Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Peanuts Connection: Down to the last note!

I first "met" Rob Kirby when he was one of several hundred individuals who submitted an essay for 2009's Security Blankets: How Peanuts Touched Our Lives, the book I co-edited with Don Fraser. Rob's essay was charming, warm and droll: precisely the sort of "personal touch" that we were seeking. He easily made the cut, and his contribution — and a similarly droll photo — can be found on Page 75.

Rob's essay also acknowledged his fondness for Guaraldi, and recognition of the major impact that Vince's music had on the early Peanuts TV specials. Our shared interest kept us in touch, exchanging notes every so often, with Rob occasionally hinting at a "big project" that he kept meaning to tackle.

Typical British understatement.

Rob has completed his labor of love, and it's astonishing. Starting with the Music Use Sheets that I had posted on one of my many Guaraldi web pages, and armed with DVDs of every Guaraldi-scored Peanuts TV special — and the big-screen film A Boy Named Charlie Brown — along with all the albums of Guaraldi's music available to the mainstream public, Rob meticulously analyzed every second of music in each film, cross-checking against the titles indicated by the Music Use Sheets, and in many cases filling in additional data and correcting mistakes. (As I explain, in that page's introduction, Music Use Sheets are "dynamic" documents that undergo changes en route to a finished product, much the way scripts can change during filming. Initial intentions notwithstanding, when it came time to edit a given scene, a last-minute decision might be made to drop a planned cue, or add one where music hadn't originally been requested. The Use Sheets kindly shared by Lee Mendelson, many years ago, gave no indication of what part of production they represented. A few dovetailed very neatly to an animated special as aired; others did not.)

Rob's efforts allowed me, at long last, to amend that page so that the Music Use Sheet list for each film now accurately reflects the finished product; the results can be viewed here.

But that's only the tip of Rob's research. He also carefully analyzed every cue, from the shortest snippet to a full-length melody, to determine uniqueness. Many of Guaraldi's most popular Peanuts themes appear multiple times in a given TV special, in some cases in different arrangements or different "takes" (as is the nature of jazz). That distinction wasn't mentioned in the original Music Use Sheets; thanks to Rob, we now know — as just one example — that several different versions of the "Baseball Theme" are used in 1966's Charlie Brown's All-Stars, only one of which matches the version included on Guaraldi's album, Jazz Impressions of A Boy Named Charlie Brown.

And that's the other great feature of Rob's work: He also identified where specific cues — which is to say, a precise arrangement — can be found, among Guaraldi's various albums.

Along the way, he uncovered a few surprises, and made some savvy observations.

He realized, for example, that the delightfully upbeat version of "Peppermint Patty," heard midway through 1967's You're in Love Charlie Brown, is a bonus track on the CD re-release of Vince Guaraldi with the San Francisco Boys Chorus. Along a similar line, the terrific, brass-heavy arrangement of "Linus and Lucy," heard midway through 1973's A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, can be found on the CD The Charlie Brown Suite and Other Favorites, where it's titled "Linus and Lucy with the Band."

Rob also has a keen ear, having recognized something that I'm ashamed to admit I've missed, all these years: The cue "Bon Voyage," heard early in 1968's He's Your Dog, Charlie Brown, clearly is adapted from the song "Monterey," one of the other tracks on Vince Guaraldi with the San Francisco Boys Chorus.

On a more sobering note — literally — Rob noticed that most of the cues written for 1976's It's Arbor Day, Charlie Brown sound suspiciously similar to earlier tunes such as "Christmas Time Is Here," "Joe Cool" and the aforementioned "Baseball Theme." An overly hasty assumption might suggest that Guaraldi was running out of creative juice, but I strongly doubt that; it seems much more likely that Guaraldi's very poor health affected his work on this special. Remember, he died right after finishing the studio recordings for this show.

My Music Use web page doesn't begin to cover all of Rob's thorough research, which must be appreciated in its entirety, at his blog. (You'll also want to read his detailed account of what prompted this project, and how he approached it.) As he explains, in his key, bold entries refer to specific arrangements of cues that can be found on various Guaraldi albums. Green entries address disputed existing information, and blue entries refer to cues that were rearranged and re-recorded on albums by Guaraldi or George Winston.

Granted, Rob's efforts represent a degree of "geeking out" that'll likely be appreciated — to the proper degree — by only a small handful of people. But as somebody who shares Rob's obsessive research tendencies, I regard his work as an invaluable document, and a resource of historic proportion.

On top of which, it's a lot of fun to read!