At this point, it’s as much of an Atlanta tradition as ditching your car at the first sign of snow flurries, and it’s possibly the coziest show to ever grace the stage of the Earl. Yet more than anything, it’s a haven of peace on earth in a world where the commercialization of Christmas has surpassed even the feverish heights of Charles Shultz’ imagination. I am, of course, talking about Jeffrey Bützer, T.T. Mahony, and Mike Beshera’s live rendition of A Charlie Brown Christmas. This year, the ensemble, along with a small chorus of guest singers, will perform back-to-back shows on Dec. 15 and 16 in celebration of their 10-year anniversary.
It’s easy to bask in the nostalgia of A Charlie Brown Christmas, but Bützer, Mahony and company have figured out how to faithfully recreate the magic and longing of the original while bringing their own energy to the show, demonstrating the fluidity and timelessness of Vince Guaraldi’s songwriting. In honor of the anniversary, I reached out to Bützer to better understand his connection to the film as well as what he’s learned from channeling the classic score over the past decade.
Many people have a strong nostalgia for A Charlie Brown Christmas. Does the movie bring back any particular memories for you?
It is one of those things where I do not recall not having Charlie Brown in my life. Like Elvis or Bruce Lee, I can’t even remember a first time seeing it. I do have a fond memory of getting the VHS and a stuffed Snoopy for my Nephew Nathan Bützer (who is also a composer) for Christmas and showing him the special for the first time.
Everyone loves “Linus and Lucy,” but what do you think is the most underrated song on the record?
I think “Greensleeves” is a strong presence that perhaps people don’t automatically associate with the record. It has two titles on the record and the extended version has three versions of it.
How did you first come up with the idea for the show?
I wanted to work with T.T. Mahony again after we did a show of music by Waits, Cohen, and Cave, and this seemed perfect. Of course his piano playing is phenomenal, but also he is hilarious. I think our different styles of playing and humor work really well together and part of that is the lynchpin to the show.
Did you have any expectations that the show would be this successful when you first started?
Not at all. I thought me would be lucky to fill the Earl in December. I mean, I hoped people would want to see it! I remember getting to the venue and people began to line up, and the talent buyer informed me that we pre-sold 80 tickets and I got nervous. I remember thinking, “Oh, people other than my friends are going to see this… we better do a good job.”
Has playing Vince Guaraldi’s music for 10 years affected your creative process as a songwriter? If so, how?
I have been a fan of all of his music for so long that I am not sure how it influences me. His bossa records are so good. I really recommend people go out of their way to hear them. I think as a player, just playing with Mike Beshera and T.T. and the crew have made me a better musician. I am always trying to keep up with them.
A Charlie Brown Christmas 10th Anniversary goes down Fri., Dec. 15 and Sat., Dec. 16 at the EARL. In addition to the full score, the trio will also perform selections from Phil Spector’s seminal LP, A Christmas Gift For You. Jeffrey Bützer & the Bicycle Eaters open the show with a short set. Doors open at 8 p.m. Admission is $15 in advance, $18 DOS. 21+ to enter. A third show, this one all ages, will take place on Sat., Dec. 23 at Kavarna.