Sunday, June 30, 2024

This is America, Charlie Brown: The Music and Heroes of America

Of course, Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang love jazz. For years, their specials were scored by the great Vine Guaraldi—and to jazz fans, he was indeed great. They even had the occasion to talk about music, including several jazz masters in the final episode of This is America, Charlie Brown, “The Music and Heroes of America” (directed by Sam Jaimes), which screens at the Paley Center as part of its Independence Day celebration.

Schroeder has an important class presentation on the history of American music, but he is reluctant to hire Snoopy. You know that beagle is a wild improvisor. However, it turns out he could use some of Snoopy’s solo virtuosity. Much to his surprise, his portion of the program performing Great American Songwriters like Stephen Foster, Irving Berlin, and George M. Cohan are quite well received.

Then Franklin takes over to present spirituals, the blues, and jazz. Throughout the program, Lou Rawls sings (off-camera) standards like “When the Saints” and “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.” Ironically, even though this episode discusses jazz greats like Duke Ellington and Fats Waller, it was one of the few episodes of the series not scored by a composer known for their jazz work. While five previous episodes featured music from Dave Brubeck, Dave Grusin, David Benoit, George Winston, and Wynton Marsalis, “American Music” was scored by Ed Bogas (who succeeded Guaraldi as the in-house composer for
Peanuts specials) and Desiree Goyette.

Regardless, Schroeder and Franklin serve up a nice nutshell history of American music. Not surprisingly, Lucy Van Pelt often hijacks their presentation to discuss the “American Heroes” portion of the show. Frankly, the show addresses many of America’s past sins more than its triumphs, but at least the program acknowledges improvement and expresses and sense of optimism for the future.

Without question, the best part of “The Music and Heroes of America” is its final tribute, which honors Guaraldi. It is cleverly and affectionately written—and it most definitely cues “Linus and Lucy.” Based on the music and old school
Peanuts vibe of the last episode, viewers might be intrigued to catch up with the previous seven. Since Apple apparently now controls the Peanuts catalog, we can only hope they start streaming This is American, Charlie Brown. It’s good history and great music that screens through Wednesday (7/3) at the Paley Center.