Inside the Benoit/Freeman Project
A Word With David Benoit
by Paula Edelstein
P.E.: Congratulations and best wishes on The Benoit Freeman Project 2 and your signing with Peak Records! You and Russ Freeman have a lot of history together most notably you’re great friends, you were a charter member of The Rippingtons, and your reunion on the 1994 hit, The Benoit/Freeman Project. Now ten years later, you’re at it again and it seems logical that your debut for Peak would be collaborating with Russ. Was your signing with the label the impetus for this second collaboration?
D.B.: It was just the other way around! (Smiles) Russ approached me and said he wanted to do another Benoit/Freeman Project and he had a budget and was ready to go wanted to do it on his label. I didn’t know much about his label but I knew a lot about Concord, which does their distribution so I was like… “Yeah sure!” I had just completed my contract with GRP records and I was like a “free agent” so I was able to do that. I was talking to several labels at the time that were interested in having me as an artist and Russ made his pitch at the same time so I said… “Well, let’s see how this goes.”
| The Benoit Freeman Project 2 is a beautiful, stylistically diverse recording written primarily by David Benoit and Russ Freeman. These two architects of the smooth jazz genre take a “live” in the studio approach to this great music and the results are creative and captivating. Guest accompaniment from the Nashville String Machine, Vince Gill, David Pack, Chris Botti add further lusture to these brilliant compositions. With a core unit of Benoit on piano, Fender Rhodes and Yamaha Motif 8, Russ Freeman on acoustic, classical and electric guitars, synth and guitar synth, Vinnie Colaiuta and Peter Erskine on drums, Luis Conte on percussion, Dave Carpenter and Byron House on acoustic basses, listeners are in for a real treat on such songs as “Moon Through The Window” “Montecito,” “Club Havana,” and “Waiting For The Stars To Fall.” Although all of the songs have hit’ potential, these songs linger in your mind long after the songs are over because of their diverse musical interests and appeal.
“Our fans had been wanting a follow-up for years, and we finally found some opportune openings in our schedule, which allowed for incredible bursts of energy when we got together to write,” says Freeman. “The idea was to do anything but our typical music. We wrote a lot of songs together from scratch, which added to the organic nature of the sessions. The first BENOIT/FREEMAN PROJECT was very anthemic, with big production values, but here, we’re going deeper and creating a real intimacy,” he adds.
That intimacy, instinct, and introspection is truly an integral part of this great recording. From the sizzling Latinesque feel on “Club Havana” and the straight-ahead segments on “Struttin'” to the classical artistry on “Waiting For The Stars To Fall,” David Benoit and Russ Freeman have proven their great musicianship once more. They have come full circle as a musical team and fortunately for their listeners, they’re together again at the height of their creative powers. We caught up with David Benoit preparing for their upcoming concert tour across the USA.
So I really liked the experience and had a great experience making the record. Then when I had the big meeting at Concord, all the staff was there and that was it. I really felt like that of all the people I had talked to, Peak was motivated and creative. They are kind of what the old GRP Records used to be…they have that kind of artist driven excitement about working with an artist. I’m happy!
P.E.: Fabulous! Dave, this second project has a more laid-back romantic feeling that really sets a mood that you can groove to, explore deeper aspects of the music or just kick back and relax to. David Pack adds a nice vocalese to “Montecito,” while Chris Botti’s sizzling Latin trumpeting on “Club Havana,” and his muted blue funk on “Struttin'” take listeners on another type of musical journey. What was the ambience like in the studio when you were recording “Club Havana?”
D.B.: It was very relaxed. We had Vinnie Colaiuta, Alex Al, Chris Botti, and Luis Conte and recorded it “live.” The approach to this record was “Let’s try to do as much as we can “live” with all the players here so that listeners can experience that “live” feeling.
P.E.: Sort of like actually being in a “Club Havana,” (laughs)…
D.B.: (Laughs) Yes, except we weren’t smoking Cuban cigars!!
P.E.: (Laughs) “Moon Through The Window” is such a beautiful song. Russ’ lyrical answers to your melodic statements are truly romantic. Did you write it at a full moon…or what was the true inspiration for this lovely song?
D.B.: Yes! As a matter of fact, the inspiration came during the time my wife and I were building our dream home! One of the many surprises after it was finished was seeing the moon set right over the ocean. The house has a lot of windows and that picture stuck in my head…the moon glimmering over the ocean. I’d never seen anything like it before…. I’d seen sunsets but never a moon set at about 3:00 in the morning! The first time, it woke me out of bed because the moon was so bright and I had to write a song about it.
P.E.: I can imagine the beauty of it all. In addition to the sizzle of “Club Havana,” the CD takes a different direction with stunning arrangements, classical feelings as well as spontaneous smooth jazz energy on several more songs. You’ve mentioned that writing for strings comes very easy for you and you’ve done a marvelous job with the Nashville String Machine on “Via Nueve,” “Two Survivors,” “Moon Through The Window,” and “Waiting For The Stars To Fall.” Had you worked with the Nashville String Machine previously?
D.B.: Yes, on several occasions. They’re great guys. We recorded the strings in Nashville and overdubbed to the tracks that were done in Los Angeles.
P.E.: Your string orchestration is euphonious in its colorful harmony! Vince Gill does a great job with the symbolism inherent in “Two Survivors.” Do you have any suggestions for novices embarking on a new musical career and how to avoid some of the obstacles that seem to present themselves at the most inopportune moments?
D.B.: Well, there is no way to avoid all of them but the main thing is to stay fresh and try new things. I don’t think it’s a good idea to get stuck in one format especially if that format isn’t popular anymore.
P.E.: Dave, you’ve mastered many musical genres including smooth jazz, straight-ahead jazz recordings, television and film scoring, have written a Broadway musical, classical compositions, and have conducted such eminent orchestras as the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the symphonies of London, Nuremberg, San Francisco, Atlanta, San Antonio, and San Jose! Right now you’re the musical director for the Asia America Symphony in Palos Verdes, California. What genius! With such a vast array of musical styles and genres in your repertoire, is there a favorite at this juncture of your career?
D.B.: Wow, let me think about that. Recently I was conducting Mendelssohn’s Italian (no.4 op. 90) and then later on playing Dave Brubeck.
P.E.: That’s quite a contrast!
D.B.: It’s so funny because sometimes I’ll sit down a play a groove on the piano and just get real funky, and then at other times when conducting the Fourth Movement of Mendelssohn’s Italian and keeping the strings in a mental forte with the brass…. It’s like thinking classical and getting the same kind of emotional high from hearing that incredible music and having a great orchestra play for you, it’s really hard to say … of that which is more comfortable. I’m probably more comfortable in smooth jazz since I’ve been doing that for so long, but with all the other things, I get such a thrill out of it. That is what I like most about my career, the variety of it all!
P.E.: Variety, dedicated genius, possessing music in its purest form, whatever you want to call it, Dave you have it all and we appreciate you! Will there be a tour to support the new CD and if so, where can your fans find the concert schedule?
D.B.: Yes there will be and they can find the concert schedule on my website at http://www.benoit.com. I think it’s also on Russ’ website at http://www.rippingtons.com/tour.shtml.
P.E.: Great! Thank you so much for the interview and here’s wishing you and Russ the best of luck with The Benoit Freeman Project 2! It’s awesome!
D.B.: Thanks Paula.