Los Angeles Music Review: DAVID BENOIT TRIBUTE TO CHARLIE BROWN (Carpenter Center in Long Beach)

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by Tony Frankel on December 20, 2015

in Theater-Los Angeles


It’s clear that jazz pianist David Benoit has more than an affection for all things Charlie Brown. The pensive character from Charles Schultz’ strip, Peanuts, has certainly inspired many–from filmmakers and musicians to the “Average Joe” who contemplates the enormity of just existing–but Benoit presented his charming Christmas concert with a childlike persona that was positively infectious. Local boy Benoit, who hosts the morning show on 88.1 FM, K-Jazz, brought to the Carpenter Center (on the same campus as the radio station) the All-American Boys Chorus of Costa Mesa and one of America’s greatest modern jazz vocalists, Jane Monheit, to present a holiday-themed evening of song that, even with a sold-out house, felt as cozy as if you were in a small piano bar.

Spotlit downstage throughout the two-act entertainment was Schroeder’s toy piano with a tiny Charlie Brown Christmas Tree on it. A perfect picture for Benoit’s opening selections, which were from Vince Guaraldi’s soundtrack of the iconic TV special, A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965). Incredibly, with the help of drummer Jamey Tate and bassist David Hughes, Benoit brought new life to the jazzy Christmas standards made famous by the Vince Gauraldi Trio (the same ones we have been listening to for 50 years). Thanks to the keyboardist’s inventive, assured riffing, Tate’s creative drum breaks (“O Tannenbaum” had four in a row), and Hughes’s solidly mellow lines, “Skating” and “What Child Is This?” sounded fresher than ever. Later in the set, Hughes killed in a bass solo during “Cast Your Fate to the Wind,” the 1962 Guaraldi composition that perked up the ears of television producer Lee Mendelson, who hired the Bay Area-based jazz pianist for Charlie Brown.

Benoit, who for more than 20 years has performed solo works for Peanuts in its many incarnations (and who recorded almost all of the piano solos for the new Peanuts Movie), also brought some cool new improvisations to Guaraldi’s quintessential theme song, “Linus and Lucy.”

For his 35th and 36th (!) albums, 2 in Love and the holiday-themed Believe, Benoit for the first time worked with a vocalist on an entire album. Fortunately at his fourth sold-out appearance at the acoustically stunning Carpenter Center last Saturday, Jane Monheit was available to join in the festivities. With selections from both 2015 releases, she proved why she is currently America’s greatest jazz chanteuse with silky scatting (Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “My Favorite Things”), adroit phrasing (Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne’s “The Christmas Waltz”), and soulful sizzle (Lorraine Feather’s Latin-tinged “Barcelona Nights”). Madam Monheit also proved herself a terrific actress with “Schroeder,” sung by the character of Lucy over Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” in the musical You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown (1967).

The All-American Boys Chorus of Costa Mesa, which also appeared on Believe, joined in the second act and offered a sincere rendition of another You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown tune, “Happiness” (the standard can so often be cloying and treacly, so charming and warm suits this number just great). Luckily, for the sake of sentimentalism, they sounded just like the original track of “Hark, The Herald Angels Sing.” And with a crystal-clear tone, the boys blew me away with their consistent “bum-pitti-ba-rum-pum” backup on another of Guaraldi’s original tracks from A Charlie Brown Christmas, “My Little Drum.”

David Benoit Christmas Tribute to Charlie Brown
Carpenter Performing Arts Center
Cal State Long Beach
played December 19, 2015
for future events, call 562.985.7000 or visit www.CarpenterArts.org

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