On a recent Monday, David Benoit was in the studio of his Palos Verdes, Calif., home working on the script for his Charlie Brown Christmas show.
Benoit, a jazz pianist and conductor, will perform the familiar holiday tunes Sunday, Dec. 4, at Penn State York's Pullo Family Performing Arts Center in Spring Garden Township.
Most of the songs are close to the originals composed by Vince Guaraldi for the Peanuts TV special "A Charlie Brown Christmas." But Benoit said he adds his own flourishes.
During the concert, he'll also talk about the music and how it's used in the holiday special. Benoit pointed out how one song - used when Snoopy decorates his house - moves the scene along.
"Peanuts" author Charles Schulz, aka Sparky, didn't want a jazz score at first, Benoit said. But producer Lee Mendelson pushed him toward Guaraldi's work.
Thus, Peanuts characters Schroeder and Pig-Pen began to jam on piano and bass respectively.
"There was the Schroeder who was the serious classical pianist and there was the Schroeder playing jazz," Benoit said. "The jazz part of Schroeder kind of evolved after (Guaraldi's score was added)."
During Sunday's concert, Benoit will play the Peanuts pianist in a short skit. The ensemble's singer will play the precocious Lucy.
"I don't think I was so serious (about) classical music like Schroeder was," Benoit said. "I truthfully related to Charlie Brown. I was lonely. The piano kind of rescued me."
Benoit, who grew up in Hermosa Beach, Calif., remembers sitting on his mother's lap as she played the piano. His dad was a professor on the weekdays and a jazz guitarist on the weekends. His grandmother introduced him to Benny Goodman.
As a child, Benoit followed Schulz's comic strip and at 10 or 11, he huddled around the family's black-and-white TV set when "A Charlie Brown Christmas" hit the air in 1965.
"I just remember hearing that music," he said. "I wanted to play that music. That kind of introduced me to jazz piano."
As he got older, Benoit tuned into Henry Mancini, Herb Alpert and Sérgio Mendes. He loved the scores to James Bond movies.
When he was 16, he decided he wanted to be a full-time musician and did his first demo two years later.
He moved to Hollywood and started to perform on albums and eventually signed with GRP Records.
"My first goal was to be a studio musician," Benoit said. "I started working on films and TV soundtracks. It's a very stressful job - going in and sight-reading difficult music."
Back then, film scores were recorded in a single take. If a musician messed up, the orchestra had to start again. These days, with ProTools and other technologies, mistakes can be fixed after recording a track.
Benoit's friends urged him to promote his own music, so he got an agent and started to tour in the mid-80s. Several of his albums graced the top of Billboard's jazz charts. He was nominated for five Grammys.
"Becoming a composer and conductor came later," Benoit said. But, he added, that's what he most wants to do.
He's been the music director of the Asia America Symphony and Asia America Youth Orchestra for more than a decade.
"I always learn as much as the kids do," Benoit said of his work with the youth orchestra. "It's good as you get older to give back."
While writing music for a new album, which he plans to record in January, Benoit is helping his daughter learn the violin. He has all the tools - a music library, computer and keyboards - at his disposal in his studio, which overlooks the California coast.
But Benoit said that being in York County will help him get into the mood for "A Charlie Brown Christmas."
"I can swear winter comes earlier every year on the East Coast," he said.
- Erin McCracken, FlipSide staff
If you go
See "A Charlie Brown Christmas" with The David Benoit Quartet 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 4, at Penn State's Pullo Family Performing Arts Center, 1031 Edgecomb Ave., Spring Garden Township. The program will also feature the York County Junior Honors Choir. Tickets cost $40. For details and tickets, call 505-8900, or visit thepullocenter.com.
For details about David Benoit: www.benoit.com
For more holiday concerts and events: www.yorkblog.com/flipside/happy-holidays