New York Jazz Band brings incidental music to the fore
Since 2015, The Queen’s cartoonists took the background music from classic cartoons and brought it to the forefront of their shows. In the process, he dazzled audiences of all ages with his gleefully theatrical performances of music from a bygone era.
Alongside cartoon screenings, the New York-based band will bring their multi-instrumental mayhem and circus comedy to the Livermore Valley Performing Arts Center on January 26, and by Yoshi in Oakland on February 2. See their website for info about other California shows in Malibu, Irvine, Saratoga, Chico and Grass Valley.
Audiences can expect appearances from famous cartoon characters from the 1920s, 30s, and ’40, including Betty Boop and Popeye the Sailor. The rest of the program, however, is not yet fully defined – band members share an appreciation for all things spontaneous.
It should be noted that for most jazz ensembles, spontaneity is nothing out of the ordinary. After all, improvisation has always been and continues to be an integral part of jazz performance.
But what sets The Queen’s Cartoonists apart from most is their decidedly comedic approach to jazz. The band members follow a score to stay in tune with the animations displayed on screen and as a result have little room for improvisation – around 20% of their performance is improvised, posits percussionist Rossen ” Completely full ” Nedelchev.
The Queen’s Cartoonists try to maintain that distinctive improvisational jazz feel in other ways, namely by constantly subverting audience expectations.
Much of classical music is predictable, says pianist Joel “McKinley Sweet Sauce” Pierson. If you get tickets to a Beethoven concert, you’ll probably get Beethoven. “It was great Beethoven,” you will say afterwards. “No matter.”
This is the exact opposite of what they are aiming for. “I never want the public to beat us to it,” says Pierson. “The show should be very spontaneous and wacky.”
The madness, it seems, is where the Queen’s cartoonists shine the brightest. Their past shows have featured nonsense that just might make your midfield stark–thrill of the school orchestra instructor. Brass Player Greg “Eggs and” Hammontree has several unique talents, including playing the trumpet and recorder at the same time – effectively using his nostrils.
Hammontree says he was first drawn to cartoons because of their starkly contrasting moods — from frenetic to nostalgic, then back to frenetic.
“Just like Greg’s personal life,” quips Pierson.
Pierson adds that the band’s performances are not about playing the highest notes or the fastest notes. It’s more about doing more and being more ridiculous. It’s about bringing old people back to their childhood and touching their hearts. And sometimes it’s about confusing people.
In short, the Queen’s Cartoonists aren’t trying to be the next Miles Davis Quintet or Duke Ellington Orchestra. It is an impossible task. What they want is simple: to make you smile.