Vince Guaraldi – Peanuts Portraits: The Classic Character Themes – Fantasy/Concord Music Group FAN-32033, 36:36 ***:
There’s a sense of reassurance that comes from hearing Vince Guaraldi’s famous character themes he composed and performed for the various animated Peanuts television specials. It’s the perception that some things – like childhood memories – do not change. One listen to Guaraldi’s personality-filled melodies about Charlie Brown, Snoopy or other beloved Peanuts personages can transport anyone back to a time when the biggest challenge might have been the attempt to get the attention of a red-haired girl or a piano-playing boy.
The 11-track, 36-minute compilation, Peanuts Portraits: The Classic Character Themes, gathers together numerous pieces by Guaraldi from several Peanuts episodes, with one hitherto unreleased tune and two selections by pianist George Winston, who was influenced by Guaraldi’s ballads. The musical sketches act as a prelude to the upcoming 60th anniversary of when Charles Schulz’s enduring Peanuts gang debuted as a newspaper comic strip.
The most iconic composition is lively opener “Linus and Lucy,” which could be the most well-known jazz song ever written. Certainly it is one of the most identifiable, by people from preschool to retired, whether jazz fans or not. The celebrated cut is heard twice. First there is the original by Guaraldi’s trio – highlighted by Colin Bailey’s framing percussive effects – and the album ends with Winston’s solo rendition from his 1996 tribute, Linus and Lucy: The Music of Vince Guaraldi. Winston shifts around the arrangement a bit as he slips in some stride piano.
The Peanuts programs often included blues-tinged songs and thus several descending themes are represented. The rather chipper “Sally’s Blues” suggests the disposition of Charlie Brown’s ever inquisitive and territorial little sister. Then there’s the electrified “Blue Charlie Brown (Version #2),” replete with soulful guitar and Guaraldi’s electric piano. Seward McCain’s pulsing bass leads the way on a variation of the same harmonious piece, which is dubbed “Charlie’s Blues.” Another blues gem is an understated ballad treatment of the usually up-tempo “Peppermint Patty” anthem, accented by amplified keyboards.
Collectors will gravitate toward a previously unreleased, alternate take of “Frieda (With the Naturally Curly Hair),” which is nearly two minutes longer than the version that appeared on the soundtrack for “A Boy Named Charlie Brown.” Throughout, Guaraldi swings subtly but memorably and, in fact, his light touch makes the entire short but melodic collection an enjoyable outing readymade for both jazz and non-jazz audiences.
This compilation is far from perfect, though. Quite frankly the credits are a mess: musicians are incorrectly credited to the different numbers. Also, material has not been remastered, so the recording’s age, including tape hiss, shows up in some instances. On the plus side, Peanuts scholar Derrick Bang’s liner notes provide history and trivia for nine cherished characters as well as the overall Peanuts universe.
1. Linus and Lucy
2. Sally’s Blues
3. Blue Charlie Brown (Version #2)
4. Peppermint Patty
5. Charlie’s Blues (variation)
6. Joe Cool
7. Frieda (With the Naturally Curly Hair alternate)
9. Little Birdie (vocal Vince Guaraldi)
10. The Masked Marvel (George Winston version)
11. Linus and Lucy (George Winston version)
— Doug Simpson