The name Charlie Brown evokes different things for different people. For some, it recalls images of well-intentioned, but failed attempts at kicking a football; for others a great pumpkin; for many a mischievous black-and-white dog. But for perhaps most, Charlie Brown conjures up the picture of a slim, slumping Christmas tree — a credit to the wildly popular animated holiday classic “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
Musicians, however, may not associate Charlie Brown with imagery at all, but rather the iconic music created for the program by composer Vince Guaraldi. The South Jersey Jazz Society will host an ode to those familiar tunes 7:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 11, and again a week later at the same time on Dec. 18.
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This isn’t the Jazz Society’s first homage to the music of Charlie Brown; past holiday shows have also featured Guaraldi’s music, which will return this year for a concert featuring Ed Vezinho, the Jim Ward Big Band and vocalist Cathy Rocco.
“When I think about the music, it’s melancholy and beautiful and warm,” Rocco says of the appeal of the Charlie Brown music. “The whole concept of the story (of ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’) makes you think about the holidays and the religious factor behind it — of why there is a Christmas Day at all … It’s about the true meaning of Christmas, not about the gifts … And the music is written beautifully. I think we couldn’t have chosen a better story to feature.”
Now a well-known local jazz singer, Rocco first began performing at the tender age of 10 along with her sisters, bringing American standards to showrooms and venues across South Jersey.
“It was life changing because we realized what we wanted to do at such a young age,” Rocco says. “My mother would work out the songs and the harmonies at the piano when we were at school … She’s responsible for my appreciation of the Great American Songbook. Those were the songs that were playing when I walked through the door at home. It was a great start. One thing led to another, and from there it snowballed into a career.”
As she gained experience and developed her own sound, Rocco chose jazz as her main genre.
“My roots were always in jazz. That’s where I felt most comfortable,” she explains.
On Monday Rocco will head to the Gateway Playhouse to play with some of South Jersey’s best, as part of a show — in a location — that she couldn’t be more thrilled about.
“We’re in the newly renovated Gateway Playhouse. We’re thrilled that the venue is there. It’s the perfect place to host these musicians,” she, extolling her fellow performers.
“Ed Vezinho writes some outstanding arrangements. You’re going to hear songs from one of the most endearing shows on television and some great seasonal favorites like ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’ and ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.’ The band (Jim Ward Big Band) is comprised of A.C.’s finest showroom musicians. It’s a pleasure to sing with a big band like that. What’s not to love?”
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Truly, the people of South Jersey seem to agree with Rocco. Where interest in jazz has puttered out in other parts of the country, the genre seems to thrive locally, largely, in part, to the South Jersey Jazz Society.
“The South Jersey Jazz Society is growing and growing, and the president of the society, Nick Regine, does a wonderful job to proliferate jazz in the area, and has done so over the years,” Rocco says.
“Jazz has been around for decades,” she adds. “Those are the roots of this country — jazz and blues — and I definitely think it’s important that schools keep it alive and that people come out and celebrate jazz. I think you see that here in South Jersey. The shows that we’ve done at the Gateway have been packed. It’s proof that people want that kind of music, and I’m so thrilled to see people care about jazz.”