- Christmas time isn't here until we've laid eyes on Charlie Brown and co.
A piano, a gentle drum shuffle, a children’s choir: The opening notes of A Charlie Brown Christmas, scoring a lightly falling snow, are not just familiar, they’re iconic. The 22-minute television special, which debuted in 1965, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, five decades worth of festive feeling, holiday transportation and warm nostalgia.
JazzEast’s presentation of its soundtrack—including Vince Guaraldi Trio member Jerry Granelli, who as a young jazz drummer played on the original recordings in San Francisco—is now in its third year. Its pair of Sunday shows at the Spatz Theatre are settling, alongside the Symphony’s Nutcracker and the Halifax Crafters’ market, into local holiday tradition.
“When I think about that special at this point, it’s the music I think of first,” says Myles McNutt, a Haligonian, television critic and assistant communications professor at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA. “We puzzle over it—what has made it endure, what has made it so indelible as part of the culture? It’s somewhat easier to think about what makes it distinctive. What is the creative choice that could’ve made it completely different? For me, that’s the music.”
The soundtrack, as performed by the Guaraldi Trio, is a mix of traditionals like “The Christmas Song,” “O Tannenbaum” and “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” and originals that have become traditional, like “Christmas Time is Here.” The classic jazz arrangements, jaunty and torchy, feature children’s voices atop them, clear and pure, like the Peanuts themselves.
“It was of a time when media wasn’t trying to be deeply current,” says McNutt. “The special endures because of when it was created and because of what animation was at that time, and what the intention was.”
As A Charlie Brown Christmas hits 50, it’s worth noting how other era fare is treated with a similar reverence: How the Grinch Stole Christmas! has been aired faithfully since 1966, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’s astonishing puppet work has been around since 1964 and Frosty The Snowman has been wishing kids a happy birthday since 1969.
“We remake things, we reboot things, we kind of recreate them,” says McNutt. “Christmas specials have been exempt from that process. No one’s ever gone back and said, ‘We could do this better, we could do this differently.’”
Tales of A Charlie Brown Christmas 50th Anniversary
Sunday December 6, 2 & 8pm
Spatz Theatre, 1855 Trollope Street