Thursday, November 6, 2014

David Benoit Reflections Charlie Brown + Charles Schulz #CBXmas


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3rd Post in a #CBXmas Series

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Often music speaks louder about emotions than simple spoken words as this heart felt and jazzy performance of the tune Linus & Lucy by composer, arranger and musician David Benoit attests. It's a perfect way to open my next post celebrating the 50th anniversary airing of A Charlie Brown Christmas coming up next month. 

This is my third interview with people who knew him and who's lives were deeply touched by the late great Charles Schulz. It follows MBE posts based on interviews with Mr. Schulz's daughter Jill Schulz and actress Sally Dryer who, as a child, voiced Violet in the iconic Charlie Brown TV special that first aired in 1965.

David Benoit launched his recording career as a contemporary jazz pianist and composer in 1977. To date, he's made 25 solo recordings, including several that were nominated for GRAMMY awards. Since 2000 (the year Charles Schulz passed away) he has produced several commemorative Charlie Brown related projects including Here’s To You, Charlie Brown: 50 Great Years and the star-studded 40 Years: A Charlie Brown Christmas. These reflect his lifelong passion for the music of original Peanuts composer Vince Guaraldi and solidify Benoit’s role as his musical heir. 

Here's a bit about what David Benoit had to say during our phone conference call...

Young David at the piano, Photo from David Benoit
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.

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. Also I 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!

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. 

Schroeder at the piano, Image from Peanuts Worldwide
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. 

So you feel jazz is the right genre for Peanuts music? 

I do. The kids are very sophisticated, their emotions, their vocabulary. Peanuts was one of first strips to do that—to have kids speaking intelligently, expressing deep emotions. Jazz, because of its sophistication, seemed to work very well. After Vince Guaraldi died, they tried using other composers; many of them, like Judy Munson, were very good. But she approached it from traditional cartoon composing, and it wasn’t the same. Upbeat jazz just hit a spark. They were looking for another jazz pianist to start writing music, that’s how they found me.

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.

Image from Peanuts Worldwide
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.

What's next for you?

I’m working on my first all-vocal album. We’re talking with an artist named Jane Monheit, getting the songs ready for that.  I’m getting ready to do a tour of The Music of Charlie Brown, starting in December and going all across the country. You can find the dates and cities on my website,

For the Christmas tribute to Charlie Brown, how do you decide what songs to play, and how long is the set?

It’s about an hour and a half. Many songs come from that show, but we also play a few traditional Christmas songs. And I play a few of my own compositions for audience to hear the other side of me. There’s a pretty good variety of stuff. It’s a fun show. 

Be on the alert for MBE's next post in this fun A Charlie Brown Christmas series based on an interview with Ron Smith of Technicolor who will be sharing exclusive insights about the modern cutting-edge technology including 4k scanning and finishing that’s giving the 50-year-old classic look a makeover to retain the same fresh and clean look as the day it was created.

About A Charlie Brown Christmas
Since 1964 A Charlie Brown Christmas has touched the lives of millions of fans around the

globe. In 2014, Peanuts Worldwide kicks off a year-long celebration of 50 years of A Charlie Brown Christmas. December 2014 marks the 50th time the beloved special airs on television on ABC. In December 2015 it will be the 50th year since it was created, produced and debuted.

FTC Disclosure: I disclose that I am a 50 Years on TV Peanuts Brand Ambassador. I received the Peanuts prize package pictured to facilitate this post and the associated giveaway. See complete FTC Disclosure information that appears at the bottom of MommyBlogExpert's main page and at the bottom of every individual post on this blog, including this one.

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