Contacted at his home in oceanside Palos Verdes, Calif., Benoit, 56, chatted casually about the free concert he will perform Thursday at the Mount Union Theatre in Alliance. Joining him onstage will be bassist David Hughes and drummer Jamey Tait.
A five-time Grammy Award nominee, Benoit launched his recording career in 1977 and has released more than 25 albums of mostly original music, including several orchestral collaborations and a chart-topping 2006 single titled “Beat Street.”
On tour and on CD, he has played frequent tributes to the late pianist Vince Guaraldi and his “Peanuts” music. His 2008 album “Heroes” included songs by The Beatles, The Doors and Elton John, along with Dave Brubeck, Bill Evans and Horace Silver.
“Even after all these years, I am still bursting with ideas for upcoming recordings,” Benoit says. “There’s always so much out there to keep the creative energy flowing.”
Here are excerpts from the telephone interview with Benoit.
Q. I’m always a little confused by the categories of jazz, contemporary jazz, cool jazz and smooth jazz. Which fits you best?
A. I’m fine with “contemporary jazz.” To me, that means people like David Sanborn and Michael Franks. When I hear “cool jazz,” I think of Chet Baker and Miles Davis. “Smooth jazz” was a radio format based on background music, and unfortunately I happened to be there at the moment it was created. My new album is definitely not smooth jazz.
Q. How do you compose music?
A. Music … accumulates. The hardest thing is when something comes to me in a dream and I wake up and just lose it. The best thing for me is to sit down at the piano from 10 in the morning till 2 in the afternoon and not walk away until I have something.
Q. Tell me about the fans who come to your shows.
A. It is, I think, generally a fairly affluent fan base. It’s quite a lot of baby boomers, and now their kids are interested. A lot of young music students are getting turned on to my music. I have a pretty significant African-American fan base, and I’m very popular in Asia, so I get Asian-Americans at the shows as well. It all depends on the cities.
Q. Can you give me a preview of the concert you’ll be playing in Alliance next week?
A. We’re going to debut some new material from a record that isn’t even out yet, called “Earthglow.” It’s always fun to get their reaction to new songs. I always pay tribute to my heroes, and this will be no exception. I’ll be playing music by Henry Mancini and Dave Brubeck, and probably Michael Jackson. When I recorded his song “Human Nature” for the “Heroes” album, there was at the time kind of a muted response. Since he passed away, there’s been a renewed interest in his music and the great things he left behind.
Q. Will you be playing “Linus and Lucy”?
A. There’s a pretty good chance of doing that, yes. Everyone loves it. It’s one of those pieces that puts a smile on your face.
Q. I’m mostly familiar with your music from the Wave radio station in Cleveland. I was very surprised to read in your bio that you conduct and record with orchestras.
A. Most people are surprised about that. I love the variety of what I do. As a young child, I heard a lot of symphony music and I always wanted to do it. My mother was really into Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland.
Q. When did you start playing piano?
A. I could play by ear by the time I was 7. It came easy, I had a talent for it.
Q. So you weren’t dragged to piano lessons kicking and screaming?
A. Quite the opposite. I begged my parents for lessons and they were like, “Have another martini.” My parents were strange. My dad was a psychologist and jazz guitarist. They were unstructured beach people. (Chuckles) Now I drive my daughter kicking and screaming to her violin lessons.
Dan Kane, CantonRep.com staff writer