I recently had the chance to chat with, David Benoit, a contemporary jazz pianist and composer and the musical heir to original Peanuts composer Vince Guaraldi.
Since launching his recording career in 1977, David Benoit’s expansive career as a contemporary jazz pianist and composer has included over 25 solo recordings. His ’80s releases This Side Up, Freedom at Midnight and the GRAMMY-nominated Every Step of the Way are considered influential genre classics. Among his other GRAMMY nominations are those for Best Instrumental Composition (for “Dad’s Room,” from 1999’s Professional Dreamer) and Best Large Jazz Ensemble Performance (for the GRP All-Star Big Band).
His prolific output since 2000 includes several prominent Charlie Brown related projects (including Here’s To You, Charlie Brown: 50 Great Years and the star-studded 40 Years: A Charlie Brown Christmas) that reflect his lifelong passion for the music of original Peanuts composer Vince Guaraldi and solidify Benoit’s role as his musical heir. Benoit has also released the Billboard Contemporary Jazz charting albums Fuzzy Logic, Right Here, Right Now, Full Circle and Heroes, which paid homage to the pianist’s top jazz and pop influences.
Here is the interview, with David Benoit:
(Photo from www.benoit.com)When did your passion for Peanuts and the Peanuts music begin?- When I started reading strip at 8 years old; this was in the ’60s. I followed it very closely every day. Then I watched A Charlie Brown Christmas—we all gathered around the TV to watch it. It’s been a lifelong thing.
What was it about music and the brand that appealed to you so much- Well, it was Charlie Brown and he was a loser! He was depressed a lot, and I was having a childhood like that myself [laughs]. I related to him, and felt I had a kindred spirit out there. Then the music was jazz and piano and upbeat and fun—I got hooked on it right away.
What was your favorite piece of Peanuts music? - Of course, Linus and Lucy is the most popular one. I like Christmastime Is Here, that’s still one of my all-time favorites. Another one I like wasn’t written for Charlie Brown Christmas, it was written for a documentary on Charles Schulz—it’s a piece called Pebble Beach. A lot of hardcore fans will know that one.
What is it about A Charlie Brown Christmas and its music—what would the special be like without the music? - It wouldn’t have quite the same charm and appeal. It’s a perfect marriage. You can’t imagine one without the other. It must have been fate that brought Vince Guaraldi to Lee Mendelson. I know from writing original music for Peanuts, Vince Guaraldi was always the reference point.
What makes the Linus and Lucy theme so memorable? - It’s one of those immediately recognizable motifs—you’ve got the left hand movement, then the right hand comes in, and it’s highly syncopated. It just gets everybody happy. The power of music.
Why has the special remained so beloved? - It might be the simplicity in its message, that Christmas has become so commercial. It’s so simple and heartfelt. It has the makings of a classic because it’s so simple and so heartwarming.
Can you elaborate on your professional connection to Peanuts and how that came about?- I had recorded Linus and Lucy on a record called This Side Up. At that time, no one had ever covered it. I did it, then it opened up a new group of fans. I also recorded Christmastime Is Here on an album called Christmastime. Lee Mendelson’s wife, Debbie, said, “Lee, you should check out David Benoit.” And he and I hit it off. It was one of those magical relationships that really worked. They were trying out several other jazz musicians, Dave Grusin, Dave Brubeck, George Winston, Wynton Marsalis, and me. We just clicked. Not long after that I became the official composer, but it wasn’t official until I met Sparky. That’s what you called Mr. Schulz because that’s what he asked you to call him. But it took me a while to get used to that!
Do you ever worry you won’t be taken seriously for associating with Peanuts? - Not really. I’ll tell you what I worry more about: When I started early on getting into the business of playing jazz that was happy, it got the moniker “smooth jazz.” Now that’s become the butt of a lot of jokes, like, “If the machines broke, you couldn’t make smooth jazz.” I worry more about that than I do about doing Charlie Brown music. There seems to be a certain reverence for Vince Guaraldi—there’s a respect. You just don’t mess with it. To me, it’s very honorable. The most common compliment I get is, “Oh, you wrote the Peanuts theme” or “You wrote Linus and Lucy.” I say, “No, that would be Vince Guaraldi.” But I’m honored. It’s totally a positive thing for me.
Who is your favorite Peanuts character?- It’s Charlie Brown. However, I think Schroeder would have to be a close second! That would tell the whole story about me. I like Snoopy, but I’m not hip enough, not quite that cool.
David Benoit, was great to talk to he was very down to earth and loved what he does for a living. He is such a talented composer and pianist, Peanuts are lucky to have him.
One of Susan’s Disney Family readers will win A Charlie
Brown Christmas prize pack! Prize pack will include a Peanuts goodies to enjoy!
Prize pack includes, a Peanuts ornament, OPI Peanuts nail polish, and a holiday CD. Would you like to win? Please let me know what you love about the A
Charlie Brown Christmas special. Do you have a favorite scene, or character? My
most favorite scene is with the little Christmas tree, when they add the
ornament and the tree sags, it just makes me feel for that tree! There are also
other ways to enter, please enter below.
One winner will win A Charlie Brown Christmas prize pack!
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Disclosure: The reviews and or opinions on this blog are my own opinions . I received the same pack. No monitory compensation was received. I was not required to write a positive review. Your experience may differ. The opinions I have expressed are my own I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commissions 16 CFR Part 255: Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsement and Testimonials in Advertising .