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Jazz and Trains in the Forest

FISH CAMP — Jazz in the forest? Who knew! With a Steinway, no less.

The last few years have not been easy for iconic destination Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad. In March 2017, railroad owner and local legend Max Stauffer passed away. Later that year, the eponymous Railroad Fire encroached on its perimeter and singed some of its land and equipment. Enter 2020 and the pandemic and shutdown, followed in 2021 by the forest shutdown.

Despite the challenges, the railroad and its general manager, Scott McGhee, have bounced back with amazing resolve. Earlier this year YMSPRR and Fresno Flats formed a successful collaboration to provide kids and their parents with a history lesson. A Halloween Limited takes place on Oct. 31, featuring costume contests, trick or treating, and great food! In its latest innovation, YMSPRR brings jazz — and a Steinway piano — to the Lewis Creek Amphitheatre this Sunday, Oct. 10, with a concert by Grammy-nominated jazz pianist David Benoit.

David Benoit at his Steinway

According to Benoit’s website, “For three decades, the Grammy-nominated pianist/composer/arranger David Benoit has reigned supreme as one of the founding fathers of contemporary jazz…He was born in Bakersfield, California, and grew up in Los Angeles. Benoit was bitten by the jazz bug after watching a Charlie Brown special on television and listening to the music of Vince Guaraldi in 1965. “I was already a fan of the comic strip,” he says, “but when I heard that jazz piano trio, that was the defining moment when I decided that I wanted to play like Vince Guaraldi.”

A relaxed David Benoit

Benoit received three Grammy bids in the categories of Best Contemporary Jazz Performance for “Every Step of the Way” (1989), Best Large Ensemble Performance for GRP All-Star Big Band (1996), and Best Instrumental Composition for “Dad’s Room,” the latter from the album Professional Dreamer (2000). In 2010, Benoit received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Smooth Jazz Awards, and he’s worked with an impressive potpourri of musicians including the Rippingtons, Emily Remler, Alphonse Mouzon, Dave Koz, Faith Hill, David Sanborn, CeCe Winans and Brian McKnight.

He has scored films for the likes of Clint Eastwood and Sally Field and has conducted orchestras such as the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Asia America Symphony Orchestra and the London Symphony Orchestra.

In addition to his live performances and recordings, Mr. Benoit hosts a morning show on Long-Beach based KKJZ.org.

This is actually the third in a series of Jazz Train concerts presented by promoter Scott Pederson of Scottland Concerts. The first featured the combo of Brian Simpson & Steve Oliver on Sept. 26, and the second spotlighted Rick Braun on Oct. 3.

There’s more to the railroad than music in the forest.

As if the magnificent strains of jazz piano weren’t enough, the evening also features a pre-performance gourmet picnic meal at the Sugar Pine station consisting of grilled chicken apple sausage on a pub bun with sweet spicy mustard or a grilled portabella mushroom served on a brioche bun with lettuce, tomato and onion, accompanied by herbed red potato salad with mustard vinaigrette as well as a shredded kale and brussels sprout salad with apples and maple-shallot dressing. Topping the meal off is homemade bread pudding with whipped cream.

A round trip passage on the historic No. 10 Shay transports guests through the forest to the amphitheater and the evening’s music, with an assortment of homemade chocolate chip and walnut cookies, snickerdoodles, and gingersnaps available during the performance.

The cost for the entire package is $125 per person, and reservations are available here. The afternoon begins at 3 p.m., but be sure to arrive early to check in. Come prepared for cooler weather since the train is situated at the 5,000-foot level. The train operates rain or shine.

To make the evening complete, a cash bar of your favorite craft beer, wine and assorted drinks and waters will be available for purchase and may be carried on board the JAZZ TRAIN.

All confirmed passengers booked on the JAZZ TRAIN are requested to arrive beginning at 2 p.m. Passengers of all ages will have an extended opportunity to explore the wonders that create the home of the historic Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad.

Promoter Scott Pederson says announcement of the 2022 series of jazz concerts will be forthcoming in the new year.

Photos and David Benoit’s information courtesy of David Benoit’s management, Chapman & Co. Management. Railroad photos courtesy of Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad.

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