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David Benoit: Orchestral Stories

Woodrow Wilkins By

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...the biggest challenge was getting a record company to believe in it...the second was, —David Benoit
David Benoit was in bed the morning of September 11, 2001, when he was stirred by a phone call from Japan. It was his mother-in-law. She sprung the news about the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia.

"I turned on the TV by the time the second tower was attacked, he said in a recent interview. "We were pretty dumbfounded.

The event inspired "9/11, the opening track of Benoit's new CD, Orchestral Stories, his debut on Peak Records. The album, recorded partially in Los Angeles but mostly in the Czech Republic, reveals a side of Benoit that's always been present in his brand of contemporary jazz, but rarely out front like it is on this outing. Here, the Czech National Symphony Orchestra aids the pianist in creating an album that could easily be the soundtrack of a motion picture—or two. The haunting "9/11 sets the tone for the beauty and drama that follows.

"I was so devastated, I wrote it pretty quickly, Benoit said, adding that he and saxophonist Dave Koz performed the song during a concert to honor the victims about three weeks after the attacks. "He's really great to work with. He likes to collaborate with lots of different artists.

The second track, "Something's Gotta Give, is a tribute to Marilyn Monroe. "It was written as a closing piece to a musical I developed with Mark Winkler, Benoit said. "I thought it was a pretty song, a piece that Marilyn Monroe sings.

The musical is still in development. Benoit said he didn't know much about Monroe until he began working on the project. "Book author Joseph Craig was interested in Marilyn's life. I did a lot of research and based the music around it.

"LAXperience is a symphony within itself. This tribute to Los Angeles International Airport—LAX—starts slowly but quickly builds the drama with horns and strings supplementing Benoit's piano.

"That's kinda become my favorite, too, he said. "It was a performance piece—shot to the LAX colored pylons. The pylons are the centerpiece to an accompanying video on the DVD. Benoit describes them as a gateway to the city. "I thought this was a really good way to see the city. In the video, they dance, they wiggle. The music is complementing all of this action.

The rest of the album is arranged as two symphonies. The first is a fable, "The Centaur and the Sphinx, which has seven movements. The latter, "Kobe, is a six-movement story that has been a part of Benoit's everyday life for more than a decade. His wife Kei's mother survived both Hiroshima and the Kobe earthquake in Japan. The first movement, "Kobe—Prelude, tells the story of a Japanese girl named Keiko Kimura. June Kuramoto of the jazz group Hiroshima plays koto, adding to the Japanese element of this symphony.

"A lot of it's complex, Benoit said of the two symphonies. "I think the first challenge was, 'How do we record this with a huge orchestra?' Actually, the biggest challenge was getting a record company to believe in it. I had been turned down by a few labels, and Peak was really heroic. It was great that they accepted it. The second was, 'Now how do we get it done?'

To make it happen, Benoit spent a lot of time researching orchestras to find the right fit. The most fun, or relaxing part? "Sitting in Prague after one of the rehearsals, looking out to the Charles Bridge, and realizing we're in Europe. Or the night Kei and I went to the opera. We had a really remarkable experience.

Looking ahead, Benoit plans to release a Christmas album that offers new interpretations of the Charlie Brown songs. Throughout his career, Benoit has kept the Peanuts music, composed by Vince Guaraldi, fresh, having included several titles on his own albums as well as performing "Linus and Lucy at many concerts. In developing the new album, he enlisted the talents of such R&B and contemporary jazz powerhouses as Chaka Khan, Vanessa Williams, Toni Braxton, Brian McKnight, Rick Braun, the Rippingtons, Norman Brown and Gerald Albright.

"It's quite a lineup, he said.

Visit David Benoit on the web.


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