Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – American pianist, composer extraordinaire and conductor David Benoit is releasing a new album, a kind of musical conversation between two trios, a classical piano trio and a jazz trio. “Colorful” is just one of the words you can use to describe this Conversation.
The album showcases nine tracks recorded inside the legendary Steinway Hall in the heart of Midtown Manhattan, New York. Benoit is the first jazz musician ever to use the famous Hall in its more than 90-year history to record an album. Steinway Hall is home to the highly-famed custom piano makers, Steinway & Sons.
David Benoit took some time off of his busy schedule in Los Angeles, California, to talk with me on Jazz Beat (mp3) about the ‘historic’ recording’s background, the album, and his music style. During the interview, you will listen exclusively to three songs in full from Benoit’s new album, Conversation. The CD is set for release on May 29 on Heads Up International Records, a division of Concord Music Group.
Benoit started his outstanding career in jazz in 1977 with the release of his first album, Heavier Than Yesterday. In a matter of two decades, he became one of the United States’ most famous jazz music heavyweights. With more than 25 best-selling solo albums; plus other piano and orchestral contributions, Benoit has been nominated for five Grammy Awards.
David Benoit has a great passion for world music, too, especially the exotic Brazilian and African beat rhythms. He wrote “Botswana Bossa Nova,” a Brazilian bossa nova groovy style of music.
“I’ve always loved bossa nova music from day one, and I always like the feeling I get from listening to it,” he explained.
The song can be found on an 11-track album titled Earthglow. The title cut “Earthglow” was inspired by a stunning satellite photo of our planet earth sent to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The photo eventually became the album’s cover.
One of Benoit’s most popular works is the remake of the classic soundtrack of the Charlie Brown Christmas show.
“We had a blast doing it, it’s a great tour and it provides great memories for me,” he said in an interview with VOA’s Jazz Beat. “Every city we have a different children choir… we are going to do it again in 2013. This time I’m going to jump on the Dave Koz Christmas tours and take a little break from Charlie Brown but we’ll bring it back.”
The multi-talented performer has led such eminent orchestras as the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the symphonies of London, Nuremberg, San Francisco, Atlanta, San Antonio and San Jose. One of his major projects is being the music director for the Asian American Symphony Orchestra. He wrote the symphony piece “Native Californian” for his young orchestra, whose members’ children are aged from 11 to 18. The orchestra performs Benoit’s acclaimed symphonic piece “Kobe,” and his first piano concerto “The Centaur and the Sphinx” across the United States.
Benoit has also performed and conducted with the iconic pianist Leonard Bernstein who is considered one of the most talented and successful musicians in American history.
Performing with Bernstein “was a great experience,” said Benoit who has been honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the American Smooth Jazz Awards in Michigan City, Indiana in 2010. “I’m a Bernstein fanatic, he’s one of the great, may be the greatest musicians of the 20th century… what an incredible life experience and a thrill to have been able to have performed with him in Carnegie Hall.”
Some of the other symphonies conducted by David Benoit include Beethoven’s “Ninth Symphony”. It was performed during his debut at Los Angeles’ Disney Hall. He has also written the score for several movies, including “The Stars Fell on Henrietta” produced by Clint Eastwood in 1995, and “The Christmas Tree” produced by Sally Field in 1996. His fame and popularity were behind his three performances at the White House for three U.S. Presidents: Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Sr., and Bill Clinton.
For more on jazz music, listen to VOA’s Jazz America