INTERVIEW/PREVIEW : Stu Brown (Twisted Toons at the EFG London Jazz Festival)

Image credit: Iona Shepherd
Scottish-born, Berklee-trained drummer, producer, composer and drum teacher STU BROWN will be bringing a quartet to play his cartoon-inspired "Twisted Toons" project to the EFG London Jazz Festival. Sebastian asked the questions:

LondonJazz News: When did you start playing the drums?

Stu Brown: There was always music playing around the house when I was a kid (everything from Miles Davis to Hendrix, Zappa, Kraftwerk and Stravinsky) and my parents also took me to see live concerts as a child so I was interested in music from an early age. At some point I remember seeing what I think was an American college marching band with a large drum section which gave me the idea that I wanted to play drums and so my parents arranged some lessons.

Initially I started learning classical percussion with Heather Corbett, who was principal percussionist with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, and she got me playing in wind bands after 6 months. That was great experience for me, even if it was a bit of a baptism of fire. I remember being left on my own to hold down all the percussion parts on one concert at the age of 10! I got my first drum kit aged 10, and changed teacher around that time to Iain Muir. He exposed me to a lot more modern jazz and rock which opened up my mind in new directions. By about 13 I was playing in youth jazz bands and that’s what really led me down the jazz route.

LJN: What drew you to arranging music?

SB: Ever since I got a basic keyboard as a young teenager I would try and write music so it’s always something I’ve been interested in. Also, as a drummer you don’t really play melody and harmony when you improvise, so in terms of getting more melodic musical ideas out there for people to hear, the next best thing is to write and arrange music for other musicians to play. When I studied at Berklee College of Music I picked up a lot more harmony and ear training knowledge which really helped with my arranging and transcription skills. I’ve also always enjoyed being part of every aspect of music making, writing, arranging and production, even down to things like mixing and editing my albums and developing artwork and design concepts.

LJN: Tell us about your new album

SB: Well first of all I should say it’s a follow up to my previous album, The Stu Brown Sextet, Twisted Toons - The Music of Raymond Scott. That recording was a tribute to the maverick bandleader, composer, inventor and electronic music pioneer, Raymond Scott, whose madcap 1930’s compositions, such as Powerhouse and Dinner Music for a Pack of Hungry Cannibals, were used in the Warner Bros. cartoon scores from the 1940’s onwards by composer Carl Stalling.

For Twisted Toons Vol. 2 I wanted to delve deeper into the world of the cartoon soundtracks themselves, in particular the work of Carl Stalling, but also Scott Bradley, who wrote all the music for the Tom and Jerry and Tex Avery cartoons, and more.

The album includes several complete cartoon scores that I’ve transcribed and arranged from Tom and Jerry, Droopy, Roadrunner, and Porky Pig, alongside new arrangements of Carl Stalling’s commonly used themes (including Raymond Scott’s Powerhouse, Stalling’s Screwball Theme and more), and a selection of kitsch 1950’s library music cues that appeared in Ren and Stimpy and Spongebob Squarepants. There is even some of Bill Frisell’s atmospheric writing for Gary Larson’s Tales From the Far Side in there too. A lot of the music on the album was originally written for an orchestra of 30-60 members, so I’ve tried to recreate that same sound and energy with just 8 players! It’s a pretty crazy mishmash of music, but I think it works!

LJN: You're performing in London during the EFG London Jazz Festival on 13th November. What led you to choose The Cinema Museum as the venue?

SB: I went down to visit it earlier in the year and immediately felt it would work as a quirky venue for this project. It’s an amazing place, full of old cinema equipment and memorabilia. We have performed a couple of times in an amazing old Victorian Music Hall in Glasgow called the Panopticon and the Cinema Museum has something of the same quirky, antiquated feel that I think will really suit this music.

LJN: What can the audience expect from the concert?

SB: It’s going to be a really fun, family friendly show that should appeal to anyone from jazz fans to film and cartoon enthusiast and families with kids. There might even be a bit of audience participation for the kids (and adults) to get involved in! They’ll hear everything from1930’s “cartoon jazz” compositions by Raymond Scott, such as Square Dance For Eight Egyptian Mummies, through to a complete Droopy cartoon score, reworkings of Carl Stalling’s music from his Looney Tunes scores and even some Hawaiian guitar from Spongebob Squarepants! For this tour we’re trying out a new quartet format, which opens up more opportunities for improvisation and interaction and gives the gig more of a jazz slant than with the 7 or 8 piece band.

BOOKINGS for the CINEMA MUSEUM
Stu Brown website

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