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Interviewed by
Bonnie Schendell

visit David at


In the world of smooth jazz, there are certain names that evoke an immediate familiarity and a recognizable sound.  David Benoit, one of the “founding fathers” of this genre we have all come to love, regardless of what you call it, is definitely one of those artists.  His recently released CD, Earthglow, contains all original music, and takes us beyond the familiar Benoit territory with new sounds, great grooves, and signature catchy melodies.  I was able to catch up with David between the Berks Jazz Festival and a much deserved family vacation to talk about the new CD, conducting, and some special concerts coming up.

SmoothViews (SV):  Welcome, David.  I am so glad to have you back for your third interview with SmoothViews.  There is so much happening with you these days...a new CD about to drop, touring, CD release parties, your symphony work, and a Lifetime Achievement Award, so let’s get right to it.  Your new CD, Earthglow, is being released on April 20th.  I’ve been listening to it for a while now and it’s very “vintage” Benoit, even though you’ve added some new textures.  Was that your goal to go back to your sound that is so recognizable?
David Benoit (DB):  Oh, yeah…of course and that’s what everyone in the five or six interviews I’ve done, is saying.  They’re all getting that same feeling, including my good friend, Art Good, with JazzTrax.  It was just a return back to the way I did records back in the old days.  I listened to new sounds and tried new things, and just followed my heart.  There was that period where I was influenced by outside producers trying to get a new sound or trying to follow a certain radio format.  I felt for the first time it was wide open.  And, honestly, we didn’t have a huge budget, so that was another thing.  It was kind of like everything was back to the way we used to make records, to put it simply, and it was all about the songs, (laughs) instead of about the production and flying in caviar from Russia – not that we ever did that, of course!

SV:  Tell us a little about the process of this CD.  I understand you wrote the first two songs that were the foundation of this project while at Villa Montalvo, as an artist in residence over a year ago.
DB:  Yes, exactly.  I was up there recently, as soon as I finished Earthglow, and I wrote a piece for my Youth Orchestra, called “Native Californian.”  The year prior, I was up at Villa Montalvo, and I thought that I wanted to experiment with this kind of new, chill sound, bossa nova, Euro thing, so I just goofed around on the computer for a while and came up with “Botswana Bossa Nova” and “Will’s Chill.”  And then I literally didn’t do anything for a year.  I just set those songs aside and then came back and listened to them and they were really fresh.  So I thought, well, I’m going to base this record around this kind of feel.  And again, it was just about me sitting with a computer and a piano and just coming up with new stuff.

SV:  You took a different approach on this CD with incorporating Brazilian beats and African voices, even taking on the Fender Rhodes, but yet keeping true to yourself.  How do you move in new directions while still holding on to the sound that is your signature?
DB:  Well, a couple of things.  One is that you have to be careful if you’re going to co-write with other producers and they’ve got their sound.  A lot of times I’ve been in situations where something didn’t quite feel right, but I was too intimidated or afraid to say something to the other producer and I just let it go.  But then I look back and I think why didn’t I just do what I do, so that was what I did with this record.  I just followed my instincts on this one and then I turned it over to Clark Germain who was able to, since he’s recorded about 20 or so of my records…he took it into the David Benoit sound.  My rough demos were even a little more out there and he got the sound that everyone knows and everyone likes about what I do.  I think it worked out well.

SV:  You have some great guest artists on the CD.  Rick Braun, Jeff Kashiwa, Tim Weisberg, Pat Kelley on guitar, and your regular touring buddies! 
DB:  Yeah, this was another neat thing because in the past I’ve used studio musicians, and occasionally brought my band in.  The band I have now, as you know, are playing at such a high level, that I felt they are the right people.  And not only that, they are buddies.  There’s something to be said about friends, and when you hang out together and play music together, it shows on the record.  There’s just a really good vibe on it.
SV:  So it makes the recording easier?
DB:  It makes the recording easier.  The more I’m in my comfort zone, if I’m comfortable with the musicians and know they want to be there, the better I’m going to play the piano.  I’m just going to play much more relaxed.  And you can hear it.  Most of the takes on the record were first takes. 

SV:  I know every artist wants their fans to feel something – anything – from their music.  This album definitely made me “feel,” whether it was to get up and dance to “Botswana Bossa Nova” or to cry during “Brownie’s Gone,” mostly because I know the story.  What were your own feelings during writing these pieces?  Were there special moments or compositions that you really connected to?
DB:  That’s a good question.  Obviously “Botswana Bossa Nova” and Will’s Chill,” the groove tunes, were a lot of fun and it’s nice to listen to and feels right and, as you said, might make you get up and dance.  But the one song that I’m pretty proud of and I wanted to explore a little different side of me is “Downtime.”  It’s a very intimate, very personal song that I just sat down at the Steinway and wanted to explore something different.  And I’m really happy with the way it came out.  It’s a signature piece for me, but also very unique in that it changes time signatures many times, but you’d never know it because it’s very subtle.  But that piece is kind of dear to my heart, and of course, “Brownie’s Gone,” another that’s special to me.

SV:  I know you’ll be heading out to promote and share all of this great new music, and that there will be CD release parties on both coasts.  Can you give any information on touring?
DB:  The KIFM party in San Diego is on April 20th.  The Steinway event in New York City is on May 24th in Steinway Hall, but is a private event.

SV:  You are a solo artist, but in this day and age when solo shows are the exception rather than the norm, how do you see the music getting out there to your fans?  I know that you are getting more into technology and using Facebook and Twitter to stay connected to your fans and using these methods to put out samples of tracks.  How has that helped? 
DB:  Well, of course, we’ll wait and see when the record is out.  I think Facebook and Twitter are certainly helping the fans find the music.  They’re all good avenues.  Another question you brought up, which is very interesting, that I have brought up with my management is the package tours.  And like you said it is now less and less that you see a solo artist, which is unfortunate.  I think that it’s sometimes difficult when you share the stage, no matter who it’s with; every artist has their own style and their own way of doing things.  I recently did a gig at a small college in Ohio…Alliance, Ohio… just me and my band, just Jamey [Tate], David [Hughes] and me, and it was just fantastic.  I was able to really present an evening of music that had a beginning, middle, and an end.  A lot of these package shows just kind of highlight the hits.  It’s always about everybody’s hits because you don’t have time to do anything else!  In that kind of a show, I can do “Downtime.”  I can do “Brownie’s Gone.”  I can do the deeper cuts from the record.  I think packages are fun, but it’s important that I can still go out as just a solo artist, just me, even if it means doing some smaller venues with less seating, but it’s still important to me.  That’s where I can really play a lot of Earthglow and play some of those back tracks that you wouldn’t hear in a situation with a package.

SV:  I know, personally, when I come to see you at Blues Alley in D.C. with 125 people that it holds, and you do six shows over a weekend.  But it is much more intimate.
DB:  Oh, yeah…
SV:  And I’ve seen you play at much larger festivals and I prefer the intimate clubs where, like you said, you get to hear the deeper cuts.  It has a better feel to it.
DB:  That’s why I still do those and why a lot of artists still like to play the jazz clubs.  That’s part of how we all got started and it’s part of the jazz heritage.  It’s funny because now I am beginning to see a lot of classical musicians playing clubs.  There’s this new thing in the classical underground where the classical musicians are taking club gigs.  They just want a chance to play all of their music.  It’s getting harder and harder to get into the concert hall.  So more and more musicians are getting out, and in a time where everyone is looking for new things, I think returning to the clubs has been great and I am looking forward to more of those opportunities this summer to get out and play Earthglow.

SV:  Let’s talk about your second career as conductor and symphony music director that is taking shape these days.  I recently saw you conducting the Reading Pops Strings at the Berks Jazz Festival in a show with Rick Braun, Richard Elliott, and Selena Albright.  You truly are in your element.  Are you feeling more comfortable as a conductor now?
DB:  Yeah, I am.  After conducting some extremely challenging music and very challenging situations that I have had over the last few years, I’ve learned so much, and walking into a situation like with Rick Braun [at Berks], where I know the players, it’s so comfortable now after having done this so many times, that it’s actually a whole lot of fun.

SV:  I understand that you wrote the arrangements for that performance with Rick Bran, Richard Elliott and Selena Albright.
DB:  Not all of it, but I did a lot of it.  And I functioned as the person who put all of the charts together.  Some of the charts were written by Nick Lane.  I kind of was the overall organizer, and did the arrangements for “My Funny Valentine.”

SV:  I was so blessed to be able to attend a rehearsal of the Asia America Youth Orchestra and really witness how much work you put in with these talented young musicians. How is their season shaping up?
DB:  It’s looking good.  We have our big concert on April 18th.  They’ve been working really hard.  They sound great and I am so proud of them.  And we have May 9th, being Mother’s Day at Villa Montalvo, and then doing the annual Bravo Awards in Los Angeles.
SV:  You put a great deal of time into this.
DB:  I do.  Sometimes I wonder if it is all worth it and it definitely is!

SV:  Have you seen any members of the youth orchestra gone on to music careers?
DB:  I have.  We have two members that are presently in Julliard.  We have one that is in the Manhattan School of Music.  We have a few members at USC.  We have one young composer that’s been winning awards around the country and doing great.  A lot of our alumnus have careers in music and that’s what I really try to work on, asking them “Do you really want to do this for a living?  Let me give you some ideas.”  As a professional, I can do that.  I’m better set up for that than a high school or learning institution.  I’m out there pounding the pavement! (laughs)

SV:  That must give you such fulfillment to see them moving on.
DB:  It’s really gratifying when that happens.

SV:  You are also arranging and conducting more performances with the Asia America Symphony Orchestra.  Let’s talk about that.  Last year you had a stellar concert featuring Lea Salonga.  This year you will be featuring Dave Koz and his music from his At The Movies CD.  When will that be and what else can you tell us about this special concert?
DB:  This will be on June 5th at the JACCC which is the Japan America Cultural Center in Little Tokyo downtown.  This is really special and I took a little chance.  Most of our artists are Asian, but there is the American part of our name and I really, really like Dave Koz’s film music.  I felt like he would be a very interesting artist for us because I don’t think he has ever had a chance to perform some of those back cuts on the record, like “Cinema Paradiso” and “Schindler’s List.”  And I thought this is an opportunity for him to explore some of this great music he recorded and not just his hits.  So, this is all about an evening of film music.  I talked to Dave about it for a long time.  We are really excited about it and it’s something I want the fans to know about because this is going to be a different kind of concert, but something very special.  And having said that, we, of course, are planning to do a little tribute to James Bond and  there’s another certain song where a certain artist gets up on a certain piano bench. (laughs) We’ve got to give them one of those!  I have to do at least one of my hits!  There will be a little something for everybody!!
SV:  Well, I wish I could be there for that, but it’s hard to be flying coast to coast!
DB:  C’mon…I do that nearly every week!!!

SV: By now, most every fan of smooth jazz knows about the upcoming American Smooth Jazz Awards where you will be receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award, which is being named in your honor.  How are you feeling about this?  Are you now feeling like one of the elder statesman of jazz?
DB:  Well, certainly of smooth jazz.  It’s just nothing more than, well, I guess it means growing old, but it’s also that I do keep pretty busy in the format.  They call me one of the founding fathers of the format.  When the format started, none of us were trying to play to a format.  We were just trying to do our thing, liked getting on the radio, and it’s developed.  I’m very excited about it.  I’m excited about seeing all of my friends that are in this format and playing this music, and I’m hoping that my wife can come along with me.
SV:  I hope so too.  It’ll be great to see Kei again!

SV:  Looking ahead to holiday shows, will you be hosting your Charlie Brown Christmas tour this year?
DB:  Yeah, I seem to be doing that show every two years, so this past year I jumped on Dave Koz’s tour, but I feel like it’s time to do Charlie Brown again!  We’re already getting a good response so I think it’ll be a good tour. 
SV:  Great.  I hope to be able to catch one of those shows.  Well, as usual, David, thank you for your time today.  I wish you much success with the new CD and look forward to seeing you out on the road and at the Awards show in October.
DB:  Thank you for taking the time.  I always appreciate it.