For renowned jazz pianist David Benoit, his favorite instrument, the piano, has always been near and dear to his heart.
As a young child growing up in Bakersfield, CA, the family piano resided in David’s bedroom. He had no idea why his parents decided to put the piano in his room, but there it was, all 88 glorious keys!
“The coolest thing is that I had a piano in my bedroom. I don’t know why it was there, but it was there. And my mom used to come into my bedroom and play. She was an amateur pianist, just for fun, and I used to watch her play and get up and down the keys. I was fascinated! I thought ‘I want to try that’,” David said during his 2013 TEDx talk.
While the family lived in Bakersfield and the piano was close at hand, David was happy tinkering with the keys, feeling out chords, and making up his own songs.
Unfortunately, that happiness was short-lived. When David was still young, his family moved from Central California to the beach – literally. They rented a small house in Hermosa Beach right on the strand. Due to the move, downsizing was an absolute necessity, and David’s parents sold his beloved piano.
Rediscovering the Piano
But when David was 14, his parents purchased a piano from a family friend, and David rediscovered not only his love for the instrument, but his innate talent. He started taking lessons in earnest from local piano teachers, voraciously learning all he could.
He played all the way through high school. At one point he tried to join a jazz band on campus – but found out he didn’t play the “right” kind of jazz for that band (they were looking for Thelonius Monk while David was more Vincent Mancini). So what’s a teenage musician to do? He started his own band.
David’s high school band at one point was asked to be the pit band for a screening of Tom Jones – and since they couldn’t get the rights to the original film score, David wrote a whole new score to the movie, which he and his band played live during screenings.
After graduating from Mira Costa High School, David opted to go to El Camino College. It was during his time at El Camino that David saw The Charlie Brown Christmas Special and fell head-over-heels in love with the music of Vince Guaraldi. He decided then and there that he, too, wanted to be a jazz pianist.
After one semester at El Camino, and over his father’s strident objections, David made the bold decision to give up school in order to try his hand at being an actual jazz pianist. At the age of 19 he moved to Hollywood and jumped into the music scene with both feet.
A Leap of Faith
Luckily, it turned out to be the best decision he ever made! Not only was David able to make a living playing piano, he recorded his first solo album in 1977 – and has been an internationally renowned jazz pianist ever since.
In 1989, during one of the defining moments of his career, David received a call from Peanuts executive producer Lee Mendelson. Lee had heard David play his version of the Vince Guaraldi music and he asked David to write the score for a Peanuts TV special called This is America, Charlie Brown. They worked well together and David has since written music for over 15 Charlie Brown specials.
David’s career has spanned more than three decades, and he has recorded over 25 solo albums since his first album in 1977. Not only has his work helped to pioneer the musical genre known as Smooth Jazz, his music has also gone to the top of the Billboard charts, and he’s been nominated for five Grammys.
As the years progressed, David has branched out from jazz and taken on new musical challenges. He’s studied classical music and composition, and is now the Music Director and Conductor for the Asia America Symphony Association and Asia American Youth Symphony. He’s also written scores for TV shows and movies, played for three sitting Presidents, and works as a DJ for KKJZ 88.1.
Most recently, David has recorded a new album, called David Benoit and Friends, which features David playing with some of his favorite smooth jazz friends (like Dave Koz, Vincent Ingala, and Lindsey Webster). The album will be released on August 23, 2019. If you love smooth jazz, you won’t want to miss it!
TOCA Backstage: Interview with David Benoit
Tickets for David Benoit are On Sale Now
David Benoit, along with the Asia America Youth Symphony, will perform at the Armstrong Theatre on Saturday, September 21, 2019, at 8:00 pm. The show will be a personal journey that explores his 40 year career – and will include a sneak preview from his new album! If you love jazz, especially smooth jazz, this will be a performance you won’t want to miss!