David Benoit Biography

Bakersfield, California, USA. Benoit gained an early appreciation of music from his parents, who played guitar and piano. He began piano lessons at the age of 14, by which time he was steeped in the influences of both Ramsey Lewis and Henry Mancini. Following his musical studies at El Camino College, he met with composer Richard Baskin and played piano on the movie soundtrack to Nashville in 1975. He gained valuable experience playing in clubs and bars and became Gloria Lynne’s pianist. He toured with the Duke Ellington Orchestra in 1976 as Lainie Kazan’s arranger and accompanist.

Benoit’s debut recording was with drummer Alphonse Mouzon and it was during these sessions he met with Dave Grusin, who became an important figure in his future career. He recorded a number of albums on the small AVI label that demonstrated his fluid and skilful playing, although these recordings suffered from an overall blandness that resulted in disappointing sales. This Side Up in 1985 changed everything. It contained the stunning ‘Beach Trails’, put Benoit in the US jazz bestseller lists and led to a call from Larry Rosen, Dave Grusin’s partner at GRP Records. Benoit has now become one of their leading artists, with a series of bestselling albums of easy, yet beautifully constructed, music, forging a similar path to that of Grusin and bridging the gap between jazz and pop. Each album contains a balanced mixture but it is Benoit’s delicate rippling style on some of the quieter numbers that best demonstrates his dexterity. ‘Kei’s Song’ from Freedom At Midnight and ‘The Key To You’ from 1988’s Every Step Of The Way are fine compositions. His pure acoustic style was highlighted on the following year’s Waiting For Spring, a concept album featuring Emily Remler and Peter Erskine. Imaginative readings of ‘Cast Your Fate To the Wind’, ‘Secret Love’ and ‘My Romance’ were mixed with Benoit originals. He maintained this high standard with Inner Motion in 1990, which opened with the Grusin-styled ‘M.W.A.’ and peaked with the sublime tribute to the late Remler, ‘6-String Poet’. Benoit’s Letter To Evan was another acoustic excursion, enlisting the talent of Larry Carlton. The collaboration with guitarist Russ Freeman in 1993 was a whole-hearted success and stayed in the Billboard jazz chart for many weeks. That same year, Benoit attempted another theme album, this time echoing his remembrances of the 60s. As good as Shaken Not Stirred was, it sounded just like another David Benoit album, clean, accessible and easy. In 2004 he reunited with Freeman and in addition to a tour of the USA they recorded a second album as a working unit.

Benoit is now an established artist, having refined his brand of music to perfection. In his own words, ‘I didn’t want instant stardom like those artists whose fall is as quick as their rise’. Jazz purists may throw their arms up in horror but until another genre is invented, jazz remains the closest category for his music.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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