Talent, persistence, flexibility, and a little bit of luck have led to success for David Benoit. He came onto the music scene as contemporary jazz was blossoming, and many consider him a pioneer in the field. Starting out as a jazz piano player, he also composes, arranges, and directs a wide range of music, including classical, straight-ahead jazz, contemporary jazz, bebop, hip-hop, and Broadway.
Benoit (pronounced ben-WAH) was born on May 9, 1953, in Bakersfield, California. His parents were both educators. His father, Bob, taught behavioral science at the college level, but played guitar in a jazz band on weekends. His mother, Betty, enjoyed playing the piano. When Benoit was small, his parents bought a piano and placed it in his bedroom. When he was eight, he moved with his parents and two brothers to Her-mosa Beach, California. In this smaller house they were unable to keep the piano. When he was 13, the family moved again, this time to a larger home, and his parents bought another piano. David started taking lessons and his natural talent quickly blossomed. He began playing at high school events, and played with other school musicians in jazz and rock combos. By 17, he was playing the piano professionally.
After high school, Benoit began attending El Camino College to study piano and composition. He dropped out to concentrate on developing his career, playing gigs in Hollywood nightclubs. His first big break came when he was only 20 years old. Richard Bascomb, a composer, overheard Benoit playing in a studio. In an interview included on the All About Jazz website, Benoit recalled Bascomb saying, “I like the way you play. I want you to play in this movie that I’m doing.” The film, Nashville, directed by Robert Altman, was released in 1975.
Soon Benoit had a record deal with AVI and began to release his own solo albums. Initially, his music gained little attention, and he continued to play as a sideman for such greats as vocalist Gloria Lynne, Red Holloway, Kenny Burrell, singer Lainie Kazan, and the Duke Ellington Orchestra.
Then, in 1981, Benoit’s album Stages became an unexpected smash hit in the Philippines. He toured there to sold-out crowds. “You hear of entertainers that get famous in Europe and are never heard of in the States. Well, I was famous in the Philippines long before ANYONE ever heard of me here!” Benoit told Roslyn Shays for the Oakland Tribune. It was at this time that he decided to give up playing gigs as a sideman and concentrate entirely on his solo career.
Recorded “Linus and Lucy”
In 1985 the album This Side Up hit number four on Billboard’ s jazz chart. The lighthearted “Linus and
For the Record…
Born on May 9, 1953, in Bakersfield, CA; son of Bob and Betty Benoit; married to Kei; children: June Koko. Education: Attended El Camino College, Torrance, CA.
Began playing piano professionally in Hermosa Beach, CA, 1970; dropped out of college to play full time; played the soundtrack for the movie Nashville, 1973; signed with AVI, producing five albums, early 1980s; after becoming a success in the Philippines, signed with GRP Records, 1986; became well known for his music’s association with Charles Schulz’s Peanuts Gang; as his success grew, be began to branch out, infusing jazz into other forms of music; after conducting many prominent orchestras, he became the director of the Asia-America Symphony, 2001.
Awards: Oasis Smooth Jazz Awards, Best Keyboardist, 2000.
Addresses: Office —David Benoit Music, 608 Silver Spur Rd., Suite 350, Rolling Hills Estates, CA, 90274. Management —The Fitzgerald Hartley Co., 34 North Palm St., Suite 100, Ventura, CA 93001. Website— David Benoit Official Website: http://www.benoit.com.
Lucy,” originally recorded by Vince Guaraldi, gained attention, and Benoit began a long-term relationship with Charles Schulz and his Peanuts Gang. This success launched him into the Contemporary Jazz scene. That same year, he was an original member of the Rippingtons. Their debut album, Moonlighting, became Jazziz magazine’s choice as one of the most influential contemporary jazz albums of all time.
In 1986 Benoit signed with GRP records as a solo artist, and just two years later his album Every Step of the Way was nominated for a Grammy Award in the Best Jazz-Fusion category. He also played a special performance at the White House for President Ronald Reagan. In 1989 his Waiting for Spring album was much more straight-ahead jazz than his previous works. The executives at GRP were concerned that he was moving out of the realm where he had previously found success. Benoit held his ground, and the album went to number one on the jazz charts for eight weeks.
Television and Film Success
By this time “Linus and Lucy” had become his signature piece. When GRP Records released Happy Anniversary, Charlie Brown, Benoit redesigned it, playing a duet with Vince Guaraldi’s original demo tape. In 1990 he was part of “You Don’t Look 40, Charlie Brown,” a television celebration of the Peanuts Gang. He went on to do many other Charlie Brown television specials as a musician, musical director, and arranger. This, in turn, led to other television and movie opportunities, including working with Clint Eastwood to provide music for his documentary Don’t Pave Main Street: Carmel’s Heritage. His first major film scoring project was the Warner Bros, feature film, The Stars Fell on Henrietta, which was quickly followed by working with Sally Field in her directorial debut, The Christmas Tree. He also wrote the underscore for many television shows, including Sisters, and Shannon’s Deal, as well as a theme song for the long-running ABC soap opera All My Children.
In 1992 Benoit paid tribute to the influence of Bill Evans on his work with an album in a more traditional format. Letter to Evan was a shift in direction for him, showing his talent in jazz trio settings as well as in chamber music. His arranging skills began to place him in high demand.
He began working on American Landscape after learning that his mother was terminally ill with pancreatic cancer. His mother loved what he called “American Music” written by composers such as Bernstein, Copland, Gershwin, and Sondheim. He dedicated the album to her. As noted on the Musical Heritage Society website, Sally Field said, “American Landscape is magical, energetic and joyous. There are touches of sadness with a great deal of whimsy. It is constantly changing and filled with surprise. American Landscape is a magnificent adventure.” Benoit’s mother died on February 18, 1997, just as the record was scheduled for final mastering.
The next few years led to some high achievements for Benoit. In 1999 the song “Dad’s Room” on the album Professional Dreamer was nominated for a Grammy Award for Instrumental Composition. He was voted “Best Keyboardist” at the 2000 Oasis Smooth Jazz Awards. In 2001 he received another Grammy Award nomination for Here’s to You, Charlie Brown: 50 Great Years in the Engineered Album, Non-Classical category.
Benoit’s reputation began to lead to other opportunities. He began to be featured as a guest conductor and soloist with symphonies worldwide, including San Francisco, Atlanta, San Antonio, Los Angeles, San Jose, London, and Nuremberg. In 2001 he became the director of the Asia-America Symphony, and began to develop a corresponding youth symphony. He joined the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation and began to visit classrooms around the United States, encouraging schools to keep active orchestra programs and fund school programs to purchase band instruments. He is concerned about the declining role of music education. “[Music] was as much a part of a kid’s education as soccer practice is now. There was a piano in every schoolroom. It was just a part of growing up, learning to play an instrument. We’ve gotten so far away from that,” he told the Jazzitude website.
Benoit admits to a certain amount of tension between record producers and jazz musicians. His attention to the commercial side of the business has earned him a fair share of critics. “I’ve had to get a little more radio-minded in my music than I used to,” Benoit said. “There’s a little pressure from the record label, I admit. It’s a lot harder to get airplay these days,” he told the Bakersfield Californian. “Frankly, the straight-ahead jazz community gets a little too arrogant for me,” he laughed. “I find the smooth jazz community to be a little bit friendlier. And I like playing to more than 10 people.”
Benoit experienced a year of great variety in 2002. His album Fuzzy Logic, with the playful “War of the SUVs” was released early in the year. ‘That’s really my favorite cut on the record,” he stated on his website. “It was my own personal way of saying, ‘Let’s have some fun. Let’s not take this thing too seriously.’ Sometimes we can get so serious about everything. Of course, I didn’t want to call it ‘I Hate SUVs’ because my audience, probably a good 60 percent of them own SUVs. But they’ll get a little laugh out of this title and know that we’re poking fun at ourselves.”
He also presented a ballet he had written, Kobe, about a young girl growing up in Japan, surviving both the bombing of Hiroshima and the Kobe earthquake. In another direction, he began to work on music for a Broadway musical about the life of Marilyn Monroe. “For me, it’s always been important to expose all the boundaries in music and find ways to expand them,” he says on the Smooth Jazz website. “I have all these different sides of myself and my musical background that I want to express. As a pianist, I love to play jazz, both fusion and straight ahead, while as a composer, there’s always a need to explore new territories. I’m always trying to take the flavors of all I’ve done in the past and bring them to a higher level. Not everyone takes the chances I do, but for me, that’s the fun of it.”
Heavier Than Yesterday, AVI, 1977.
Life Is Like a Samba, AVI, 1979.
Can You Imagine, AVI, 1980.
Stages, AVI, 1983.
Digits, AVI, 1984.
Christmastime, AVI, 1985.
Summer, King, 1985.
This Side Up, AVI, 1985.
Freedom at Midnight, GRP, 1987.
Every Step of the Way, GRP, 1988.
Urban Daydreams, GRP, 1989.
Waiting for Spring, GRP, 1989.
Inner Motion, GRP, 1990.
Shadows, GRP, 1991.
This Side Up, GRP, 1991.
Waves of Raves, Blue Moon, 1991.
Letter to Evan, GRP, 1992.
Benoit/Freeman Project, GRP, 1994.
Lost and Found, Rhino, 1994.
Shaken Not Stirred, GRP, 1994.
Best of David Benoit 1987-1995, GRP, 1995.
Stars Fell on Henrietta, Varese, 1995.
Remembering Christmas, GRP, 1996.
American Landscape, GRP, 1997.
Can You Imagine, AVI, 1997.
Some Other Sunset, Intersound, 1998.
Professional Dreamer, GRP, 1999.
Great Composers of Jazz, Fine Tune, 2000.
Here’s to You, Charlie Brownl 50 Great Years, GRP, 2000.
If I Could Reach Rainbows, Sin-Drome, 2001.
Fuzzy Logic, GRP, 2002.
Bakersfield Californian, April 12, 2001.
Oakland Tribune, December 25, 1992.
“Biography,” David Benoit Official Website, http://benoit.com/bio.html (September 5, 2002).
“David Benoit: Contemporary Jazz Artist Sets Sights High and Wide,” All About Jazz, http://www.allaboutjazz.com/views/dbenoit (September 23, 2002).
“David Benoit,” Internet Movie Database, http://us.imdb.com/Name?Benoit,+David (September 18, 2002).
“David Benoit,” Smooth Jazz, http://www.smooth-jazz.de/Artistsl/Benoit.html (September 5, 2002).
“David Benoit: One Dream at a Time,” Jazzitude, http://www.jazzitude.com/blbenoita.htm (September 5, 2002).
“Grammys 2000 Scorecard,” ElOnline, http://www.eonline.com/Features/Awards/Grammys2000/Scorecard/index8.html (September 23, 2002).
“Interview with David Benoit by Jeff Charney,” Contemporary Jazz, http://www.contemporaryjazz.com/interviews/davidbenoithtml (September 18, 2002).
“Liner notes,” Musical Heritage Society, http://www.musicalheritage.com (September 9, 2002).
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