Over the past eight or nine years, "Charlie Brown Jazz Christmas" has become one of the most popular annual events at the Carroll County Arts Center, according to Executive Director Sandy Oxx. So popular in fact, that this year will see a fourth show added for the first time.
"All three shows sold out last year, so we added the fourth," she said. "It's absolutely one of my favorite feel-good programs."
The program opens with a big screen showing of the classic animated 1965 TV special, "A Charlie Brown Christmas," with its elegant jazz score composed and performed by the Vince Guaraldi Trio.
"It's such a phenomenon that a movie basically for children has a very sophisticated jazz score," Oxx said. "It was a perfect backdrop for that story."
Immediately following the end of the TV special, the screen is raised to reveal the Arts Center stage and the Eric Byrd Trio, who then perform the full Guaraldi score, while adding some improvisational flourishes of their own.
"We didn't want to do something that was just a carbon copy. We wanted to do something unique," said Eric Byrd, pianist and bandleader. "If you get the [original] soundtrack, as I had years ago, I think Vince is the only soloist, the only one that improvises. But for our show, we wanted to ... take what Vince started and put it in a modern-type concept where everyone would have a chance to improvise."
Byrd said his trio's performance will include improvisational solos by bassist Bhagwan Khalsa and drummer, Alphonso Young Jr.
Oxx said that the event got its start eight or nine years ago - she cannot recall exactly - when she watched Byrd performing one of the songs from the TV special at an otherwise underwhelming holiday variety show. The thought occurred to her that it would have been more entertaining to have seen the TV special and listen to Byrd perform.
Byrd said he was not immediately convinced Oxx's idea was a sound one, if just because Guaraldi's original score was so iconic and masterful.
"I thought Sandy was nuts when she first proposed the idea. I didn't think it was plausible, marketable at all," Byrd said. "My first thought when she came up with the idea was, 'there's no way we're going to do it, because there is no way I can come close to that kind of artistry."
Byrd said he was pleasantly surprised at how well the first show went and at how much the event has grown. Today, the Eric Byrd Trio not only perform at the Arts Center, but have taken the show on the road, playing at venues in Virginia, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.
"Every December now for the last four years or so, it's the 'Charlie Brown tour' ... We have to turn people down because we only have 20 days," Byrd said. "This is why Sandy is brilliant and I have never doubted her since then. She at some level saw all this coming. It's turned into a real thing."
Kristy and Bill Fanning, of Westminster, have helped turn the Charlie Brown Jazz Christmas show into a "real thing," having made attending the show a family tradition since the very first year.
"I'm a huge Peanuts fan. I've always love Peanuts since I was little and of course loved the [TV] Special and loved the music. When I heard about them doing [Charlie Brown Jazz Christmas] the first time, I had to go," Kristy said. "I have to go every year. As long as they have it, I'll be there."
Byrd and his trio will perform two evening and two afternoon shows this year, an 8 p.m. show on Dec. 20, a 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. show on Dec. 21 and a final 3 p.m. show on Dec. 22.
Tickets for the shows are available online up until two hours before show time at
and at the door by cash, check or credit card, though sales will be subject to availability.
Tickets are $12 for adults 18 years and older and $8 for Arts Council members, seniors age 60 and older and children age 17 and younger.
Oxx said that even though each of the four shows was less than half full at press time, and that a fourth show had been added, the event has historically sold out and so she recommends those paying at the door come early to secure tickets and enjoy some of the other attractions the Arts Council has to offer.
"Our Galleria of Gifts will still be open so we are encouraging people to come early and shop," Oxx said. "[It's] the works of about 35 artists, beautifully handcrafted items, jewelry, pottery and weaving, all for sale."
Byrd said that his group are so pleased to be able to be a personal component of the holidays for so many people and to have seen this project, which he doubted at first, take off so dramatically.
"The most popular comment we get is, 'this is what we do for Christmas every year,'" Byrd said. "A part of their [Christmas] list is coming to see a Charlie Brown Jazz Christmas at the Arts Center and that is very gratifying and humbling, that you are a part of peoples' lives."