This is an odd duck of an album, but one that is all the better for it. Pianist and composer David Benoit has worn many hats over the course of his long career. One of them, and one not normally mentioned in his bio, is that he succeeded the late Vince Guaraldi as the musical director for the Peanuts television specials, meaning that his 50th anniversary recording of Guaraldi's music wasn't a simple tribute, but a nod to his predecessor. As such, Benoit has composed loads of music for the Peanuts television programs, always with a clear sense that it was Guaraldi's music that helped to inspire him to play the piano in the first place. Jazz for Peanuts is a collection of music by Benoit and other artists who have recorded pieces for the Peanuts productions. His own selections, and three of four themes by Guaraldi were newly recorded live in the studio, lending them their timeless lyric quality and immediacy of presence. Other artists included here are the Wynton Marsalis Septet. His stellar "The Buggy Ride" was featured in the miniseries This Is America, Charlie Brown, for an episode on the Wright Brothers. Likewise, Dave Brubeck's "Benjamin" came from the same miniseries that centered on space exploration. The final track comes from the special A Charlie Brown Christmas: right, it'sGuaraldi's "Linus and Lucy." It is performed by the late pianist with bassist Fred Marshall and drummer Jerry Granelli. Benoit performs most of the rest with various combos. His opener here is a gorgeous reading of Guaraldi's "You're in Love, Charlie Brown" from the special of the same name, and three other themes by the late composer. Most of Benoit's own pieces and arrangements are seamless in the way they reflect on the first 17 specials. Particularly wonderful are "Wild Kids" from the This Is America, Charlie Brown miniseries - the episode on the great inventors - where he and pianist Taylor Eigsti front a rhythmic trio that simply allows melodic invention to spiral to the margin of the flavor of the Charlie Brown music, but simply extends its boundaries and has the good taste - and sense - never to cross over. Tunes like the stellar, organically funky "Rollerblading" and the shimmering "Re-Run's Theme" walk a line that reflects much of the jazz Benoit would release with Dave Gruisin's GRP label in the '80s and '90s. Nonetheless, these cues capture the flavor, spirit, and integrity of the Peanuts brand. The only track that doesn't quite work here is "Breadline Blues" composed by Gruisin. It's not the composition so much as the performance by a band that employs cheesy synths played by Walter Afanasieff, and Kenny G.'s awful sense of time on the melody and the improvisation. In all, however, Jazz for Peanuts is a terrific album of cues and new readings of Peanuts selections that should be not only in every Benoit library, but in every one containing music by Guaraldi/Peanuts too.
All Music Guide
The symbiotic relationship between pianist David Benoit and Peanuts has been a blessing for fans of both the animated series and jazz. It began in the mid-1980s with Benoit's popular cover of Vince Guaraldi's "Linus and Lucy," the ever-present theme in the Charlie Brown cartoons. Since then, the pianist has produced several tributes to the music of Peanuts, and for 10 years he's composed original music for the specials on CBS television.
Jazz for Peanuts - A Retrospective of the Charlie Brown TV Series features Benoit and other artists who have contributed to the legacy. For the project, Benoit selected 10 of the most compelling pieces used in the series. Four songs are classic Guaraldi, including two that previously had not been made public. Benoit also does fresh renditions of three of his own compositions. The other songs are by Wynton Marsalis, Dave Brubeck and Dave Grusin, the latter performed by Kenny G.
"You're in Love, Charlie Brown," from the TV special of the same name, features Benoit's basic trio, with John Robinson on drums and Dave Carpenter on bass, accompanied by Christian Scott on trumpet, Andy Suzuki on tenor sax and Pat Kelley on guitar. This delightful piece features sharp performances by all, with solos by Benoit, Scott and Suzuki. This is one of six songs remade for this album.
Dave Brubeck performs "Benjamin" from the TV mini-series This Is America, Charlie Brown: The NASA Space Station. He's accompanied by Bob Militello on flute, Chris Brubeck on electric bass and Randy Jones on drums. Militello is in top form in the lead. But whether the flute or the piano is out front, the bass and drums are thoroughly engaged.
Another remake, "Wild Kids" from This Is America, Charlie Brown: The Great Inventors, features Benoit's trio with Kelley and fellow pianist Taylor Eigsti. The dual pianos add an interesting and playful touch. And while they're dueling the bass, guitar and drums go wild in the background, making this arguably the best song in the set. After such a frantic pace, it ends with a subtle nod to "Linus and Lucy."
Kenny G performs Grusin's "Breadline Blues," from This Is America, Charlie Brown: The Smithsonian and the Presidency. It starts off slowly, with the G-Man on soprano sax, but takes off with a swinging, blues-jazz fervor.
With the new arrangements of several tracks and the inclusion of previously unreleased song, Jazz for Peanuts is an exciting mix of favorites from the series. Carpenter died early in 2008, so his appearances here mark some of his last performances. In proper tribute form, the song that started it all ends the set: Guaraldi's vintage recording of "Linus and Lucy."
Personnel: David Benoit: piano (1, 4, 5, 7-9); John Robinson: drums (1, 4-9); Dave Carpenter: bass (1, 4, 5, 7-9); Christian Scott: trumpet (1, 8); Andy Suzuki: tenor sax (1, 8), flute (9); Pat Kelley: guitar (1, 5, 8, 9); Wynton Marsalis: trumpet (2); Eric Reed: piano (2); Benjamin Wolfe: stand-up bass (2); Wessell Anderson: alto and soprano saxophones (2); Victor Goines: tenor saxophone and clarinet (2); Wycliffe Gordon: trombone (2); Herlin Riley: drums (2); Dave Brubeck: piano (3); Bob Militello: flute (3); Chris Brubeck: electric bass (3); Randy Jones: drums (3); Taylor Eigsti: piano (5); Kenny G: soprano sax (6); Walter Afanasieff: keyboards (6); Vail Johnson: electric bass (6); Vince Guaraldi: piano (10); Fred Marshall: bass (10); Jerry Granelli: drums (10).