The strange story of this album’s creation (for an initial Charlie Brown TV special that never aired) and its ultimate influence (Vince Guaraldi’s themes would help shape the rest of that cartoon franchise) tends to form a considerable distraction when approaching the music.
A Boy Named Charlie Brown, afforded a new reissue on May 13, 2014 via Concord’s Fantasy imprint, will always have as its center the delicate nostalgia of “Linus and Lucy,” “Charlie Brown Theme” and “Baseball Theme” — a trio of songs that are as much a part of the culture as the Charles Schultz characters who lived them out as a soundtrack. These things, of course, are linked forever — this boy, his dog and Guaraldi’s music. One without the other two would have inextricably changed everything.
A Boy Named Charlie Brown, however, was originally titled Jazz Impressions of the Boy Named Charlie Brown — and the difference is small, but striking. Guaraldi, featured here with bassist Monty Budwig and drummer Colin Bailey, goes on to explore a much broader musical terrain, drawing out sun-streamed optimism, fragile melancholy and no small amount of childlike wonder from a series of separate moments.
That brings to life ideas wholly unassociated with childhood, cartoons, blue blankets or little yellow birds — from the bossa-nova crispness of “Pebble Beach” to the sweet reminiscence of “Blue Charlie Brown,” from the carefree delights of “Freda” to the sophisticated panache of “Fly Me to the Moon,” one of two reissue bonus cuts. If you always wondered whether there was more to Guaraldi, A Boy Named Charlie Brown is actually the best place to start.