It’s interesting to think about how many kids have learned about great music through cartoons. How many of us found out about classical music because of Bugs Bunny and the rest of the Looney Tunes gang? How many of us first heard the 1944 jazz/R&B tune “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby?” thanks to the vignette in a Tom & Jerry cartoon where Tom plucks a homemade bass and sings to the feline object of his affection? And how many of us first became familiar with piano-trio jazz thanks to Vince Guaraldi’s music from the beloved 1965 special A Charlie Brown Christmas?
As much as the story of the hapless Charlie Brown finding the true meaning of Christmas still resonates, the soundtrack, a mix of swinging holiday classics and Guaraldi originals like “Christmas Time Is Here” and the immortal “Linus & Lucy,” is what sticks with many viewers. This is especially true for Columbia bassist and bandleader Reggie Sullivan.
“When I was young, it was actually the music more than the cartoon that I was into,” Sullivan tells Free Times. “I just wanted to hear the songs. I think that’s the reason I actually love the cartoon so much. I’d watch it every year when I was younger, and before I knew what jazz music was, I realized that I just wanted to hear that music. It’s a great marriage of a cartoon with a soundtrack.”
With just a few exceptions (most notably a children’s choir on “Christmas Time Is Here”) the entire soundtrack of A Charlie Brown Christmas is made up of piano, double-bass (by Fred Marshall) and drums (by Jerry Granelli) arrangements, a classic jazz trio lineup. Sullivan says that he likes that setup because it gives the unsung backline of most larger jazz ensembles a chance to shine.
“The trio is the inner workings of just about any band,” he explains. “Everybody has their role. When there are no horn players or any other people, the trio has a chance to shine and do their thing and support each other.”
Sullivan has put together a show at The White Mule this week to pay tribute to Guaraldi’s soundtrack. Sullivan, pianist Sean Higgins, Jr. and drummer Devin Fuller will play tunes off the album in their first set before opening things up in the second.
“We’re not doing the whole album,” Sullivan says, “just six or seven of the really standout songs. And then in the second set, we’ll be doing jazz and funk and R&B Christmas standards, and then we’re moving into a holiday jam session.”
Sullivan typically plays a mix of soul, jazz and blues tunes with his eponymous band, featuring Geoff Shackley on drums and Evans McGill on guitar. But for the more straight-ahead jazz he’ll be playing at this show, he decided to work with a different ensemble.
“They’re both pretty heavy jazz guys,” he says of Fuller and Higgins. “We’ve been doing a lot of jazz shows together, and those are the guys I call. We have a real rapport with jazz material.”
And while the first set will be strictly a trio, Sullivan hopes to expand things a bit for the jam session. He doesn’t give specific names, but Sullivan says that a lot of touring musicians from the area are coming home for the holidays, so he’s optimistic that some of them will drop by and sit in.
“That’s the cool thing about this time of year,” Sullivan offers. “All of the musicians from here that live in different places now come home.”
It’s particularly meaningful for the bassist to play this show at The White Mule, which occupies the spot that once belonged to Five Points jazz hotspot Speakeasy.
“I remember when all of these musicians used to come to the Speakeasy for this huge jam, so I thought it would be cool to get back to that and close this show out with a jam and have all the musicians join in.”
What: Reggie Sullivan’s Christmas Jazz & Jam
Where: The White Mule, 711 Saluda Ave.
When: Saturday, Dec 21, 8 p.m.
More: 803-708-5908, whitemulemusic.com