By Ralph Burnett
Of the 13 albums that David Benoit has recorded as a leader, one was quite a surprise--not a surprise in content or performance, but in design. "Christmastime is probably one of the few Christmas albums that was actually recorded during Christmas time," says Benoit, referring to the tradition that Christmas albums are recorded in the dead of Summer in order to reach the retail stores by the holidays. "We recorded it on December 22nd , and it was meant as a cassette tape Christmas present to my friends. During the session we had eggnog and a little brandy and it was at night so we were all like in the holiday spirit. The whole thing was recorded that night and I like to think that we captured something special. A year later AVI called me and said that they wanted to put it out as a record and I said oh, cool." Along with Christmastime, five other early Benoit AVI titles are currently available on CD through Mesa/Bluemoon Recordings.
That record also sparked an association that has almost become synonymous with David Benoit. "I recorded a song called 'Christmas Time is Here' which Lee Mendelson wrote with Vince Guraldi," recalls David. "His wife heard the record and went out and bought it and they were real surprised because I don't think anyone had recorded [that song] 'till that point. They were looking for somebody to do music for one of the Charlie Brown specials and she said to him, 'hey, why don't you check this guy David out.' So he called my agent and hired me to do the 'Great Ventures' mini-series. We just kind of hit it off and the relationship continued. In fact, I just finished another one today called "You're in the Super Bowl Charlie Brown." Benoit's indelible spin of Guraldi's "Linus & Lucy" has become a standard encore piece and a staple of any David Benoit concert. "That song" says David, "was one of those little piano pieces that I never really learned very well and I always wanted to, so I listened to the record and I learned it in the wrong key--actually, I still play it in the wrong key to this day."
The cadre of albums that David has recorded for GRP over the past decade, (seven in all), has made him one of the highest selling jazz artists of that period. And although most people associate the Benoit sound with glossy melodies that could easily be mistaken for high-energy TV and film themes, albums like Waiting for Spring and his most recent Letter to Evan leave the mainstream critics cold. "Most musicians in the community know that I can play straight-ahead jazz," states Benoit, "but there's always that misconception with more the nonprofessionals that have some image of me being the real hearts and flowers, mellow, melodic, new-age pianist." Despite this apparent confusion, the musical appetite for Benoit burgers in the '80's made David a fast-food phenomenon.