Acclaimed jazz pianist David Benoit paid homage on his latest recording "Heroes" to some of the legendary musicians who have influenced him over the years. Along with jazz piano icons like Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, Horace Silver and Dave Brubeck, Benoit included interpretations of songs by some pop and rock heroes such as the Beatles, Elton John, Michael Jackson and the Doors.
"I'm kind of eclectic, I like not only a lot of jazz artists, but a lot of the pop artists of my day like the Beatles and the Doors," Benoit explains. "So I thought it would be fun to give a full perspective."
Among the classic songs he visits are the Doors' "Light My Fire," Elton John's "Your Song," Dave Brubeck's "Blue Rondo," Horace Siver's "Song For My Father," and Michael Jackson's "Human Nature."
a Castle Theater debut Saturday for David Benoit & family
So how did he select these particular songs?
"They were very personal choices," he continues. " 'Human Nature' always stood out to me as one of the finer pop tunes. I loved the song and the production and really wanted to record it. 'Your Song' was one of my favs from my childhood and 'Light My Fire,' and of course I had to pay tribute to my piano heroes. I love performing 'Blue Rondo' live and Brubeck really liked the way I did it. I've heard so many different versions of it done and I went back to the original way, though he told me it was a little faster.
"I try to respect the original compositions. The worst thing is when you overproduce something. Artists do tunes and try to make them gimmicky and put a funky beat when it shouldn't be there. I just put my own little signature on them."
A remarkably versatile artist, Benoit's eclectic path has embraced straight-ahead jazz, classical music, pop, smooth jazz and R&B. An exceptional composer and conductor, his credits include work with Leonard Bernstein, the National Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Dresden Philharmonic. His television and film credits include themes for "All My Children" and "Sisters," and scores for "The Stars Fell on Henrietta" and "The Christmas Tree." Benoit has also devoted a number of years to composing music for the "Charlie Brown" TV specials, a spinoff from his popular cover of Vince Guaraldi's classic "Linus and Lucy."
Last year he released "Jazz for Peanuts - Charlie Brown TV Themes" featuring new rerecordings by Benoit of some of the most compelling pieces used in the series, plus other renditions by Wynton Marsalis, Dave Brubeck and Dave Grusin (performed by Kenny G).
"I covered the Charlie Brown 'Peanuts' theme years ago on my first digital record," he notes. "It's interesting how it's come full circle from being a real fan and just playing the music to finally meeting Charles Schulz and being the music guy."
In recent years Benoit has focused on symphonic music. In 2005 he released "Orchestral Stories," a showcase of original orchestral works composed by Benoit, recorded with the Czech National Symphony Orchestra.
Opening with the haunting "9-11," written in the wake of the World Trade Center attack, it features five pieces, culminating with the 30-minute suite "Kobe," a six-movement story that pays homage to his wife's mother who survived both the Hiroshima atomic bomb and the Kobe earthquake. June Kuramoto of the group Hiroshima plays koto on this profound work.
" 'Kobe' took me many years to write, and it was very close to my heart," he says. "It wasn't a best-seller, but it was very important for my career as a composer and conductor. I've written a lot of pieces since then. I wrote a guitar concerto for Sir Angel Romero ("Dolores Del Carmen"), which we debuted last year. And I just finished a book of classical piano etudes."
Born to parents who both played music Benoit studied theory and composition at El Camino College, and took film scoring classes at U.C.L.A. "There was always music in my house and we all picked up instruments," he recalls. "From the beginning, I had a passion for piano. I was obsessed with it."
While David Benoit focused on piano, his younger brother, Phil, gravitated to guitar. Living on Maui, Phil with his wife, vocalist Angela Benoit, head the Benoit JazzWorks group that can be heard playing Thursday through Sunday evenings at the Ma'alaea Grill.
"I'm really proud of him," says David. "He's become a fine guitarist in his own right."
Following an earlier interest in blues and rock, for the last decade Phil has been immersed in studying and playing jazz guitar. Performing with Angela since 1997, the duo and their group play an enticing mix of originals, jazz standards and Brazilian bossa nova. As rhythm guitarist for the popular gypsy-jazz group Gypsy Pacific, Phil has played the Hawaii International Jazz Festival three years running.
The two brothers will team for the first time officially for a concert on Saturday at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. "I've sat in a few times with his band and he's sat in with mine a few times, but this is the first time we've actually done an official gig together," says Phil. "It's funny it's taken this long for it to happen and here we are."
Besides the occasional jam, the brothers previously collaborated in the recording studio on the Benoit JazzWorks' CD "A Man and a Woman."
"He was on a track called 'Swinging Waikiki,' " Phil explains. "He wrote the music and released it on one of his records and I liked it so much, I penned some words to it and my wife, Angela, sang on it. He also played on 'Stella By Starlight.' My dad was a jazz guitarist and he recorded that song some years ago in L.A. I took his intro and tagged it on the front of the song, and then our band comes in."
The concert will open with, "Angela and I and our group with some of our original music as well as some of our favorite bossa nova and standards, and then David will come on and I'll join his group."
David Benoit will be accompanied by bassist Dean Taba and drummer Noel Okimoto from Oahu, along with Maui musicians John Zangrando on sax and percussionist Chris Dennis from the Benoit JazzWorks.
"David made it in the '80s with a style of melodic contemporary jazz and some of those songs are still very popular, so he'll do a few of those and couple of selections from his new record, 'Heroes,' and a mix from over the years," says Phil.
David Benoit and family perform on Saturday at 7 p.m. in Castle Theater at the MACC. Tickets are $20, $30, and $40 plus applicable fees, with a discount for kids and students, available from the MACC box office, 242-7569 or www.mauiarts.org. Food and beverages available pre-show, starting at 5:30 p.m.