Pianist David Benoit broke into the smooth-jazz world with a hit cover of pianist Vince Guaraldi's "Linus and Lucy" in 1986. He then re-recorded the song for the album Happy Anniversary, Charlie Brown in 1989, and later scored several Peanuts specials of his own. Here's to You, Charlie Brown: 50 Great Years is something of a culmination of these experiences, as well as Benoit's first full-scale acknowledgement of the late Guaraldi's tremendous influence on his melodic pop-jazz style.
The recent passing of Peanuts creator Charles Schulz brings a special poignancy to the collection, which combines new interpretations of Guaraldi favorites with two of Benoit's original Peanuts themes the moody contemplation "Linus Tells Charlie" (RealAudio excerpt) and a cheerful, swinging "Getting Ready," from 1997's video special, "It Was My Best Birthday Ever, Charlie Brown." There's also an eloquent version of "Happiness," the theme to the musical You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, sung by Benoit's labelmate, Al Jarreau.
The core trio of Benoit, bassist Christian McBride and drummer Peter Erskine are complemented by stars from the smooth and straight-ahead jazz worlds. Acoustic guitarist Marc Antoine adds plucky Brazilian-flavored rhythms to the brisk, percussive "Pebble Beach" (RealAudio excerpt) and "Red Baron" (RealAudio excerpt), while Chris Botti enhances "Linus Tells Charlie" with smoky, muted trumpet ambience.
One of the more unusual credits on the album is Guaraldi himself as "special guest." Rather than simply rehash his previous versions of "Linus and Lucy," Benoit takes a cue from Natalie and Nat King Cole, letting more than the spirit of Guaraldi in the studio. Beginning with Guaraldi counting off and playing the original version with his trio (with Benoit adding some playful harmony accents), the song sees Benoit's trio slowly take over for a spirited improv session before letting the original trio go back into the trademark hook.