival at the Canton First Baptist Church Family Life Center, in Canton, Mississippi. Details.

• Charlie Brown Jazz Christmas; Saturday, December 1, at the Mississippi Children's Museum in Jackson, Mississippi. Details. [same combo — the John Milham Jazz Trio — as the November 30 show]

It's a Jazzy Christmas: A Celebration of Vince Guaraldi's Holiday Jazz Music, with the Peanut Gallery Jazz Trio; Sunday, December 2, at the Massry Center for the Arts in Albany, New York. Details.

Charlie Brown Jazz Christmas; Friday, December 7, at the Laurel Little Theater in Laurel, Mississippi. Details[same combo — the John Milham Jazz Trio — as the November 30 and December 1 shows]

• Charlie Brown Jazz Christmas; Saturday, December 8, at Murphy High School's Delaney Auditorium, in Mobile, Alabama. Details[the John Milham Jazz Trio again]

• Charlie Brown Jazz Christmas; Sunday, December 9, at Faulkner State Campus' Giddens Auditorium, in Fairhope, Alabama. Details[the John Milham Jazz Trio again]

A Charlie Brown Christmas, with the Heather Pierson Quartet; Sunday, December 9, at the Medallion Opera House in Gorham, New Hampshire. Details.

A Charlie Brown Christmas, with the Michelle Schumann Trio; Sunday, December 9, at the Austin Chamber Music Center in Austin, Texas. Details.

• A Charlie Brown Christmas, with the Jose Gonzales Trio; Tuesday, December 11, at the Rainier Chapter House in Seattle, Washington. Details.

• A Charlie Brown Christmas, with the Heather Pierson Quartet; Thursday, December 13, at Pitman's Freight Room in Laconia, New Hampshire. Details.

• A Charlie Brown Christmas, with the Heather Pierson Quartet; Friday, December 14, at the Leura Hill Eastman Performing Arts Center in Fryeburg, Maine. Details.

• A Charlie Brown Christmas, with the Heather Pierson Quartet; Saturday, December 15, at The Lily Pad in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Details.

• Jeffrey Butzer & T.T. Mahony Perform Vince Guaraldi's A Charlie Brown Christmas; Saturday, December 15, at The Earl, Atlanta, Georgia. Details.

A Charlie Brown Christmas Extravaganza, with an unidentified band performing while the TV special is shown on a wall; Saturday, December 15, at Back to the Grind, 3575 University Avenue, Riverside, California. Details.

• A Charlie Brown Christmas in Norway (!), with the Heather Pierson Quartet; Sunday, December 16, at the First Universalist Church of Norway, in Maine. Details.

• Jeffrey Butzer & T.T. Mahony Perform Vince Guaraldi's A Charlie Brown Christmas; Sunday, December 16, at the Bottletree Cafe in Birmingham, Alabama. Details.

Sunday Serenades: A Charlie Brown Christmas with jazz saxophonist Karl Stabnau; Sunday, December 16, at the Brighton Memorial Library in Rochester, New York. Details.

• Jeffrey Butzer & T.T. Mahony Perform Vince Guaraldi's A Charlie Brown Christmas; Friday, December 21, at the Bottletree Cafe in Birmingham, Alabama. Details.

A Charlie Brown Christmas and Other Seasonal Music, with the MASK Quartet; Saturday, December 22, at Parlor 88 East, Springfield, Missouri. Details.

Ring in the Holidays (some Guaraldi content), with the Eric Mintel Quartet; Saturday, December 22, at the Sellersville Theater, Sellersville, Pennsylvania. Details.

That's it for the moment ... but stay tuned!

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Schulz Museum Guaraldi Extravaganza

I tend to be cautious with my anticipation, having found that modest expectations more often lead to pleasant surprises. This is particularly true of first-time events with plenty of variables, and such was the case with the collaborative show David Benoit and I designed for the Charles M. Schulz Museum last Saturday, November 3.

Questions abounded. Would we get enough people to fill the seats in the Museum's spacious Great Hall? Would we get too many people, leading to frustration and standing-room-only in the upper balcony? Would the acoustics be suitable for a solo pianist? Would David and I "banter" well, during the course of our back-and-forth format? And (always my most paranoid fear) would audience members chuckle in the right places ... and not laugh in the wrong places?

My wife Gayna and I arrived at the Museum shortly before noon, giving us plenty of time to enjoy a light lunch at the adjacent Warm Puppy Café. We then returned to the Museum, where Education Director Jessica Ruskin was overseeing last-minute arrangements (and believe me when I say that Jessica deserves oodles of credit for attending to all possible details). David and his family — wife Kei and daughter June — arrived shortly after 1 p.m. He and I went over a few final tweaks, having nailed down the music set list via e-mail during the previous few weeks. He had a few anecdotes to insert before or after specific songs; I adjusted my narrative accordingly. 

(Actually, he and I filled an enthusiastic half-hour trading stories about our childhoods, after discovering that he and I grew up in the same Southern California region, and that he and his family now live only a few miles from where I spent all my teenage years. Small world, indeed!)

David Benoit and his daughter, June, rehearsed their one shared number while Museum
visitors (unseen, upstairs and to the left) watched with curiosity and delight. These
proceedings also were observed by Museum Education Director Jessica Ruskin,
center left, and a Museum docent.
We then entered the Great Hall, where a tuner had just finished prepping the gorgeous 9-foot grand piano; even David was impressed by the splendor of this ebony beast. He spent about half an hour running through chords and sections from the various songs, then pronounced himself satisfied with the instrument.

Museum visitors had the bonus of being able to watch all this unfold, since the Great Hall is readily visible from various vantage points. And even when the bulk of the hall was roped off, as the rows of chairs were set up, folks in the exhibit areas on both floors were able to see and hear everything we did.

That was pretty much it, for rehearsal ... and it's equally important to note that, aside from the 15 minutes or so I referenced in the paragraph above, David and I never rehearsed how we'd "pass the baton" between ourselves, as the show progressed. I figured spontaneity would be better than getting hung up on specific dialogue.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Win a free "Charlie Brown Christmas" CD!

The folks at Fantasy Records have teamed with the jazz gurus at, to offer folks an opportunity to obtain a copy of the just-released, newly remastered CD version of Vince Guaraldi's A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Entering the contest couldn't be easier. You'll find the AllAboutJazz press release here; you need only click on the blue link ("Click here to enter the contest"), where you'll both register for the CD draw, and become a member of (which you should have done long ago anyway!). Alternatively, you could become a Guaraldi fan at AllAboutJazz, which will automatically place you in the running.

The contest will continue until December 1, at which point five winners will be selected.

So, what are you waiting for? The only danger is that you'll suddenly spend hours reading all the excellent essays at AllAboutJazz!