Craft Recordings proudly announces a definitive, bonus-filled edition of Vince Guaraldi’s timeless score from the beloved, 1965 animated PEANUTS® special, A Charlie Brown Christmas, from Charles Schulz and Lee Mendelson and Bill Melendez. While the album has remained a holiday staple for nearly 60 years (not to mention the best-selling jazz album of all time, alongside Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, after earning 5x platinum certification by the RIAA in May), this latest edition showcases Guaraldi’s creative process like never before, thanks to hours of newly unearthed session tapes from Fantasy Records’ vaults. Now, fans can experience cues like “Christmas Time Is Here,” “O Tannenbaum,” and “Skating” as they take shape in the studio through dozens of previously unreleased alternate tracks.
In addition, the original 11-track album has been upgraded with a new stereo mix from the original two- and three-track sources by the GRAMMY® Award-winning engineer, Paul Blakemore. Both the new mix and original mix can be found along with hours of unreleased material on the Super Deluxe Edition (available as a 4-CD/1-Blu-ray Audio collection box set or as an 80-track digital release). The new stereo mix will also be available alongside a selection of thirteen studio outtakes on a Deluxe Edition 2-LP or CD. All formats featuring the new stereo mix will release on October 14th. Fans can preview this stunning new mix with the advance single “Christmas Time is Here (instrumental),” which is available to stream/download today. <hyperlink>
For those who prefer the classic mix, the perennial 1965 version of the album will come housed in a striking, embossed gold foil jacket for 2022, while a variety of collectible colored vinyl variants can be found exclusively at select retailers. Plus, a limited edition LP (750 copies), pressed on “Skating Pond” wax, is available exclusively at CraftRecordings.com. All gold foil versions will go on sale on September 16th.
The Super Deluxe Edition offers fans an unparalleled deep dive into all aspects of A Charlie Brown Christmas—placing listeners in the studio as the musicians work through their arrangements. Disc one features the new stereo mix of the album, plus the original remastered 1965 mix, while disc two through four offer more than 50 never-before-heard outtakes from five recording sessions, as Guaraldi and his bandmates craft cues like “Christmas Is Coming” and “Skating.” Disc five delivers the new stereo mix in hi-resolution audio, as well as Dolby Atmos® on Blu-ray audio.
Housed in a hardcover book, the collection guides fans through the entire recording process, thanks to new, in-depth liner notes by Derrick Bang—a PEANUTS® historian and author of Vince Guaraldi at the Piano (McFarland & Company). Rounding out the package is a special message from the family of Lee Mendelson, the late Emmy® and Peabody Award-winning producer and co-creator of the PEANUTS® animated specials. Condensed liner notes are also included in the CD and 2-LP Deluxe Editions, which feature the 2022 stereo mix of the album, plus 13 highlights from the outtakes (see tracklists below).
When A Charlie Brown Christmas first aired on December 9, 1965, no one expected just how monumental the half-hour animated special would be. While based on Charles M. Schulz’s immensely popular PEANUTS® comic strip, TV executives were wary of the unconventional format, which featured the voices of child actors, a jazz score, and no laugh track—all unprecedented for the era. Their worries, however, proved to be unfounded. Not only did the Emmy and Peabody Award-winning special capture nearly half of America’s TV audience that night, but it would quickly become an essential holiday classic and launch one of the 20th century’s most popular franchises.
It all began in 1964, when producer Lee Mendelson set out to make a TV documentary titled A Boy Named Charlie Brown about Charles Schulz and his beloved comic strip. To score the film, he hired Vince Guaraldi—a fast-rising Bay Area jazz artist—best known at the time for his GRAMMY®-winning instrumental crossover hit, “Cast Your Fate to the Wind.” Although the documentary never made it to the airwaves, Mendelson was struck by Guaraldi’s sophisticated work. When A Charlie Brown Christmas was greenlit one year later, he sought out the musician once again, marking the beginning of a long and successful creative partnership.
Yet, while many fans of Guaraldi and PEANUTS® are well acquainted with the history of the special, the story of how the music was actually made has never been told, until now. Thanks to the dialogue captured on these session tapes, Guaraldi’s creative process—as he worked alongside Mendelson and director Bill Melendez to craft the festive score—finally comes to light.
“The wealth of music captured in these half-dozen sessions is—in a word—amazing,” marvels Derrick Bang in his liner notes. “It’s also fascinating to observe how a given tune evolves, over the course of the six weeks these sessions took place, from September 17 through October 28, 1965…. Along the way, you’ll hear all manner of false starts, initially terrific takes that collapse when Guaraldi fluffs a few notes, and outré experiments that sound almost nothing like what we know today.” He continues, “Consider this a ringside seat—a place of honor, watching and listening from the recording engineer’s booth—as the individual songs for this historic album were fine-tuned and ultimately laid down.”
The five sessions featured in the Super Deluxe box set (captured at the Bay Area’s Fantasy Studios and Studio 16, as well as Southern California’s Whitney Recording Studio) are presented in their entirety, including blown takes and cross-chatter between the members of Guaraldi’s trio (bassist Monty Budwig and drummer Colin Bailey for many of them, as well as bassist Fred Marshall and drummer Jerry Granelli for others).
Among the highlights are 18 takes of “Christmas Is Coming,” a lively, bossa nova-influenced tune that took longer than others to take shape, as Guaraldi struggled to find a conclusion to the song and experimented with instrumentation and stylistic choices. Another selection, “Skating,” transforms over ten takes. The trio can be heard playing around with a series of energetic keyboard and drum bridges, which, Bang writes, are “marvelous from a jazz standpoint, but definitely too aggressive for the scene this tune is intended to back.”
Listeners will also hear Guaraldi putting his own touch on traditional fare, like “Greensleeves” and “O Tannenbaum.” Bang points out that one of the latter song’s outtakes actually appeared in the animated special, “immediately after Linus tells us ‘what Christmas is all about,’ as Charlie Brown exits the school theater carrying his forlorn little tree.” An outtake of “Linus and Lucy,” which became the instantly recognizable PEANUTS® theme, finds Guaraldi taking a fresh approach with the tune, which was first released in 1964 on Jazz Impressions of a Boy Named Charlie Brown. It was this earlier version, however, that ultimately appeared on A Charlie Brown Christmas.
Another favorite is “Christmas Time Is Here,” which is presented on the original album in both instrumental and vocal versions. Initially, the song was written as an instrumental cue. But when Mendelson saw the opening sequence paired with the music, it seemed like something was missing. “I felt we should get some lyrics, and some voices,” Mendelson told Bang. “We couldn’t find anybody to write the lyrics, and I called all my Hollywood friends who were songwriters. But nobody took the assignment, so I sat down, and in about 10 minutes wrote the words to ‘Christmas Time Is Here’ on an envelope.”
Guaraldi enlisted young singers from San Rafael’s St. Paul’s Church Choir to perform the song (the children also served as stand-ins for the PEANUTS® gang as they sang “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.”) Several of these singers shared their memories with Bang, including Dan Bernhard. “Vince and Lee wanted kids who sounded like kids,” he explained. “They used a version of ‘Hark, the Herald Angels Sing’ that was slightly out of tune, and [St. Paul’s Choir director Barry Mineah] threw a fit. But Vince and Lee used that one on purpose; we did a whole bunch of takes that were perfect, but they didn’t want those.”
Of course, it’s all of these imperfections that make the score to A Charlie Brown Christmas so…perfect. More than half a century later, new generations continue to fall in love with the holiday special and its enduring music, while year over year, the album remains one of the top-selling holiday and jazz albums. Remarkably, in 2021, A Charlie Brown Christmas reached its highest spot ever on the Billboard 200, landing at No.6—56 years after its release. Among other honors, the multi-platinum soundtrack has been inducted into the GRAMMY® Hall of Fame and was added to the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry.