the 1930's through the 1950s, Big Band jazz was an immensely popular form of
American music. Swinging ensembles of
horns, drums, strings and keyboards played music that was not only great to
dance to. It also worked as the musical accompaniment for most of the animated
shorts of the era – a time often described as the Golden Age of American cartoons.
But those merry melodies were more than mere kid stuff, as VOA's Adam Phillips
Sanford looks as normal as anyone can look while playing the clarinet
and leading the big-band ensemble he founded – the Cartoon Jazz Orchestra
– through a rendition of "Powerhouse." It's a piece by Raymond Scott,
one of the cartoon genre's greatest composers.
Golden Age of cartoons was mostly over when Sanford was a child. But as with almost every baby boomer, the
visual and musical world of the cartoon was a familiar alternative
reality. "I spent hours Saturday
mornings relaxing and watching cartoons," he says. "When we perform this music I do notice
that these memories seem to really cut deep into people's memories."
in cartoons changes and enhances mood, Sanford says. It can also evoke the
atmosphere of actual places.
as the sound of twittering flutes calls to mind images of an idyllic, unspoiled
countryside, Raymond Scott's "Jungle Jazz" is Manhattan during
its bustling hipster heyday in the 1930s.
has that frantic 'da-da-da-da' and that mood of maybe being in the subway and
trying to cross the street without getting hit." Sanford says the tune brings to mind "what's it was like in
New York and what it's still like in New York 80 years [later]."
often used music to convey ethnic stereotypes of the day – all for laughs – just
as vaudeville once did. The beginning
of Raymond Scott's "War
Dance of the Wooden Indians," for example, had a beat and a melody that
was simple Hollywood shorthand for Native Americans – even though actual Native
American music was nothing like that. Soon however, the music morphs into an
authentic klezmer mode which reflected Scott's actual ethnic heritage as an
Eastern European Jew.
cartoon music didn't stop with Raymond Scott. Sanford says the Cartoon Jazz
Orchestra's most requested song is composer Danny Elfman's theme for the
animated TV comedy show, The
Simpsons. It's music that
Sanford says fits in with our modern era to a tee.
fits in because it doesn't fit in. It fits into The Simpsons, because
they are dysfunctional family. And you definitely hear that in the
music." Sanford describes the
music as "circus-like," adding, "it's percussive and it's
complicated and fun at the same time."