When it comes to Christmas music, few records pack the emotional resonance of Vince Guaraldi’s Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack and Guaraldi’s holiday classic may, in fact, be the most important jazz album of all time.
Is Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue a better album? Probably. Is John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme more highly revered? Almost without debate. But are any of the so-called giants of jazz played three times an hour on pop stations across America for six weeks of the year? Not even close.
For many music fans, A Charlie Brown Christmas is not only their entry point into combo jazz but the lone record in their collection (or Spotify playlist if you’re into such things). The fact that some of the album’s biggest hits — Linus and Lucy and Skating — aren’t Christmas songs or that the signature Christmas Time is Here is a slow, somber waltz doesn’t seem to diminish the repeated airplay nearly 60 years after its release.
As a soundtrack, the album is a perfect contradiction to the film. Where A Charlie Brown Christmas is crudely drawn and oddly paced, Guaraldi’s trio is complex and deliberate. This is not a “jazzy” soundtrack but a legit jazz album that happens to accompany an animated movie and every year millions of people who claim to dislike jazz will use this music to get themselves into the holiday spirit. There’s a real power to that.
Vince Guaraldi did what no other jazz performer has been able to do since — create a jazz record beloved by people who wouldn’t otherwise go near a jazz record and for that reason alone, this soundtrack stands as one of the most important jazz recordings of all time and will probably remain that way for decades to come.