The Queen's Cartoonists resurrect unique slice of American pop culture

Jazz, classical music performed alongside screenings of vintage cartoons

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
  • The Queen's Cartoonists perform at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 8 at the Farmington Civic Center.
  • Tickets are $14 and $18.
  • The six-piece group is based in Queens, New York.

FARMINGTON — Joel Pierson wasn't a huge fan of cartoons when he was a kid, but he does own up to having had a fondness for Snagglepuss, the pink, sophisticated, quick-witted cougar who was a regular on the "The Yogi Bear Show."

"He had that swinging '60s, bachelor vibe to him," Pierson said, explaining the appeal.

Pierson may not bear much outward resemblance to Snagglepuss but it's clear the vintage cartoon character influenced Pierson's sense of humor and even his choice of careers.

Pierson is joined by five other musicians in a group called the Queen's Cartoonists, a band based in Queens, New York, that performs music from and inspired by classic and contemporary cartoons and animated films.

The group makes its Farmington debut on Tuesday, Feb. 8.

"I don't think it's ever been a huge passion of mine, although now it is," Pierson said about cartoons during a phone interview last week from Chico, California, where the Queen's Cartoonists had just finished a round of shows. "Now, I'm deep into it. And I feel like I have a much greater appreciation for what those composers and performers were doing."

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The Queen's Cartoonists were founded by Pierson, a highly successful keyboardist who already had established a reputation as an ace sideman for acts ranging from the New York Philharmonic and the Kronos Quartet to Linkin Park and Kesha. But he yearned to find his own niche, one where he could bring jazz and classical music to a wider audience.

The Queen's Cartoonists will perform Tuesday, Feb. 8 at the Farmington Civic Center.

It occurred to Pierson that the Golden Age of Jazz and the Golden Age of Animation in America overlapped each other, giving them a great deal in common. And when he considered how jazz and classical music served as the soundtrack for so much of the animated material he and millions of other American kids grew up with, it became clear to him there likely was a market for a group devoted to revisiting those art forms.

It was an unusual concept, but it was a unique one. Pierson

said when he set about recruiting other accomplished musicians to join his fledgling group, it wasn't a difficult sell.

"It took about 20 minutes to get this whole group together," he said.

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The band performs before a screen upon which classic and contemporary animated clips are projected, and the music is a combination of original and vintage tunes synchronized with the onscreen action. Each show is rounded out by Pierson's between-songs comedic banter in which he introduces the next piece and sheds a little light on its history.

Pierson likens the show to a musical circus. But that description shouldn't be construed as meaning he and the other members of the group aren't serious about what they do. In many ways, he said, the mission of the Queen's Cartoonists is to resurrect this slice of American pop culture and remind audiences of why it was great.

The Queen's Cartoonists combine jazz and classical music with vintage and contemporary cartoons and animation.

While the animation itself may have been the main draw, Pierson said, the music played a crucial role in setting the tone for the overall product. He noted that's why the second word in Looney Tunes — the series of animated shorts produced by Warner Bros. from the 1930s through the 1960s — is spelled Tunes, as in music, not Toons, as in cartoons.

"Our shows are one part music preservation, one part education and one part performance," he said.

Not that anyone has forgotten about the likes of Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, Daffy Duck and, yes, Snagglepuss. Even though some of those characters are nearly a century old and haven't been featured regularly on television for decades, Pierson said the Internet has allowed them to remain a force in pop culture, even for children.

"People still know who these characters are," he said.

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Pierson brought up one of his group's recent performances before an audience of second-graders in California. Out of curiosity, Pierson asked how many of the students knew who Popeye was. Nearly every hand in the audience shot up, he said.

Pierson found that response affirming, and he enjoys the way children respond to the concerts. But he insisted that his group's performances are not geared toward youngsters.

"It's a show for adults, but children are totally engaged if they come," he said.

The Queen's Cartoonists perform at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 8, at the Farmington Civic Center, 200 W. Arrington St. Tickets are $14 and $18. Visit fmtn.org/events or call 505-599-1148.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.