In October 2008, David Benoit took a much needed breather from the frenetic pace of life in Los Angeles and headed up to the mountains near Saratoga to become an artist in residence at Villa Montalvo. Finding peaceful solitude and discovering fresh inspiration in a small cabin near the non-profit Montalvo Arts Center, the five time GRAMMY® nominated veteran composer and pianist—one of contemporary jazz’s most acclaimed artists for over two decades—wrote “Botswana Bossa Nova” and “Will’s Chill,” two unique pieces unlike any he had done before. These became the foundation for the overall global music concept behind Benoit’s stirring and provocative new CD Earthglow, his first set of original material in four years. The title track was inspired by the stunning NASA photo of our planet which graces the cover.
In an age where many listeners prefer the instant gratification of purchasing individual tracks on iTunes, Benoit takes the bold step of writing good old fashioned liner notes to explain the way the eclectic 11-track collection developed. After mentioning that the great Will. i.am from Black Eyed Peas was an influence on “Will’s Chill,” the multi-talented performer says, “I was interested in experimenting with some of the new ‘jazz-lounge-Euro-chill’ music I was hearing at upscale boutique hotels and chic Japanese sake bars.”
Focusing on the high energy hybrid of old school soul-jazz and infectious world beat textures and rhythms of “Botswana Bossa Nova,” he adds, “I loved the world mix of exotic ethnic percussion, African voices along with Brazilian beats. With the aid of the computer sequencing program Logic Pro I came up with some of these new ideas. To give the instruments a more realistic sound, I played everything in real time as opposed to step timing. Months later, with the same format, I came up with ‘Straightaway,’ ‘Unbelievable,’ ‘New Creation’ and ‘Sneaky As A Cat’ at my home studio in Palos Verdes, California.”
Benoit credits Clark Germain, his longtime engineer and co-producer on Earthglow, with reining in his off the beaten path impulses and blending them with the identifiable sound that mark his repertoire of over 30 recordings since the late ‘70s. “I really loved the vibe of ‘Will’s Chill,’” he says, “and when I started recording, I wanted the whole album to have that edgy, chill sound, with long loops and lots of samples, with a little piano in the mix. For obvious and very good reasons, Clark brought me back to myself and took these new, exciting ideas I had and put them in perspective as part of a recognizable David Benoit record. It’s got a lot of energy, but he smoothed it out and kept me in check. I think the intimacy of writing and recording in house, so to speak, without outside writers and producers as I had done in recent years, ensured that every note I intended actually appears on the album. Everyone involved had a blast recording Earthglow and exploring this new territory.”
Since launching his recording career in 1977, David Benoit’s expansive career as a contemporary jazz pianist 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.
Benoit’s ever expanding slate of orchestral music endeavors include his ongoing role as conductor of the Asia America Symphony Orchestra and leading such eminent orchestras as the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the symphonies of London, Nuremberg, San Francisco, Atlanta, San Antonio and San Jose. Concurrent with his burgeoning career as a conductor, he recorded 1996’s American Landscape with The London Symphony Orchestra and 2005’s Orchestral Stories with members of the Asia America Symphony Orchestra and the Czech National Symphony Orchestra. Orchestral Stories featured his first piano concerto “The Centaur and the Sphinx” and his acclaimed symphonic piece “Kobe,” both of which he has performed in live settings across the country. In 2009, Benoit performed and conducted Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story” with the Asia America Symphony Orchestra in a show that included Broadway great Lea Salonga; he later conducted Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with the same orchestra in his critically acclaimed debut at Los Angeles’ Disney Hall.
Benoit’s notable film scores include The Stars Fell on Henrietta, produced by Clint Eastwood and starring Robert Duvall; and The Christmas Tree, produced by Sally Field, voted Best Score of 1996 by Film Score Magazine. Benoit has also been a longtime guest educator with the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation, winning the organization’s “excellence in music education” award in 2001.
While many instrumental artists slap easy, throwaway titles on their projects, with Earthglow, Benoit put a lot of effort into finding the perfect title that would convey his musical and cultural intentions: “The task of finding a title to best represent the music contained herein was challenging at best. I started with ‘Frozen Music,’ a term to describe architecture, but with the exception of a few of my notable architect friends, nobody really got it. Then ‘New Creation’ was suggested but as we began to discuss artwork and concept, the title seemed uninspired and lacking a theme. I went back and reviewed all the song titles and ‘Earthglow’ jumped out at me. I believe it was the best word to illustrate the spirit of the project.”
For David Benoit fans old and new, basking in the Earthglow is bound to be a transcendent experience as well as an invitation to explore exciting new frontiers in jazz.