Q: Can you elaborate on your professional connection to Peanuts and how that came about?
I had recorded Linus and Lucy on a record called This Side Up. At that time, no one had ever covered it. I did it, then it opened up a new group of fans. I also recorded Christmastime Is Here on an album called Christmastime. Lee Mendelson’s wife, Debbie, said, “Lee, you should check out David Benoit.” And he and I hit it off.
It was one of those magical relationships that really worked. They were trying out several other jazz musicians, Dave Grusin, Dave Brubeck, George Winston, Wynton Marsalis, and me. We just clicked. Not long after that I became the official composer, but it wasn’t official until I met Sparky. That’s what you called Mr. Schulz because that’s what he asked you to call him. But it took me a while to get used to that!
Q: When did your passion for Peanuts and the Peanuts music begin?
When I started reading the strip at 8 years old; this was in the ’60s. I followed it very closely every day. Then I watched A Charlie Brown Christmas—we all gathered around the TV to watch it. It’s been a lifelong thing.
Q: What was it about music and the brand that appealed to you so much?
Well, it was Charlie Brown and he was a loser! He was depressed a lot, and I was having a childhood like that myself [laughs]. I related to him, and felt I had a kindred spirit out there. Then the music was jazz and piano and upbeat and fun—I got hooked on it right away.
Q: What is it about A Charlie Brown Christmas and its music—what would the special be like without the music?
It wouldn’t have quite the same charm and appeal. It’s a perfect marriage. You can’t imagine one without the other. It must have been fate that brought Vince Guaraldi to Lee Mendelson. I know from writing original music for Peanuts, Vince Guaraldi was always the reference point.
Q: What was your favorite piece of Peanuts music?
Of course, Linus and Lucy is the most popular one. I like Christmastime Is Here, that’s still one of my all-time favorites. Another one I like wasn’t written for Charlie Brown Christmas, it was written for a documentary on Charles Schulz—it’s a piece called Pebble Beach. A lot of hardcore fans will know that one.
Q: What makes the Linus and Lucy theme so memorable?
It’s one of those immediately recognizable motifs—you’ve got the left hand movement, then the right hand comes in, and it’s highly syncopated. It just gets everybody happy. The power of music.
Q: Why has the special remained so beloved?
It might be the simplicity in its message, that Christmas has become so commercial. It’s so simple and heartfelt. It has the makings of a classic because it’s so simple and so heartwarming.
Q: What’s next for you?
I’m working on my first all-vocal album. We’re talking with an artist named Jane Monheit, getting the songs ready for that. I’m getting ready to do a tour of The Music of Charlie Brown, starting in December and going all across the country. You can find the dates and cities on my website, benoit.com.
Q: For the Christmas tribute to Charlie Brown, how do you decide what songs to play, and how long is the set?
It’s about an hour and a half. Many songs come from that show, but we also play a few traditional Christmas songs. And I play a few of my own compositions for audience to hear the other side of me. There’s a pretty good variety of stuff. It’s a fun show.
Q: Who is your favorite Peanuts character?
It’s Charlie Brown. However, I think Schroeder would have to be a close second! That would tell the whole story about me. I like Snoopy, but I’m not hip enough, not quite that cool.
Decoration is the name of the game at holiday time—and with this month’s festive giveaways, you can decorate your home and yourself! First, give your nails the Halloween spirit with these adorable Great Pumpkin–themed nail polishes from OPI.
Then make your holiday home even more adorable with this miniature Peanuts ornament. And you’ve got the perfect soundtrack for your tree-trimming party, courtesy of this month’s interview subject, jazz musician and Peanuts composer David Benoit, whose classic CD, 40 Years of a Charlie Brown Christmas, offers Benoit’s gorgeous take on the music we all love so much.