Vince Guaraldi: O Tannenbaum
Vince Guaraldi (piano)
A Charlie Brown Christmas (Fantasy FCD-8431-2)
Traditional; arranged by Vince Guaraldi.
Recorded: Berkeley, CA, 1965
Rating: 90/100 (learn more)
"I think that I shall never see," wrote Leonard Feather (1914-1994), dean of Anglo-American jazz critics, "a review as lovely as a tree." Well, okay, maybe it wasn't Leonard Feather. But the sentiment is beyond reproach. Not even the finest review can match a tree in loveliness, especially a Christmas tree. And yet, consider the life of a Christmas tree. "Nasty, brutish and short," said Thomas Hobbes. Well, okay, maybe he wasn't talking about Christmas trees, exactly. But that sentiment too is beyond reproach. We cut them down in, let's face it, the prime of life. We bind their branches and cart them off ignominiously to vacant lots to be sold to complete strangers, who schlep them home and prop them in a corner. Throw up a few lights, toss around some tinsel icicles, and stick an old Styrofoam star on top. And within days, tear it all down. Unwanted and thankless, the tree is dispatched to meet its maker at the local recycling center. Is that any way to treat a tree? What have they ever done to us, aside from providing oxygen to breathe and piquant pine scents to savor? It's a crying shame.
Perhaps that's what Vince Guaraldi was thinking during his wistful, unaccompanied, out-of-tempo intro. Or maybe he was musing about the song itself, which has suffered through enough identity changes to be diagnosed with multiple personality disorder. First it was "O Tannenbaum," a German folk tune, which is all well and good if you learn German, but who has that kind of time? Then the gods of war conscripted it into a U.S. state anthem, "Maryland, My Maryland," where it served as pro-Confederacy propaganda to no avail. (Maryland not only stayed in the Union, they kept the song. After all, no reason to waste a perfectly good tune.) Later it was repackaged as a yuletide carol, "O Christmas Tree," which is how Vince Guaraldi found it in 1965 when he adopted the perennial orphan into his jazzy score for the animated TV special A Charlie Brown Christmas.
After concluding his pensive intro, Guaraldi glides into an easygoing 4/4 statement of the theme, then improvises three boppishly funky choruses. And, in the true spirit of Christmas, he even gives bassist Fred Marshall two solo choruses of his own. In measure to be jolly, Vince returns to deck the halls with boughs of holly and restate the theme, which has by now become, in his graceful hands, "Merryland, My Merryland."
No, we shall never see a review as lovely as a tree. But celebrating the holidays with this quietly joyous track, as toasty as a solar-heated sauna on a sunny December day, just might be the next best thing.
Reviewer: Alan Kurtz
Tags: holiday theme