If you watch — and only watch — cartoons, you're missing something. The Queen's Cartoonists will prove that when they perform cartoon music from the 1920s to the present day, on Saturday, Oct. 22 at the Prairie Center for the Arts in Schaumburg.
Pianist and leader Joel Pierson formed the jazz band after he moved to New York about two years ago. "I was looking for a way to get plugged into the music scene and thought maybe I should just come up with some sort of harebrained idea that would maybe draw some attention to itself," Pierson said. "I thought of a bunch of different wacky ideas and this was the one I chose to work on."
Turns out, it wasn't such a wacky idea after all because within a week or so, he had assembled a group of professional musicians who were eager to join the enterprise. The group consists of Rossen Nedelchev (drums), Ian Hutchinson (bass), Drew Pitcher (saxophone), Mark Phillips (woodwinds) and Greg Hammontree (trumpet).
"There's so much famous classical music that's been used in cartoons," Pierson noted. "You have this really, really difficult music that's been used in cartoons for almost a hundred years."
Preparing the band's repertoire has been a tedious task for Pierson. He began by listing famous cartoons, watching them and transcribing the music.
"It's easy if you're doing a Bugs Bunny cartoon that has Wagner. You go find the score," Pierson said. "It's not easy but you have a leg up. But sometimes I would go to a recording and transcribe it note for note, and arrange it for the band."
So far, Pierson has created 50 or 60 arrangements for his group. "They tend to be short and fast. All the arrangements tend to be 2-1/2 to 3 minutes long," he reported. "So I've spent a lot of time in the last six months flushing out the arrangements so we're not up there playing 40 different charts in two hours."
In addition to cartoon music, the group also plays similar music from films, the Muppets and other sources.
The show includes more than just music, though. "I talk about the cartoons — when did it come out, what's it about," Pierson said.
Those talk interludes not only inform the audience, they also give the musicians much needed rest periods. "The music is so hard for the horn players, they need 30 seconds or a minute between every one or they burn out," Pierson said.
There is also some singing in the show, as well as projections of some of the cartoons.
In addition to performing concerts, the band does educational outreach programs at schools, senior centers and other venues but Pierson said, " I feel like the show overall is hopefully a little bit of an education in music. We're talking about classical music and the great composers. I feel like it's my job to kind of connect all the dots."