The Queen’s Cartoonists bring swing-era music, written for classic cartoons, to listeners
A new band made up of Astoria and Jackson Heights residents is bringing a fresh, yet vintage, sound to the ears of audiences throughout the city.
The Queen’s Cartoonists, made up of six Queens musicians, was formed when pianist Joel Pierson made the move from Washington, D.C., to Jackson Heights after getting married to a Queens resident.
Pierson, who has been playing the piano for over 20 years and has performed on all seven continents, was looking for a job and said he wanted to do something innovative that would attract audiences — which is how the idea of the band came about.
“I was trying to think of something that would have the band stand out in New York, that would be interesting to people,” Pierson said. “I saw it as a different twist of what people are doing up here.”
The group performs music they call the “zaniest and most creative” out of the swing era and many of which was written and adapted for classic cartoons from Warner Bros. and Disney, such as the Looney Tunes, Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse.
The band is made up of Pierson and Astoria residents Mark Phillips on clarinet and soprano sax; Drew Pitcher on tenor sax; Greg Hammontree on trumpet; Rossen Nedelchev on percussion; and Ian Hutchison on bass.
“We’re all very Queens-centric people. We all just really like Queens. Everybody is rubbing elbows from all over the world,” Pierson said. “We all live here for a reason.”
The name of the band, which was created before there was a group and Pierson believes helped attract the members, has been written in many ways – some including the apostrophe, others placing it after the S — however Pierson said it all goes back to highlighting their home borough.
“[Queens] feels like a really authentic place to live and so many jazz people have lived here,” Pierson said. “It fits with the kind of music we want to play.”
What differs The Queen’s Cartoonists from all other jazz musicians and groups in the city, Pierson said, is that the group does not perform out of spontaneity. Due to the classic music’s short and fast performances, it is crucial that the members spend extensive time practicing every tune and be organized when performing.
Each song can go about 2 to 3 minutes long and performances tend to last about 20 to 25 minutes.
“Everything has to be really set up ahead of time because if we’re not on it 100 percent then it can be really hard for us,” Pierson said.
Although the band performs what Pierson calls “cartoony and silly” music, he adds that he still wants to maintain a formal feel in the performances — much like how it was down back in the 1930s and ’40s.
“We want people to experience a formal experience even if the music is cartoony and silly,” Pierson said. “We want it to be a concert in a way because it is hard to play and we want to give some credibility to this music.”
For now, the “novelty” band is still testing the waters to figure out the best venues to perform in and Pierson hopes to one day see themselves live at performing art centers, festivals and any other venues where audience know they will be. They have also participated in the MTA’s Music Under New York Program.
The Queen’s Cartoonists will perform on Aug. 29 at The Shops at SkyView Center in Flushing from 1 to 3 p.m. and on Sept. 17 will play at the Long Beach Jazz Festival at 7 p.m.
For more information, visit www.thequeenscartoonists.com.
— Angy Altamirano