Sunday, October 30, 2022

It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown: Vince Guaraldi’s Original Soundtrack

This year, you can only watch It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown with an Apple TV+ subscription, but you can finally hear all of Vince Guaraldi’s classic music, in its entirety. For years, the audio masters were presumed lost, so the previous 2018 soundtrack release simply dubbed Guaraldi’s themes (along with accompanying sound effects) from the film print—which fans found unsatisfying. However, the heirs of producer Lee Mendelson finally unearthed the original music master tapes after their father’s death. Earlier this year, fans finally got to hear the full Guaraldi soundtrack in the manner it deserved to be heard. It is great jazz any day of the week, but you can’t beat the nostalgia of listening to the soundtrack of It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown during Halloween time.

Fittingly, the soundtrack album starts with the classic
Peanuts theme “Linus and Lucy.” This take sounds somewhat different than that heard on the A Charlie Brown Christmas record, because Ronnie Lang’s swinging flute is featured so prominently, but it is still easily recognizable in theme and tempo as the Charlie Brown music you know. The same is very much true of the “Charlie Brown Theme,” appearing in several arrangements throughout Great Pumpkin, but you won’t find that one on the Christmas record.

Ironically, “The Great Pumpkin Waltz” is on the Christmas record, where it weirdly fits in just fine, because it is such a lovely piece of music. “Graveyard Theme” might sound like an incidental mood piece from its title, but it serves up a really slinky groove with a cool bass line that stands alone quite nicely.

There are a few pieces that mostly help listeners relive Snoopy’s antics from the special, like Schroeder’s WWI medley. However, even Guaraldi’s “Red Baron Theme” sounds pretty hip and swinging. Even the moody “Breathless” has a strong rhythmic drive and Lang’s flute gives the second reprise a distinctive, exotic flavor.

“Linus and Lucy” “Great Pumpkin Waltz” “Charlie Brown Theme” and “Graveyard Theme” are each repeated several times throughout the soundtrack album, including several alternate takes. Yet, each rendition has sufficient variations to more than merit their inclusion in the program (even the alternates are surprisingly good, which is not always the case).

Admittedly, Christmas is more traditionally associated with seasonal music than Halloween, but it just seems like Fantasy Records left a lot money on the table not pursuing a soundtrack album after
It’s the Great Pumpkin premiered. Seriously, how many copies of the Christmas album have they sold over the years? It even features Monty Budwig on bass and Colin Bailey on drums (laying down a rock-solid beat), who also played on some of the Christmas tracks.

At least it is here now, but its not just nostalgia.
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is a great jazz album, from Guaraldi, who is still not fully appreciated as a jazz artist. (For Great Pumpkin, he also had some notable assistance from former big band lead John Scott Trotter orchestrating and conducting the score.) Highly recommended for jazz fans, Peanuts fans, and trick-or-treats, Guaraldi’s It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown soundtrack is now available on CD, LP, and digital.