One of the best things about Christmas—and this is just my personal opinion—is being able to play the music of Vince Guaraldi. For those who don’t know, Guaraldi is the iconic jazz pianist and composer whose work flavors “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” In fact, the music is so integral to the story that one cannot hear his music without thinking of Snoopy dancing his weird little happy dance.
Over the month of December, I’ve been sneaking in different Guaraldi interpretations into every gig—at the restaurant I play at, the corporate Christmas party I gigged last week with ML3, the recent TV appearance I did with Bob Kilpatrick, and even Christmas Eve services at my church. I love the quirky chord changes and sparse voicings and joyous feel to the music. And I also love how children’s faces light up when I begin the “Linus and Lucy” theme. His music has been covered by several notable artists, including George Winston, David Benoit, and my friend and jazz recording artist, Jim Martinez.
When I was a kid, I didn’t want to be Beethoven. I wanted to be Schroeder.
If you think about it, the use of a jazz trio to soundtrack a children’s Christmas special is peculiar, to say the least. The story of the making of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is apparently immersed in such anomalous decisions—foregoing a laugh track, using real children to voice the characters, the over-arching theme which rails against the commercialism of Christmas, and especially the climax of the film, which is Linus’ famous soliloquy of the King James version of the Gospel of Luke. But at the same time, one cannot deny that this award-winning special has become a part of the very fabric of our culture every December.
I think this is a good word for those of us who seek to have integrity with our faith and our art. In an era of Frosty and Rudolph and Santa, creator and cartoonist Charles Schulz was unwavering in his insistence that the story of Christmas be told. And he used the small, delightful world of Peanuts to point us back to the mystery and awe that is the Christmas story.
I encourage you to take about five minutes and view this last scene again. And as you do so, be in awe of the Truth that lay in the words of a blanket-dragging, philosophizing, cartoon character. Merry Christmas everyone.
[Note: “Schroeder’s Piano” by Tom Everhart courtesy polizzifineart.com.]