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REVIEW | "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving", Vince Guaraldi

Vince Guaraldi A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving: Original Soundtrack Recording, 50th Anniversary Special Edition.

Lee Mendelson Film Productions, 2023.

By Jeff Cebulski | ⭐️⭐️⭐️

While he had a distinguished career as a jazz pianist and composer, Vince Guaraldi inevitably became recognized from his contributions to the iconic A Charlie Brown Christmas and other recordings in the Peanuts enterprise. The classic performances and the albums that transpired from them were representative of the times as well as perfect matches of tone and occasion.

As it turned out, Guaraldi created Charlie Brown music for many TV specials, one movie, and other albums based on those creations. The last of those, a remastered and reissued A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, has been released, including multiple takes of in-program themes and some unused deep cuts.

A major difference between this effort and the Christmas album is that on several tunes Guaraldi expanded to a quintet—including, notably, Tom Harrell on trumpet—and recorded some with electric keyboards (a Fender Rhodes, a Wurlitzer, a Hohner Clavinet) and even a guitar, perhaps signifying a more hip, playful vibe and a chance to partake in multi-track recording in his interpretation of the episode that featured characters like Snoopy and his bird pal Woodstock more prominently. In this regard, the music here is distanced from the bucolic trio themes that typified A Charlie Brown Christmas. We are talking about 1973, you know, when electrified soul jazz was making a scene.

Of the 21 selections offered, a few stand out as being unique even among the hundreds Guaraldi composed over the years, including long-repeated ditties: “Linus and Lucy,” perhaps the most famous Christmas-period song, gets two reimagined visits, as does “Peppermint Patty.”

On the breezily rendered “Little Birdie,” a paean to Snoopy’s featured friend, Guaraldi SINGS, accompanied by lush and bluesy horns (with Chuck Bennett on trombone). By this time in his Peanuts experience, one suspects the pianist felt almost inVINCEable as an artist, and his groovy delivery exudes confidence.

The melody of “Linus and Lucy” doesn’t change, but Guaraldi, in the version used for the program, interpolates a four-note phrase in the middle of the opening measures and gradually bleeds in the Harrell-arranged horns, giving the tune a little bit of New Orleans while the basic trio—including Seward McCain on bass and Mike Clark on drums—goes about its business, moving along in a slightly brisker fashion while the horns intersperse colorful expressions that sound improvised. A “Bonus Mix” of this song appears later, sprinkled with Guaraldi’s clavinet; this trio version is typified by McCain’s more prominent electric bass and accentuated bass drum from Clark. I rather enjoyed this rehashed effort in comparison.

Before this recording, “Peppermint Patty” had been performed several times already, and this time Guaraldi’s double-tracked keyboard arrangement (using all three electronic pianos) transforms it into something further than a character piece, adding a flute (played by Harrell?) as well.

The music behind the program’s Thanksgiving gathering, “Is It James or Charlie,” is perhaps more representative of the seventies, with a funky rhythm backing Guaraldi’s Fender Rhodes and his more than sufficient guitar picking. Another version is also presented, with Guaraldi whistling in tandem with plunked piano notes while, on another track, the Rhodes carries on.

The Charlie Brown music in this case is “Charlie Brown Blues,” the most conventional in style (fitting, of course, the character in mind). It’s a straight-up trio blues that doesn’t take a lot of time; its electrified and double-tracked reprise, which fits into the stylistic mosaic of the other pieces more smoothly, fares a bit better. There are, of course, the basic “Thanksgiving Theme” and several reprises and interludes, interesting in witnessing how Guaraldi tried to alter the theme to thread it among the various vignettes.

While not as nostalgic a listen as A Charlie Brown Christmas will ever be, this new reissue holds its own as part of Vince Guaraldi’s evolving Peanuts oeuvre and the use of jazz music in popular culture. Grabbing a copy and deftly inserting it into your Thanksgiving music mix might convince your relatives to withhold their comments on the state of the world at least one more year.

Vince Guaraldi, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving: Original Soundtrack Recording, 50th Anniversary Special Edition. Lee Mendelson Film Productions, 2023.

Vince Guaraldi, piano, electric keyboards, voice, and guitar

Seward McCain, electric bass

Mike Clark, drums

Tom Harrell, trumpet and brass arrangements

Chuck Bennett, trombone

About Jeff Cebulski

Jeff Cebulski, who lives in Chicago, is a retired English educator (both secondary and collegiate) and longtime jazz aficionado. His career in jazz includes radio programs at two stations in southeast Wisconsin, an online show on Kennesaw State’s (GA) Owl Radio from 2007 until 2015, and review/feature writing for Chicago Jazz Magazine since 2016, including his column "Jazz With Mr. C". He has interviewed many jazz artists, including Joshua Redman, Charles Lloyd, Dave Holland, John Beasley, and Chris Brubeck, as well as several Chicago-based players. Jeff is a member of the Jazz Journalists Association. Contact Jeff at


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