Classical time
for Benoit

David Benoit finally admits to a long-suspected "issue" that's plagued him throughout his three-decade music career.

"Well, I, uh, I have severely tough issues with time management," Benoit, 51, confesses in a telephone interview from his Palos Verdes Estate, Ca., home. "I don't know why I do this, why I get myself in these situations, take on so much. I'm always perpetually behind. I don't know what to do!"

David Benoit

With the Honolulu Symphony Pops Orchestra; Matt Catingub, conductor; with special guests Michael Paulo and Sonya Mendez

Where: Blaisdell Concert Hall

When: 8 p.m. today and tomorrow

Tickets: $20, $30, $40, $50 and $65

Call: 792-2000

The musical maverick, who performs tonight and tomorrow with the Honolulu Symphony Pops Orchestra, laughs at his momentary self-pity.

"OK, doctor, I'll take responsibility for my actions," he says. "I'm the kind of person who gets restless easily. I just like doing new things."

With a multifaceted discography stretching back to the late '70s, Benoit has become a sort of worldwide jazz ambassador whose recordings encompass a wide range of jazz-inflected styles, from smooth jazz to straight-ahead bebop, contemporary pop, orchestral and hip-hop.

"I do get tired of playing some of my more popular numbers, so what I do is shelve a song for a few concerts, then come back to it, feeling fresh about it," Benoit says. "It's good for me and that means good for the audience."

It looks like his smooth jazz repertoire will be shelved for a time as Benoit turns more toward to classical composition and conducting. He is currently in his third season as musical director of the Asia America Symphony of Palos Verdes and has conducted eminent orchestras such as the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the symphonies of London, Nuremberg, San Francisco, Atlanta, San Antonio and San Jose.

"It's pretty much where I see my future -- longform and concert pieces," he says. "I just love it, love being in front of an orchestra, love that challenge."

Still, playing jazz piano has served Benoit well, with three Grammy awards and international popularity.

"I'll never give it up totally, but I see that as not being in the forefront," he says. "Jazz piano was where my destiny and career took me."

Conducting and composing for a symphony, however, is "extremely more difficult" than playing piano, he says. Every season, he composes a new work for his Asian American Orchestra.

One of the keys to conducting is really understanding the score, both in a musical and historical sense, he says.

"If you know the score inside and out, and what the composer intended, there is nothing you can't do," he says.

And that's categorically different from jazz.

"Jazz is not about the composer -- who cares? It's about the player," Benoit says. "Listen to ... Miles Davis to see if he plays the original melody correctly. It's about how the player interprets the score.

"Classical is about the composer. It's sacred to maintain the tradition of the piece and not deviate."

On the cover

BENOIT'S HONOLULU concerts will be more pops-oriented. The concert will feature new Matt Catingub arrangements of hits like "Swingin' Waikiki" and "Watermelon Man," as well as Benoit favorites such as "Kei's Song," "Linus and Lucy" and "Dad's Room."

Benoit is currently working on his first Broadway musical in collaboration with lyricist Mark Winkler about the life and times of Marilyn Monroe. This winter, he joined the Smooth Jazz Christmas Tour with saxophonist Dave Koz.

After the release of his previous CD, "Here's to You, Charlie Brown: 50 Great Years!" in 2000, Benoit developed a live musical tribute to Charles Schulz's comic strip. The show featured a full orchestra, arranged and conducted by Benoit, performing a variety of music, including the memorable melodies composed by the late pianist Vince Guaraldi for the classic "Peanuts" TV specials.

Benoit also composed and performed a classical piece for piano and orchestra, "The Peanuts Gallery," commissioned by Carnegie Hall.

Benoit has also completed the symphony "Kobe," with conductor Kent Nagano, which the pair eventually will record.

"I'd been working on it off and on for 10 years," Benoit says, laughing again. "It was like, 'OK, I'll write a symphony in my spare time.'"

"Kobe" was first performed with the original orchestration by the Kobe Philharmonic Orchestra on the second anniversary of the Kobe earthquake of Jan. 17, 1997. The U.S. premiere with Nagano happened last year.

Part of Benoit's time-management issues is he wants to do so much.

"I also like architecture, so we built a house I designed, ... but I also wanted a family, and I have a great wife and a 3-and-a-half-year-old daughter," he says. "It all happens for you and you ask yourself, 'How will I manage it all?'"

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