Jazz group plays live accompaniment to classic cartoons on the screen

The Queen’s Cartoonists play along with Betty Boop and Bugs
Betty Boop, Popeye, Bugs Bunny, all accompany The Queen's Cartoonists onstage when they perform classic cartoon music. Photo: Lauren Desberg

Credit: Lauren Desberg

Combined ShapeCaption
Betty Boop, Popeye, Bugs Bunny, all accompany The Queen's Cartoonists onstage when they perform classic cartoon music. Photo: Lauren Desberg

Credit: Lauren Desberg

Credit: Lauren Desberg

You’ve seen orchestras play in symphony halls while “Harry Potter” and “Star Wars” and “E.T.” are projected on the screens behind them.

Now it’s time for Popeye, Bluto and Daffy Duck to get the same honor.

The Queen’s Cartoonists, a six-person ensemble (from Queens, N.Y. of course) has dedicated itself to the classic sounds of old cartoons and some new ones.

Preservationists at heart, the band is aware that many of us heard our first Rossini and Cab Calloway on Saturday mornings in front of the television set. They contend that cartoons may have done more to popularize jazz and classical music than any other medium.

Consequently, they are bringing this music out on the stage, along with the great animated films that utilize the tunes. The Queen’s Cartoonists perform Saturday, Nov. 11 at the Rialto Center for the Arts.

Saturday cartoons taught music appreciation without being didactic. “You absorb it when you’re young, you don’t analyze what’s going on,” said Greg Hammontree, a Savannah native and graduate of Georgia State University, who plays trumpet, trombone, tuba and several “Foley” style sound effects devices with the Cartoonists.

Credit: The Queen's Cartoonists

Credit: The Queen's Cartoonists

When he was studying for a master’s degree at the City University of New York, his teacher, Michael Mossman, recommended studying Tom and Jerry as a primer in orchestrating emotion. “He said ‘Check out cartoon music if you want to learn how to arrange something that’s tragic, then ecstatic, in one second of time. You don’t have 15 minutes to build up euphoria, you have to do it now.’”

Hammontree was impressed.

Around the same time his colleague, Joel Pierson conceived of taking Popeye and Bluto on the road. In 2015 The Queen’s Cartoonists were born. They performed first in jazz clubs and bars, and finally in theaters like the Rialto.

Playing the jazz of Carl Stalling, Raymond Scott, Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington, along with the classical music of Strauss, Mozart, Rossini and other composers, Pierson and his ensemble carefully synchronize the music to the action on the screen, accompanying such classic cartoons as “Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor,” “Porky’s Preview” and “Yankee Doodle Daffy.”

The ensemble strips out most of the music from the soundtracks of these old cartoons, replacing it with live performances. But they retain the vocals in some, as when Koko the Clown (in the voice of Cab Calloway) sings “St. James Infirmary Blues” in the wildly surreal 1933 Betty Boop version of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.”

Credit: Mark Sheldon

Credit: Mark Sheldon

Pierson said he became fascinated with “the golden age of animation and the golden age of jazz,” he said. “I was exploring the intersections between these two.”

In keeping with the tenor of the material, the Cartoonists inject a little comedy into the proceedings. Reed man Mark Phillips plays the “Sabre Dance” on alto sax and clarinet simultaneously; Hammontree rides a clown-sized bicycle, steering with one hand and playing the trumpet with the other.

The ensemble also accompanies more contemporary animation, including shorts from the Pink Panther and Ren and Stimpy. They play original music to contemporary European and South American animated films, such as “Luminaris,” that will be new to most audience members.

In addition to Phillips, Hammontree and Pierson, the group includes Rossen Nedelchev on drums, Drew Picher on sax and Malik McLaurine on bass.


The Queen’s Cartoonists, live jazz and classical music performed to cartoons projected on stage. 8 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 11. $28.90-$68. Rialto Center for the Arts, 80 Forsyth St., Atlanta; 866-787-6710; rialto.gsu.edu

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