Saturday, 7 December 2013

Brought to you by Coca-Cola

Like millions of kids in North America, I grew up with A Charlie Brown Christmas being an indispensable part of December. It became equally integral to the Christmases of both daughters, not only repeated required viewings, but the CD also being the first requested for tree-decoration or present-opening.

When I saw the poster for a concert featuring the music from this ancient television special on a telephone pole in downtown Hades back in October, I knew we had to take younger daughter. Christmas? Jazz? Peanuts? Animation? It's everything she adores rolled into one. I figured it would be relatively painless for me, even after years of exposure, and besides, it was a fundraiser for the Ottawa International Children's Festival. I ordered tickets quite promptly.

Good thing, too. When the Resident Fan Boy, younger daughter and I turned up at the Ottawa Little Theatre shortly after noon today, the sign outside informed us that both performances had sold out. In the Ottawa tradition of festival seating, arriving half an hour ahead of time got us seats more than halfway back in the auditorium. We were surrounded by large family groups of very young children, but we had expected that.

The concert was being put on by the Jerry Granelli Trio, with the support of two local children's choirs, one for each performance. Jerry Granelli was the drummer in the Vince Guaraldi Trio in the mid-1960s, and now he's pretty well the sole surviving member of the entire creative team that put A Charlie Brown Christmas together back in 1965. As is usual in the creation of a classic, the television executives at CBS nearly vetoed the show for several reasons, two of which were: Linus' recital of the passage from St Luke in response to Charlie Brown's anguished "Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about??"; and the jazz music, which I guess wasn't considered accessible enough. It was the executives at Coca-Cola (of all people)who insisted that the special be broadcast. They had, after all, sponsored the thing and darn it, it was going to go on the air. The response, that evening of December 9th, 1965, was overwhelmingly positive.

After the Goulbourn Junior Jubilee Singers sang the opening "Christmastime is Here", the three jazz musicians (drummer Granelli, bassist Simon Fisk, and pianist Chris Gestrin) launched into the well-worn instrumentals. To my astonishment, I got goose-pimples and a lump in my throat. Part of this was, no doubt, from the emotions attached to these pieces, chunks of my own childhood and that of my children, but the other factor was the sheer musicianship. We weren't getting note-for-note replications of the original recordings; we were getting some proper jazz improvisation.

I think some of the tinier kids were getting a bit restless, but to the rest of the audience, hearing and seeing this music played live was a revelation. I noticed a kind of quiver on the front of Fisk's base with a bow in it and realized as they finally began the classic "Linus and Lucy", that part of the magic comes from the bowed bass during the familiar recurring theme. Listen for it:

(This evening, while looking up the music for this post, I listened to Vince Guaraldi's first big hit from 1963 and realized the bass is also bowed for parts of "Cast Your Fate to the Wind: )

Heck, I even got choked up when a young choir-member named Jacob recited the lines from the King James Bible that almost got A Charlie Brown Christmas yanked in the first place.

Never thought I'd be grateful to Coca-Cola for anything.

Can't resist slipping this interpretation in. It's become somewhat of a classic itself, at least on YouTube.

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