Since breaking through to instrumental stardom in the mid-80s with his inimitable jazz-funk version of "Linus and Lucy," Benoit has regaled hundreds of thousands of fans worldwide with frequent tributes to Vince Guaraldi and the music of Peanuts. His ongoing passion culminates with Jazz For Peanuts - A Retrospective of the Charlie Brown Television Themes, a celebration of Guaraldi's impact on several generations of jazz musicians featuring six dynamic new tracks, (three composed by Benoit, three by Guaraldi), five of which are newly expanded arrangements of TV cues that have never been previously recorded. Complementing these fresh cuts are Guaraldi's original classic recording of "Linus And Lucy" and themes by Wynton Marsalis, Dave Brubeck and Dave Grusin (performed by Kenny G), that appeared on the This Is America, Charlie Brown series of TV specials that aired in the late 80s. These themes were eventually expanded into original recordings by these artists on their respective projects and now included in this Peak Records retrospective.
"My original concept was more than just the latest David Benoit Peanuts album, but a spirited retrospective of some of the top TV themes from throughout the strip's history," states David. "I went through 25 videos of television specials to find what I felt were the most compelling, which included great pieces by Dave Brubeck (‘Benjamin'), Wynton Marsalis (‘The Buggy Ride') and Kenny G's GRAMMY® winning performance of Dave Grusin's ‘Breadline Blues.' It's really about the legacy Vince left us all. He was a tremendous bebop player, but these Charlie Brown specials were not just another gig for him. He believed in these projects and loved and wrote music for children and children's choirs extensively. He found a way to capture a childlike spirit in his music, and while none of us can match his brilliance, we've all done our parts to keep his spirit alive through music and recording projects like this."
Jazz For Peanuts includes the pianist's dramatic straight ahead trio rendition of Guaraldi's "The Great Pumpkin Waltz" (from It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown) and two fresh interpretations of two Guaraldi pieces that have never been commercially released: the intimately romantic "Be My Valentine" (from Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown) and the larger ensemble driven, brassy and swinging title theme to "You're In Love, Charlie Brown." Benoit complements these with three new recordings of themes he has written, including the vibrant, high energy "Wild Kids" (from The Great Inventors), the percussive and brassy "Rollerblading" (from It Was My Best Birthday Ever, Charlie Brown) and the joyful, upbeat "Re-Run's Theme" (from I Want A Dog, Charlie Brown).
While Benoit performs on these tracks with many of his longtime studio and touring cohorts (saxman / flutist Andy Suzuki, guitarist Pat Kelley, drummer John Robinson), the sessions for Jazz For Peanuts at Capitol Records Studios have taken on a poignant tone since the passing earlier this year of bassist Dave Carpenter, whose appearances on each of these tracks mark some of his last performances. Several tracks also shine a spotlight on trumpeter Christian Scott and pianist Taylor Eigsti, two of Concord Records' most prominent young jazz artists. "You're In Love, Charlie Brown" and "Rollerblading" provide incredible showcases for Scott's virtuosic trumpet soloing and ensembling skills, while "Wild Kids" was fashioned as a colorful piano duet by Benoit and Eigsti. The 24-year-old Eigsti's relationship with Benoit extends back to 1992, when the eight year old prodigy-a massive Benoit fan-opened for the pianist at Sunset Gardens in Menlo Park, California. Benoit, a major advocate for music education, has been an enthusiastic supporter of Eigsti's development ever since.
Rounding out the set are four of Benoit's favorite outside compositions from the Peanuts TV specials, starting with three gems from the This Is America, Charlie Brown series. Marsalis' frenetic and intensely brassy "The Buggy Ride" (from Brothers at Kitty Hawk) originally appeared on his album Joe Cool's Blues (1995). Brubeck's lively and wistful "Benjamin" (from The NASA Space Station) was first included on his 1982 Dave Brubeck Quartet release Concord on a Summer Night. Kenny G's spirited excursion into funky pop-blues territory on "Breadline Blues" (from The Smithsonian and the Presidency) was part of the 1989 all-star tribute album Happy Anniversary, Charlie Brown which also featured Benoit. The perfect coda to the set is Guaraldi's original version of "Linus and Lucy" (from A Charlie Brown Christmas), the beloved piano trio song that launched the Peanuts musical tradition and later became a set piece of Benoit's own journey in contemporary jazz.
Beyond simply paying homage to the legacy of Guaraldi and Charles Schulz's classic comic strip and TV specials, Jazz For Peanuts continues a very personal musical odyssey for Benoit, who released his most recent Peak Records album, Heroes, earlier in 2008. The pianist's love for Peanuts and Guaraldi goes back to 1965 and his first childhood viewing of A Charlie Brown Christmas. His professional relationship with creator Charles Schulz and TV special producer Lee Mendelson began over two decades later, when they hired him to score "The Great Inventors" episode of the ongoing series This Is America, Charlie Brown.
After ten years of composing music for Peanuts specials on CBS, he complemented his output of top-selling contemporary jazz releases (which includes his 2006 Peak Records disc Full Circle, which spawned the #1 radio single "Beat Street") with Here's To You, Charlie Brown: 50 Great Years in 2000 and in 2005, the all-star anniversary project 40 Great Years: A Charlie Brown Christmas. While the music of A Charlie Brown Christmas, which included The Vince Guaraldi Trio's original version of "Linus And Lucy," has been embraced around the world since the television special first aired, Benoit crafted Jazz For Peanuts as the ultimate homage to the best of the rest of music that's accompanied the Peanuts gang on TV.
In conjunction with the release of Jazz For Peanuts - A Retrospective of the Charlie Brown Television Themes, the pianist is keeping another great tradition alive with his annual holiday tour A Charlie Brown Christmas with the David Benoit Quartet. In addition to his quartet (saxophonist Andy Suzuki, bassist David Hughes and drummer Jamey Tate), Benoit will be performing with various children's choirs and selected dates with local orchestras, including the Asia America Youth Orchestra, Montreal Symphony Orchestra, the Redding Symphony Orchestra and the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. The 13-date tour runs from runs from November 21-December 23.
"In addition to occasional recordings likeJazz For Peanuts, this tour is one of the most creative and unique ways I can keep the fire burning for the wonderful legacy of Charlie Brown music," says Benoit. "I've taken this tour out with various guests over the years and began to include children's choirs when I realized that nothing connects listeners to the joy and innocence of Christmastime like the voices of children. That's the great gift Vince left behind as well, influencing so many jazz musicians from across the spectrum while at the same time touching the child in all of us."
Over eight years after Charles Schulz's passing, the legacy endures, and groovingly so, on Jazz For Peanuts.