Waitrose & Partners Weekend Issue 628

4 4 8 DECEMBER 2022 Weekending A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS There’s a certain genius in spotting that two quite disparate items will make a winning combination. Nigel Mackenzie and Ian Dowding of The Hungry Monk restaurant had that genius when they put banana and to ee sauce into a pie. Take a bow also those pioneers who combined peanut butter and bacon, caramel and salt, and Take That and Lulu. Add to that list LeeMendelson, the producer who combined the comic strip Peanuts, sophisticatedmodern jazz and Christmas tomake a beloved classic – andmy favourite festive season album. CharlesMSchulz’s wry, gentle cartoon strip had become a global phenomenon by themid 60s, somuch so that an animated TVChristmas special was commissioned by The Coca-Cola Company. Completed just 10 days before its December 1965 transmission, almost everything about it made the sponsors anxious. The plot was downbeat – Charlie Brown is his usual glumand lugubrious self as the over-commercialised festive season approaches, amood not helped when the neighbourhood kids mock the scrawny, threadbare real tree he chooses as the centrepiece for his chaotic Christmas production. Worse, it seemed, there was the cheap animation and hesitant voice acting of the little kids that had been cast. Finally, there was jazz bu Mendelson’s eccentric choice of the Vince Guaraldi Trio for themusic over more traditionally cheesy festive fare. OnlyMendelson and animator Bill Melendez thought it would work. The ‘suits’ feared disaster. Fifteenmillion viewers and unanimous critical acclaim proved themwrong. Amajor reason why ACharlie Brown Christmas is now so beloved by successive generations around the world is because of the soundtrack. Part of the genius lies in the unorthodox but joyous mix of cool modern jazz and traditional festivemusic. Let’s take the jazz first. Devotees will hear CharlesMingus, Miles Davis and João Gilberto, but you don’t have to be an expert to be swept along in the luscious lounge stylings of the instrumentals. There is nothing remotely festive in the clichéd sense about some of the album’s most famous tracks, such as Skating or the groovy, swinging Linus and Lucy. No sleigh bells, no chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Yet the sound of that rolling ri in the pianist’s left hand and a charming ostinatomelody now says Christmas as deliciously as eggnog and brandy snaps. When the trio does launch into standards such as Oh Tannenbaum or Greensleeves, the result is as warming as an open fire and a dram– perfect for wrapping presents on Christmas Eve, or opening themon a bleary 25 December morning. Then there are the kids. The children’s choir of St Paul’s Episcopal Church, San Rafael, California, sing Hark! The Herald Angels Sing and Christmas Time is Here, the latter’s lyric being written in ‘about 15minutes’ on the back of an envelope by producerMendelson. While the choir director suggested precise and pristine arrangements, Mendelson and Guaraldi disagreed, wanting “the kids to sound like kids”. It’s that sweetly wonky, decidedly amateur edge that makes these songs so touching. You would have to have preconversion Scrooge’s stony heart to hear the vocal version of Christmas Time is Here without amoistening of the eye and a tightening of the throat. Generally, there is a benign, endearingmelancholy about themusic on the albumand the show itself that seems to acknowledge the small secret sadnesses of Christmas, the happy and sadmemories, lost childhoods, regrets and remembered pleasures. Brilliantly realised by a skilled trio and those adorable children – now in their seventies, I guess – it manages to be suave, sophisticated, silly, soppy, sentimental and sardonic at the same time, but never slushy. It’s also a perfect introduction to jazz. For me, andmany others, it is simply one of themost charming, joyous and a ecting albums you will hear, up there with the bestselling jazz albumof all time –Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue. In 2019, even the rock hacks at Rolling Stone conceded it was the fourth best Christmas albumof all time. For me, it’s easily the best, with perhaps the perennially popular various artists’ albumof Phil Spector productions, AChristmas Gift For You, its only competition. While it will never be as familiar or as overexposed as seasonal belters fromSlade, Wizzard or Bing Crosby, you will hear ACharlie Brown Christmas increasingly these days in the hipper hotel foyers and department stores – and in the houses of the discerning, of course. Yours soon, I hope. @StuartMaconie My best ever festive album ForgetWizzard, Slade and Bing Crosby, there’s nothing like themagic of the comic strip tomake BBC Radio 6Music’s Stuart Maconie feel festive