Famed Jazz Pianist Celebrates Half Century of Peanuts Music

By Steve Graham

Picture “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” You probably conjure the Peanuts gang and Charlie’s sad little tree. And I bet you’re also humming the music.

Vince Guaraldi’s simple and timelessly cool jazz arrangements of traditional carols, alongside some new compositions, helped make the first Peanuts TV special an instant classic. It is still broadcast every Christmas, 53 years after it first aired on Dec. 9, 1965.

And the soundtrack has a no bigger fan than David Benoit, a California native who became a jazz fan and eventually a celebrated jazz musician because of the Charlie Brown Christmas special.

“I was already a fan of the comic strip, but when I heard that jazz piano trio, that was the defining moment when I decided that I wanted to play like Vince Guaraldi,” Benoit said.

He learned to play so much like Guaraldi that he became the composer’s successor. Benoit writes and performs music for new Charlie Brown specials. And, in 2000, the acclaimed jazz pianist recorded “Here’s to You, Charlie Brown,” a star-studded tribute album to Peanuts music featuring Christian McBride, All Jurreau and Take 6.

The album is among dozens Benoit has recorded over three decades, earning several Grammy nominations and claiming a spot as a founding father of contemporary jazz. He has also served as conductor for the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the London Symphony Orchestra.

Benoit is now on a national Charlie Brown Christmas tribute tour that stops at Greeley’s Union Colony Civic Center on Thursday, Dec. 20. The show also includes Sara Gazarek, a Los-Angeles-based scat improviser.

“She may well turn out to be the next important jazz singer,” wrote Don Heckman in an LA Times concert review.

She should feel very comfortable with the piano-and-voice format. After recording three albums with her acclaimed jazz trio, her latest release has a wide range of covers and originals performed with pianist Josh Nelson.

For tickets and more information, visit http://ucstars.com or call 970-356-5000.

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