For people of a certain age, 1965’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas” was their first real exposure to jazz music.
It just so happened that Eric Byrd of The Eric Byrd Trio was one of those people who was enamored by the jazz compositions performed on the soundtrack by the Vince Guaraldi Trio.
For that demographic, shows like “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” “Sesame Street, “ Bugs Bunny,” and “Charlie Brown,” were “all we had,” Byrd said recently during a telephone interview from his New Market home.
“They just low-key snuck in some really cool music,” the musician said.
“When I was a kid watching that stuff, I didn’t know what I was listening to. And more importantly, I didn’t have anybody deciding for me what I should be listening to.”
The Eric Byrd Trio will recreate the sounds of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” with a special concert. Byrd is on piano and vocals, Bhagwan Khalsa is on acoustic bass and Alphonso Young Jr. is on drums and percussion.
The Eric Byrd Trio will perform “A Charlie Brown Christmas Live!” Friday at the Weinberg Center for the Arts. It is the trio’s first appearance at the Weinberg.
Byrd said music today is “segregated more than ever.” He points to his sons — 16, 13 and 11 (two of whom will be in the show) — and their musical exposure.
“They already have a preconceived notion due to media and the world we live in, the kind of music that is popular, the kind of music that’s relevant, the kind of music that is valid,” he said.
Byrd said that when he was younger, he was exposed to everything from classical and folk music to rock, bluegrass and jazz.
“When I was a kid, nobody explained to me that that music was on the fringes. I just liked what I liked,” he said. “And I think that one of the huge super byproducts with the Charlie Brown stuff is that not only was it entertaining and funny, and everybody loves Snoopy, and everybody was empathetic with Charlie Brown, but the music was swinging. It was happy. It was fun, classic music.”
So when the opportunity came to perform the entire “A Charlie Brown Christmas” soundtrack live, Byrd knew they had to do it.
“I’ve loved it ever since I first heard it, and so Christmas time would roll around and I would do a song or two arrangement of one or two of the songs,” he said.
That’s when his friend, Sandy Oxx, former executive director of the Carroll County Arts Council, suggested that they stage an entire concert based on “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
Byrd, though, wasn’t keen on the idea at first.
“I said, ‘Nobody’s gonna pay money to see me do Vince Guaraldi,’” he recalled. “Well, it sold out every year.”
That’s why, Byrd said, they added “A Charlie Brown Christmas” to their tour.
“Hundreds, literally hundreds of people come to the show,” he said. “It is by far our best selling CD we’ve ever recorded.”
Every year, Byrd said, they’ve tried to do something a little bit different.
“We have people that are coming to see us for the very first time, and then we have people who have come here every year you’ve done it,” he said. “... It’s really turned into our own little holiday tradition that is really really beneficial.”
The Eric Byrd Trio’s performance begins with a showing of the original TV movie of “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
“When that is over, without a break at all, we come on stage, the trio comes on stage and we play arrangements of all the songs in its entirety from that soundtrack,” he said.
Byrd credits the high level of musicality of his bandmates for making all the songs favorites of the audience.
“For me personally, I think I think it’s ‘Christmas Time is Here’ because my baby who’s now a 16-year-old kid, he sang that on the record when he was 7 or something,” he said.
Today, his oldest, Jason, likes to do more merchandising. And his 11-year--old son, Quintin, is singing “Christmas Time is Here” in the show. Byrd’s 13-year-old son, Will, plays the guitar solo in the middle of the song. His wife, Leslie Byrd, makes it a family affair by giving voice lessons to the singers.
Byrd said the show is family-friendly and lasts 75 minutes. And he hopes that it will be a feel-good holiday experience.
“You’re gonna feel real good,” he said. “I tell people all the time there is so much joy in this music. And we play it with a lot of energy and a lot of joy and there is a lot of joy in the music. People will feel good about themselves and the world that they live in.”
Follow Crystal Schelle on Twitter: @crystalschelle.