Sunday, December 6, 2015

What Child Is This

The Charlie Brown Christmas songs performed by the Vince Guaraldi Trio are my absolute favorite.  They evoke so many memories of childhood.   I'm sure that I'm not alone in that assessment.  Many piano players from George Winston to David Benoit have credited first hearing Vince with their desire to become pianists.

From Wikipedia:

A Charlie Brown Christmas is a 1965 studio album by American composer/conductor Vince Guaraldi (later credited to the jazz group the Vince Guaraldi Trio). The album was released in December 1965 in the United States by Fantasy Records. It is the soundtrack to the CBS Christmas television special of the same name. Guaraldi was contacted by television producer Lee Mendelson several years prior to compose music for a documentary on the comic strip Peanuts and its creator, Charles M. Schulz. Although the special went unaired, these selections were released in 1964 as Jazz Impressions of "A Boy Named Charlie Brown". Coca-Cola commissioned a Christmas special based on Peanuts in 1965 and Guaraldi returned to score the special.

A Charlie Brown Christmas features several originals ("Christmas Time Is Here", "Linus and Lucy") as well as covers of well-known Christmas songs ("The Christmas Song", "O Tannenbaum"). The score for the special was largely cut at recording sessions at Glendale, California's Whitney Studio. Much of this material was later re-recorded by Guaraldi at three sessions later in the year at Fantasy Recording Studios in San Francisco, alongside a choir of children culled from St. Paul's Episcopal Church in nearby San Rafael. The sessions ran late into the night, with the children rewarded with ice cream afterwards. Bassist Fred Marshall and drummer Jerry Granelli have been credited as performing on the album, although a host of musicians claim to have recorded the album.

One of my favorites from Charlie Brown Christmas is What Child Is This.   It doesn't seem to be as famous as some of the other numbers that were recorded for the show,   perhaps because it is a cover of a well-known song or maybe because it is a very short number in the show.   I like it because it strikes me as just a beautiful and unique arrangement.   It is one that I've always wished that I could play.

This year I wanted to see if I could determine what he did with the arrangement and come up with one of my own.   I bought a book of Guaraldi transcriptions for the Kindle called "The Vince Guaraldi Collection".   I found out some interesting things right away.  The first thing was that aside from the Peanuts songs,  he was a rather respected Latin jazz pianist.   He has some very interesting Sambas and other songs in this collection that I'm going to have to delve into after the new year.

Here is the list of non-Peanuts songs:

Cast Your Fate To The Wind
Manha De Carnaval
Outra Vez
Samba De Orfeau

As for What Child Is This,  it is performed in the rich piano key of Ab.  He also has an interlude of Fm7-Db-Bb-C  that he puts in between each section of the song to add color.   The basic form is AAB with interludes.   Transcriptions are good to use even if you don't intend to play the whole song note-for-note.   You can find out the form, basic harmonies,  and some voicing ideas,  like I've done here - without playing every note as written.

The form that I chose to use is:

B - solo piano rubato
Interlude with trio
A Improv
A Improve
Interlude  -  second part of interlude doubles the length of the bars
B - solo piano rubato
End on sustained Fm9 chord.  


Here is one random page of the Vince Guaraldi transcription.   Don't want to get in trouble :-)

1 comment:

  1. Ken,

    Keep up the excellent work!
    I knew you would get "What Child Is This" added to your body of blogs.
    Nice use of rubato solo piano juxaposed with the trio.

    Congratulations on yet another accomplishment.