A Charlie Brown Christmas December 8, 2008
By Glen Creason
For those who think 1965 was a long time ago they might believe Charlie Brown’s Christmas has been around as long as Santa Claus and mega-malls. Most of us do not start to get into the holiday groove until we hear “Linus and Lucy” and one of my pals does the Charlie Brown happy holiday dance at this time of the year. This is a sight to see since he is a 6’5” middle-age man. As the Cerritos Yule starts to build up steam what better icon to signify the beginnings than our beloved Peanuts character and the memorable music from these animated Christmas specials that date back those forty-three short years. The perfect music man for the shows based on the cartoon strip drawn by the legendary Charles “Sparky” Schultz has been David Benoit for the last twenty years and certainly today he is the number one keeper of the Charlie Brown flame began by Vince Guaraldi in the original shows.
On this lovely night at the Performing Arts Center Benoit quite literally filled the sold-out hall with music and young people who were part of a grand celebration of the season. It is not that the musical proceedings were like a Raffi concert but the evening contained a perfect blend of Christmas, Charlie and even a little Be-Bop thrown in for flavor. The first half of the show was mostly the broader idea of Charlie Brown and David Benoit’s jazz quartet serving up slices of delicious, somewhat improvisational jazz along the show music themes. “You’re in Love, Charlie Brown,” and “Buggy Ride” warmed the chilled crowd and announced like a sleigh bell that this concert was not going to be a nodder or a plodder. “The Great Pumpkin Waltz” and “Wild Kids” stayed in the Charlie Brown repertoire but strayed from the Yule theme without losing any of the good cheer. The first half closed with some fine Benoit compositions including his current radio hit “Human Nature” that sounded fine in the context of the evening. Benoit has an excellent quartet lead by saxophonist Andy Suzuki who seems to have every nuance down. Of course, bassist David Hughes and tireless drummer Jamie Tate form the chain of excellence in this group, each outstanding at their instruments.
The second half of the show added much in the way of people and sentiment. This time David Benoit had the inspiring Asia America Youth Orchestra behind him and some other sparkling surprises to make the holiday merry and bright. Sticking to the familiar and beloved tunes of the Christmas specials the group performed stellar renditions of “Christmas Is Coming,” “Skating,” and a jazzy “O’Tannenbaum” with a Charles Schultz favorite “Pebble Beach” thrown in like a box of Sees candy. For dazzle he brought out gorgeous to see and hear Ashley Muniz who perfectly sang the little gem “Just Like Me” that contains a great message for the holidays. Here the show took a quantum leap in warmth as the “Lunada Bay Elementary School Music Department Choir” took the stage and took over the show. Cute they were in great variety but the surprising thing was how great they sang “My Little Drum,” and “Christmastime Is Here” plus contributing choreographically to Benoit’s sendoff “Linus and Lucy” that really and truly gladdened hearts all over the big, happy hall.