Jeff Sanford’s Cartoon Jazz Orchestra – Playland At the Beach

Cartoons are a joyful, essential part of the American experience. From the beloved Saturday antics of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, in the ‘40s and ‘50s to today’s inspired anime’, they express wild swings of energy and emotion, explosive triumphs, and deserved defeats. One element of the cartoons that we’ve recently recognized is the genius of the music that underscores them, a mash-up of classical, jazz, pop, folk, and everything in between.

This highly adventurous music has found a contemporary home in Jeff Sanford’s Cartoon Jazz Orchestra, a group of gifted, serious musicians who will celebrate their new Little Village album, Playland at the Beach, with a show on November 8th at the Throckmorton Theater in Mill Valley and on November 15th at the French Club in San Francisco. Their music is rich and complex, zany and funny, supremely well played – and it swings like crazy.

A NewYork City native, CJO founder and leader Sanford began on clarinet at age 9, and plays all the saxophones and flutes as well. His hero was Benny Goodman and he absorbed the “Great American Songbook” after hearing the classic Ella (Fitzgerald) Sings Cole Porter. He listened to the Beatles and other influential rock groups of the ‘60s. After backing oldies groups like the Platters and the Crests, he joined a show band, Rainy Days, playing up and down the East Coast.

Jeff arrived in San Francisco in 1976 and traveled the hard road of the workingmusician, playing everything fromTop 40 to waltzes for dances to gigs with Clark Terry, Tootie Heath, Regina Carter.

When musician Tony Parinella passed on, he left Jeff 16 file cabinets of big band music, including compositions by Raymond Scott. Warner Brothers Musical Director Carl Stalling adopted Scott’s strange, hyperactive pieces as scores for more than 120 Looney Tunes cartoons. The music is highly entertaining but very challenging to perform.When Jeff heard Don Byron’s album BugMusic, featuring works by Scott, the inspiration for his Cartoon Jazz Orchestra was born. The CJO premiered at the 2003 Stanford Jazz Festival.

The key players in the ensemble includeMark Rosengarden (BetteMidler, HerbieMann, Darlene Love), Eric Wayne (Digital Victrola owner/producer, KALWannouncer/ operator), Simon Planting (John Jorgenson Quintet, artistic director of two Djangofests), Hal Richards (Carol Channing, Terry Gibbs, Lenny Niehaus), Andy Ostwald(author of the book series “Play Jazz, Blues, Rock Piano By Ear”Mel Bay pub). Lenny Carlson, the CJO in-house composer of original music since 2009, has brought the wild and woolly spirit of Raymond Scott into the 21st century. Lenny, a jazz guitarist, recording artist, and composer whosemother was a classical violinist and father was a composer who studied with Arnold Schoenberg, gives newmeaning to the word “eclectic”.

There’s plenty of humor in thismusic, some of it political, such as the “Commander of Cheese” honoring amalapropismby Kellyanne Conway. The great Carl Johnson, chosen by Warner Bros. to compose for their Looney Tunes Revival, adapts Mendelssohn’s

“Spring Song” into a loonier “Spring Thing”. Carlson’s “Playland at the Beach” is a slightly scarier roller coaster ride in the dark. Scott’s “SnakeWoman”…you get the idea. Where I come from, “weird” can be a big compliment. This is weird music at its finest.