PIANIST VINCE GUARALDI’S VIVID MUSICAL PORTRAITS OF CLASSIC PEANUTS CHARACTERS
of cartoonist Charles Schulz’s enduring characters
By the 1960s, cartoonist Charles Schulz’s Peanuts – featuring Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy and Linus Van Pelt, Schroeder and other alternately heartwarming and heartbreaking characters – had become a popular fixture in newspaper comics for more than a decade. But when pianist Vince Guaraldi began composing and recording music for various Peanuts television specials in the mid-1960s, the characters suddenly gained an entirely new dimension of humanity and emotional resonance that endures to this day.
The TV specials kept coming, and with them came more music from Guaraldi, each piece capturing the infectious personality of a specific character within the strip. By the ’70s, Guaraldi’s compositions for Peanuts – originally released on Fantasy – had become the universally recognized musical backdrop to the sometimes comic, sometimes tragic characters who made up Schulz’s universe.
Several of these pieces are assembled in Peanuts Portraits, a collection of compositions written and performed by Guaraldi specifically for the various Peanuts television specials aired between 1964 and 1974. The collection is set for release by Concord Music Group on April 20, 2010, just a few months shy of the 60th anniversary of Peanuts’ debut as a newspaper strip in October 1950.
In addition to nine tracks performed by Guaraldi – most of them taken directly from the music cues recorded for the TV specials – the collection also includes two tracks by pianist George Winston, who recorded a variety of Guaraldi’s Peanuts compositions in the 1990s, some two decades after Guaraldi’s death in 1976.
Peanuts Portraits also includes extensive liner notes by Derrick Bang, co-host of FiveCentsPlease.org, a repository of news, information, history and trivia about Peanuts and Charles Schulz.
“Most people don’t realize that, for a long time, Peanuts was just a comic strip,” says Bill Belmont, producer of the collection. “But then, when producer Lee Mendelson and animator Bill Meléndez turned the strip into an animated film for the first time, Vince Guaraldi added body and depth to these characters. They’re humorous, for the most part, but they’re also reflective of various moods.”
The set opens with Guaraldi’s iconic “Linus and Lucy,” a piece that was first heard on A Charlie Brown Christmas, which debuted in December 1965. The lively composition has since become firmly associated with the Peanuts characters and the holiday season. Winston reprises the piece at the very end of the sequence, thus bookending the rich and diverse series of character snapshots in between.
The rest of the Peanuts cast is well represented. Charlie Brown, the strip’s hapless but resilient everyman, takes the spotlight in “Blue Charlie Brown,” a composition that Guaraldi wrote for A Boy Named Charlie Brown, a half-hour documentary produced in 1963 that was never televised. The piece wasn’t heard on a Peanuts TV special until He’s Your Dog, Charlie Brown aired in 1968 (although the song was included in the 1964 Fantasy album soundtrack of the unaired documentary). Peanuts Portraits also includes “Charlie’s Blues,” one of many variations on “Blue Charlie Brown” that Guaraldi included in numerous Peanuts TV specials.
“Needless to say, the composer had plenty of opportunities to write blues riffs for Charlie Brown over the years,” says Bang, “given the number of times the poor blockhead was teased, disappointed and persecuted.”
Snoopy, Charlie Brown’s pooch with multiple personas throughout the life of the strip and the various animated specials, appears twice on Peanuts Portraits – first as the eternally suave “Joe Cool,” a theme written by Guaraldi that debuted in You’re Not Elected, Charlie Brown, which aired in 1972; and later as “The Masked Marvel,” Winston’s version of a Guaraldi theme that first appeared in It Was a Short Summer, Charlie Brown in 1969.
Frieda, forever primping her springy locks, appears in a previously unreleased but appropriately titled “Frieda (With the Naturally Curly Hair).” Guaraldi had written the piece for the documentary that was never televised, although it did appear on the Fantasy soundtrack LP. “The version on this CD is an unreleased alternate take that was preserved during the recording session for A Boy Named Charlie Brown: a truly gorgeous variation that runs almost two minutes longer than what appeared on that 1964 album,” Bang explains.
Peanuts Portraits is an album in every sense of the word – a collection of songs on a disc, but also a book of snapshots featuring some of the most charming fictional kids in American pop culture. “Vince Guaraldi was able to capture the personalities of each of these characters, not only with a sense of humor, but with some interesting insight,” says Belmont. “Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, Schroeder, Snoopy – all of them speak through his music, and the result is these pieces that instantly reflect who the characters are.”
Concord Music Group FAN-32033-02 / April 20, 2010
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