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... 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.