As much as I love my cable TV service, I sometimes feel so disconnected from my family. Because we have a TV in each room, all of which has cable, the four of us tend to go into our separate rooms to watch television. I cannot help but look back fondly to the era before that was available. When I was younger, we only had one TV in the family room with rabbit ears for picture clarity. Many nights of the week, there was usually a huge debate about who got to watch what TV show. But there were certain programs, which only came on once a year that we would all crowd around the TV to watch. One of those would be anything to do with Charlie Brown and the rest of the Peanuts gang.
One thing that made the shows special was the music. I mean, you cannot think about the Peanuts gang without the iconic scene between Lucy and Schroeder while he played the piano. Or when the theme music with Lucy and Linus played. It just brought an entirely elevated feeling to the program. One of the composer’s from Peanuts, is one of my favorites, David Benoit jazz musician and composer. The Snoopy ambassadors were lucky enough to have a telephone interview with David about his memories of the shows and his part in this piece of television and musical history. To get us in the mood for the interview, we received Benoit’s classic CD, 40 Years of a Charlie Brown Christmas. What a wonderful collection of music to play in the background while we trim the tree this year!
INTERVIEW WITH DAVID BENOIT:
When did your passion for Peanuts and the Peanuts music begin?
David: When I started reading 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.
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.
Were you playing piano then?
David: Just starting to get into it.
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.
Here is a video of David playing the Linus and Lucy theme:
What is it about A Charlie Brown Christmas and its music—what would the special be like without the music?
David: 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.
So you feel jazz is the right genre for Peanuts music?
David: I do. The kids are very sophisticated, their emotions, their vocabulary. Peanuts was one of first strips to do that—to have kids speaking intelligently, expressing deep emotions. Jazz, because of its sophistication, seemed to work very well.
After Vince Guaraldi died, they tried using other composers; many of them, like Judy Munson, were very good. But she approached it from traditional cartoon composing, and it wasn’t the same. Upbeat jazz just hit a spark. They were looking for another jazz pianist to start writing music, that’s how they found me.
What makes the Linus and Lucy theme so memorable?
David: 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.
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.
Can you elaborate on your professional connection to Peanuts and how that came about?
David: 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!
Do you ever worry you won’t be taken seriously for associating with Peanuts?
David: Not really. I’ll tell you what I worry more about: When I started early on getting into the business of playing jazz that was happy, it got the moniker “smooth jazz.” Now that’s become the butt of a lot of jokes, like, “If the machines broke, you couldn’t make smooth jazz.” I worry more about that than I do about doing Charlie Brown music. There seems to be a certain reverence for Vince Guaraldi—there’s a respect. You just don’t mess with it. To me, it’s very honorable. The most common compliment I get is, “Oh, you wrote the Peanuts theme” or “You wrote Linus and Lucy.” I say, “No, that would be Vince Guaraldi.” But I’m honored. It’s totally a positive thing for me.
What’s next for you?
David: 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.
Because decorations are a big part of the holidays, we were sent some fun Peanuts related items to get us in the mood. We received a set of OPI Great Pumpkin nail polishes and stickers to get us in the Halloween spirit. We also received a miniature Peanuts ornament (I received Charlie Brown, but Snoopy was another choice.) And as I already mentioned, the CD from jazz musician and Peanuts composer David Benoit. To spread the holiday cheer, one USA reader will win the polishes, ornament and CD ARV $50.
What is your favorite piece of music from the Peanuts television shows?