120414 Jerry Granelli, Ottawa, ON

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On December 4th, 2014 I walked through the wintery streets of Ottawa to the beautiful Dominion-Chalmers Church to see the Jerry Granelli Trio.  I had been crestfallen when I had missed his concert the previous year and was very excited to have a second chance to see this show for what would prove to be the first time.

Jerry Granelli is an American jazz drummer who now lives in Nova Scotia*.  Though he’s had an enviable career full of highlights Granelli’s main claim to fame is that he played drums with Vince Guaraldi.  That’s him on (most of) Vince Guaraldi’s stupendously famous soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Though it was just another brief recording session for Jerry Granelli back in 1965 the music that accompanied the Charlie Brown Christmas cartoon has gone on to become some of the most popular and well-known Christmas music in the world.  Every brush stroke Jerry Granelli made that day is ingrained in our shared planetary holiday consciousness, but to the accomplished drummer at its core it was just some incidental music to go along with a one-time television special that everyone figured would be soon forgotten.

And so the only surviving member of the Vince Guaraldi trio never revisited what became his most famous work, intent as he was on promoting his more ‘serious’ projects, of which there are many.  Until out of the blue he played a single, one-off show in Ottawa featuring the music from the iconic Christmas album in December of 2013.  

And somehow I missed it.  I didn’t hear about the show until it had already happened and I kicked myself for missing what I thought was my only chance to see such legendary music played by one of the original musicians.   So you just know that when he announced a repeat performance in 2014 I would be sitting at my computer with my cursor poised over the “Buy Tickets” icon as the clock ticked down to onsale time.  And I was.

The show was glorious.  It was everything I dreamed it would be and more, with screens set up showing clips from the animated special, a children’s choir singing the cacaphonic harmonies perfectly, and a fantastic pair of musicians playing alongside the featured performer.

The bass player was great, but the pianist was really, really exceptional.  He was young but his playing was very mature.  He sounded like he grew up playing the Guaraldi album; he hovered very close to playing the music note-for-note but altered the lines with a subtlety and fluidity that made it sound like Vince Guaraldi himself was up there playing.  I really can’t imagine where Jerry Granelli found him, though I believe he was also from Nova Scotia.

And Granelli himself was perfect.  Self-effacing and down-to-Earth with his meek mic skills, he told stories about the sessions and about playing with Vince, stories that he has hardly ever told before.  The tales were engaging and fresh, and despite his advanced age Granelli played with the same finesse and nuance we all hear in every mall, at every party, on every radio station at Christmastime.  It was such a great, great concert and I walked out of that church at the end of the night seriously Christmas-ed up.  

I don’t remember if it was snowing when I walked home after the show but in my mind’s eye it was, with big fat flakes falling on a city lit up with coloured lights, gorgeous flat-9 chords floating over tannenbaum melodies in my head.

I can’t believe I’m lucky enough to live in the one city that seems to be able to convince Jerry Granelli to perform this show.  It’s a Christmas miracle.

*RIP Mr. Granelli (1940-2021).

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