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Original Charlie Brown Christmas drummer brings holiday jazz to Calgary

By Jason Herring, November 26 2015 –

Fifty years ago, CBS first broadcast the Peanuts cartoon A Charlie Brown Christmas. It’s since become a Christmas staple, touching on the holiday’s over-commercialization and the winter blues as Charlie and his friends discover — of course — the true meaning of Christmas.

Along with the cartoon’s popularity came immense success for its soundtrack, recorded in 1965 by the Vince Guaraldi Trio. The album has gone on to become the best-selling jazz record of all time. Now Jerry Granelli, the trio’s drummer and last surviving member, is commemorating the album’s anniversary with a short Canadian tour that stops at Calgary’s Central United Church on Nov. 28.

Granelli is framing the afternoon of music as Tales of A Charlie Brown Christmas. He plans to incorporate clips from the original cartoon and conversation about the making of the music with his performance.

“It’s a piece of work itself, with the children’s choir and showing clips from the original show. I also talk about what it was like to do it and answer some of the questions that people have asked me over the years,” Granelli says. “And then there’s the magic of how many hundred people come every night to relive this joy in their lives. It’s a wonderful event. It’s a really fun piece to play.”

A Charlie Brown Christmas has become an iconic piece of art since its original release, proven by the popularity of Granelli’s recent tours. He has his own theory on the show’s longevity.

“I think there’s a simplicity and joy in the cartoon and the music. As our world has changed in the last 50 years, there’s probably even more of a need for that now,” Granelli explains. “That’s why it’s played year after year. People have shared it with their families, too. It became a soundtrack for people’s lives.”

One of the defining traits of the original album is the children’s choir that accompanies the Vince Guaraldi Trio on songs like “Christmas Time is Here.” Granelli is emulating that sound by bringing in local children’s choirs for the concert.

“[We use] a different choir in every city. It’s really great, because we fly in a day early and I meet all them and get to hang out with them,” he says. “They’re lots of fun, and they make it a lot of fun for me.”

Though the arrangements from A Charlie Brown Christmas are 50 years old, Granelli notes that he, along with Simon Fisk and Chris Gestrin — who round out his new trio — always find something new in the songs.

“We play them for real, we improvise them every time, and things change. The character of them doesn’t change, you know — “Linus and Lucy” is still “Linus and Lucy” — but the section of work really opens up,” Granelli says.

The same idea applies to Granelli’s own music. Since learning jazz drums as a teenager in San Francisco during the 1950s, he’s been constantly immersed the genre, releasing an album nearly every year of his career.

“It’s just the wonder of finding something new all the time, even after this length of time playing it. The music is so wonderful and improvising allows you to hear something and play something you’ve never played before. You get to be on the edge of ‘now-ness’ constantly,” Granelli says. “I loved it. Even when I couldn’t do it very well, I loved it.”

The Jerry Granelli Trio will present Tales of A Charlie Brown Christmas at Central United Church at 2:00 p.m. on Nov. 28. Tickets are $30 online at festivalhallcalgary.com.

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