Monday, December 18, 2023

Guaraldi cover albums: a new annual tradition?

As my previous post demonstrates, Guaraldi's music for A Charlie Brown Christmas has become a popular seasonal gig for jazz combos across the country — and in Canada and the UK — who perform in bars, restaurants, concert halls, wineries and pretty much anywhere they can find a stage.

Some of these musicians aren't content to stop with live performances; they're also releasing albums!

Two landed last December (and shame on me, for not calling attention to them here, at the time).

The Music of A Charlie Brown Christmas came from San Antonio-based pianist Doc Watkins, backed by bassist Franklin Skaggs, drummer Ryan Shaw, and an impressively large ensemble. For the past several years, Watkins and his orchestra have presented this program live during most of December, at San Antonio’s JazzTX. (Makes me want to take a quick trip to Texas!)
Purists probably will insist that these 10 tracks aren't jazz; the often string-enhanced arrangements hue more closely to what you’d expect from the Boston Pops or a lavish Broadway musical. That’s particularly true with mellow readings of “The Christmas Song,” “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” and “Skating,” the latter blended with “The Christmas Waltz” (which gives Watkins a chance to demonstrate his vocal chops).

Watkins gets bonus points for covering all of Guaraldi's album, including a sparkling arrangement of “Fur Elise” that opens with Beethoven-esque solo piano, and then kicks into high gear with Shaw’s jump jazz drums and tasty big band swing.