Monday, February 29, 2016

Gary Lucas reunites '30s music+Broadway+NYC jazzers with Max Fleischer's Cartoons March 5th at AFI Silver Theatre

The 2016 Washington Jewish Film Festival
Gary Lucas' 'Fleischerei'
a multimedia performance
featuring 1930s cartoon tunes played live
by a 6-piece ensemble
direct from NYC
featuring Broadway vocalist Sarah Stiles,
and accompanied by screenings of
Max Fleischer cartoons (Betty Boop, Popeye)

On Saturday, March 5, 2016
at the AFI Silver Theatre
8633 Colesville Road
Silver Spring MD
8:30 pm
Tickets: $25

[2016 WJFF festival passes are available for $150 / $30 (30 Years & Under)]

Those who love early animation & classic cartoons; the history of American popular music & culture; guitarist Gary Lucas' music; Broadway musicals & vocalist Sarah Stiles; and all-star NY jazz ensembles are in for a very special treat on Saturday, March 5th, 2016. That night, Gary Lucas Fleischerei: Music From Max Fleischer Cartoons will present a multi-media performance (live music & Fleischer's cartoons) at the AFI (American Film Institute) in downtown Silver Spring as part of the 2016 Washington Jewish Film Festival.

Max Fleischer, the creator of such iconic cartoons as Betty Boop, Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Bluto, was one of America's top cartoonists, his NY-based Studios in the early 20th Century rivaled only by Walt Disney's on the West Coast. The music that accompanied his cartoons in the 1930s reflected NY/urban popular music of the time: a riotous, high-speed jumble of Harlem jungle jazz (Louis Armstrong and Cab Calloway), Yiddish music hall, Tin Pan Alley and Broadway show tunes, and Klezmer. Gary Lucas' Fleischerei revives this music and performs it live at the AFI with a 6 piece acoustic ensemble, composed of some of NY's finest jazz musicians (Joe Fiedler-trombone & ensemble arrangements, Jeff Lederer-woodwinds, Rob Garcia-drums, & Rob Jost-bass) and Tony-nominated vocalist Sarah Stiles, who captures the spirited delivery of '30s actress Mae Questel.

The March 5th performance by Gary Lucas' Fleischerei celebrates the album Music from Max Fleischer Cartoons, to be released February 22, 2016 on Cuneiform Records. Founded by DC/SS-native Steven Feigenbaum and based in downtown Silver Spring since 1984, Cuneiform is one of Washington DC's best-known and longest-lived contemporary-music record labels. Specializing in cutting-edge jazz, rock, electronic and genre-defiant musics by artists from around the world, Cuneiform has released over 420 critically-acclaimed albums that often appear on Best of Year lists and occasionally are finalists for prestigious awards (Pulitzer Prize in Music; Mercury Prize-UK). The March 5th performance is a landmark for two institutions in downtown Silver Spring's Art & Entertainment District: the first collaboration by Cuneiform and the AFI.

Guitarist Gary Lucas (Captain Beefheart, Jeff Buckley, Gods & Monsters) is the mastermind behind Gary Lucas' Fleischerei: Music from Max Fleischer Cartoons, a tribute to the music used in Max Fleischer's cartoons from the 1930s. With Broadway/Off-Broadway vocalist Sarah Stiles, trombonist/arranger Joe Fiedler (who crafted the ensemble's arrangements), woodwind player Jeff Lederer, bassist Michael Bates, and drummer Rob Garcia, Lucas revives the music once popularized by the Fleischer Studios via the cartoon characters Betty Boop, Olive Oyl and Popeye. The resulting album is an engaging, eye-opening musical extravaganza from a time when the Jazz Age crashed into the Great Depression, and Tin Pan Alley borrowed from Harlem. This music was the East Coast's gritty counterpart, savvy and street-smart, to the refined orchestral music wafting from Walt Disney's lily-white studios on the West Coast. Most of us heard this music decades ago as young children, when the cartoons once shown in movie houses were rebroadcast on TV. Hearing this music again today, with adult ears, is a revelation. Fleischerei opens doors into a forgotten American past, a long-overlooked slice of American culture forged by Jewish and Eastern European immigrants, and casts new light on classic cartoons that remain as nostalgically familiar to us as the stories our grandparents and great-grandparents told of the "old neighborhood" or the family farm.

[WATCH: Gary Lucas' Fleischerei ft. Sarah Stiles - The Music Goes Round and Round

Gary Lucas' Fleischerei | credit: Caroline Conejero

We look forward to seeing you on March 5th, for
Gary Lucas' Fleischerei at the AFI!

"The Fleischer event was amazing and the response was rapturous; I can't remember a more enjoyable program in our theater. Thanks to [Gary] and Sarah."
-David Schwartz, Chief Curator of the Museum of the Moving Image, NY


Please help us to spread the word about this very special event!


Prodigious American Guitar Explorer, Captain Beefheart Alumnus & Pop Culture/Film Archeologist
Revives the Street-Smart, Playful Music of Classic 1930s Cartoons
with the Tribute
Featuring Broadway & Off-Broadway Vocal Sensation
Capturing the Playfully Erotic Spirit of Betty Boop and Mischievious Energy of Olive Oyl


STREAM/SHARE: "The Broken Record"
stream: @SoundCloud / @Bandcamp
/ @YouTube


Cat. #: Rune 405, Format: CD / DIGITAL DOWNLOAD
Genre: Jazz / Musical
Release Date: February 5, 2016

Gary Lucas is one of the great spelunkers of contemporary culture, a fearless explorer who delves into forgotten and overlooked crevices and returns bearing exquisite treasures. His latest project Music from Max Fleischer Cartoons is a particularly spectacular find, a gleaming confection from a hurly-burly era when the Jazz Age crashed into the Great Depression and Tin Pan Alley borrowed shamelessly from Harlem. A 2016 Cuneiform release, the album features songs from Fleischer Studios cartoons originally delivered by actress Mae Questel, who provided the voice and vocals for two beloved but very different characters: the eternally sexy Betty Boop and Popeye’s sometime ‘goilfriend’ Olive Oyl.

A breathtaking guitarist whose dauntingly eclectic career encompasses a formative stint with Captain Beefheart, a crucial collaboration with Jeff Buckley, and an abiding passion for film scoring (just for starters), Lucas enlisted trombonist/arranger Joe Fiedler to craft zingy, kinetic and historically grounded arrangements for Sarah Stiles, a fiercely intelligent actor and singer best known for her work on and Off Broadway (in Hand to God and Avenue Q, respectively). Loose-limbed and girlish, sensuous and soulful, Stiles taps into the raw, unsentimental energy that animated Max Fleischer’s angsty animation, which provided a street-smart East Coast alternative to Walt Disney’s California confections.

“Fleischer’s animation has a gritty, funky urban sensibility that feeds right into R. Crumb,” Lucas says. “His cartoons had that Jewish and urban wiseguy sensibility. There’s a dark, black humor associated with Eastern European immigrants, and even though I’m from upstate, those are my roots. Betty Boop in particular embodies a knowing sophistication emanating out of Times Square, which was a node of melting pot culture where Broadway, Yiddish theater, and jazz all converged.”

Fiedler brought in a brilliant group of players for the project. Jeff Lederer is a supremely versatile saxophonist who can be found playing salsa with trombonist Jimmy Bosch and raucous post-bop with drummer Matt Wilson. Michael Bates, a virtuoso bassist with nine albums under his own name, has delved deeply into cutting edge jazz and soul, while drummer Rob Garcia is also an acclaimed bandleader and composer who’s at the center of Brooklyn’s vibrant jazz scene.

Casting the cats was the easy part. Finding a singer who could capture the insouciant spirit of Mae Questel while comfortably inhabiting the material proved far more difficult. Lucas turned to his wife Caroline Sinclair, a New York City casting director, who said, “why don’t you let me cast this one?” “That was a good idea,” Lucas says. “Sarah is really a bundle of fire who can do it all. It was crucial to find a singer who wouldn’t try to hijack the idea and make it about her. We conceived this as a tribute to Mae Questel and the Fleischers. This is about trying to spread Fleischermania.”

Part of what makes Stiles such a perfect fit for the material is the way she captures the spirit of the characters. It’s immediately obvious when she’s singing a song associated with the effervescent Ms. Boop and when she’s donning the slippery guise of Ms. Oyl. The album opens and closes with bits lifted from Fleischer productions. Lucas himself raises the curtain, crooning a brief bit of silliness on “Sweet Betty,” which is followed by Stiles’ winning rendition of the Boopsters’ theme song “Don't Take My Boop-Oop-a-Doop Away” (we wouldn’t dream of it Betty). She gives such a sly and sultry sheen to another Boop vehicle, “That's My Weakness Now,” that it’s hard to understand why it didn’t become a standard.

Some of Betty Boop’s numbers did make it into the pop pantheon, particularly, “Penthouse Serenade,” which opens as a touching recitative before turning into a roiling rent party (“that’s instrumental music we lifted straight off the cartoon soundtrack,” Lucas says). She’s beyond charming on the beguilingly goofy “The Music Goes Round and Round” and so forthrightly amorous on “Do Something” it’s no wonder that the prudes enforcing the Hays Code were determined to hide her shimmying boop-oop-a-doop under a bushel.

Stiles slips effortlessly into Olive Oyl’s considerable shoes on her bump-and-grind anti-hirsute anthem “I Want a Clean Shaven Man” and the can’t-we-all-get-along plea “Brotherly Love” (two numbers that are clearly ripe for revival). The album closes with a vivid and hilarious recreation of the soundtrack for the classic 1935 cartoon “Beware of Barnacle Bill,” where Popeye and Bill vie for the affections of the resilient Oyl.

Hewing closely to the original scores, Lucas and his crew summon a lost world of rent parties and Yiddish music halls, Vaudeville emporiums, Broadway revues, and even klezmer dance parties (themes often written by Fleischer Studios mainstay Sammy Timberg). Lucas actually took an earlier stab at some of this music, creating a solo National guitar medley of Popeye and Betty Boop tunes for his 1998 Tzadik album Busy Being Born under the title of "Fleischerei" (which is German for butcher shop, word play evoking the cartoons’ raucous, irreverent sensibility).

As an artist who thrives by keeping dozens of projects spinning at any given time, Lucas credits Fiedler with moving Fleischerei from the back burner to the front. He had mentioned the idea to the trombonist about a decade ago as they worked on two albums for Cuneiform with Fast N’ Bulbous: The Captain Beefheart Project. When their paths crossed about two years ago, Fiedler brought up the Fleischer concept, noting that his day job as music director for Sesame Street left him ideally situated to tackle the project.

“That was the immediate spur,” Lucas says. “I’ve got a guy with the perfect skill set. I’m a classically trained musician and can read but I don’t write out music when I don’t have to. I prefer to do everything as head arrangements, but this needed a real arranger’s touch. Independent of Joe I figured out guitar arrangements in the original keys, to keep the flavor of the songs.”

Gary Lucas' Fleischerei | credit: Caroline Conejero

In many ways, Fleischerei is the latest dispatch from Lucas' lifetime affair with the moving image. Growing up in Syracuse, he would rent silent 8-mm copies of classic Universal horror films and screen them for neighborhood kids ("I had a piggybank filled with nickels and dimes," he recalls). He made his own stop-motion animated shorts, and by the time he was in high school got hired for a gig scored an animated film about DNA created for biology classes. His budding career as a director screeched to a halt when he enrolled at Yale, which then didn't offer any filmmaking courses. But over the course of his exuberantly creative journey in music, he's never lost his acute case of cinephilia.

Still, summing up Lucas' kaleidoscopic career is a daunting task by any measure. He's got a project for every day of the week, and three on Sunday. He composes soundtracks for television and film, and can often be found performing his scores live, including the classic 1934 Chinese silent feature The Goddess and the Brazilian cult classic This Night I Will Possess Your Corpse. Not surprisingly given his Castle-haunted youth, he's demonstrated a particular affinity for horror films, creating acclaimed scores for Carl Theodor Dreyer's classic 1932 Vampyr, a Spanish-language version of Tod Browning's immortal version of Dracula, and James Whale's definitive Frankenstein (both from 1931).

Famously dubbed "the thinking man's guitar hero" by The New Yorker, Lucas first made his mark in the early 1980s with the last incarnation of Captain Beefheart's Magic Band, an association that continued fruitfully after Don Van Vliet's retirement from music. He collaborated with the lamented legend Jeff Buckley, contributing incisive guitar work and two songs to the epochal 1994 album Grace (including the title track). More recently, he's released Otherworld (Esoteric/Cherry Red Records); a duo collaboration with UK vocalist Peter Hammill; and a project with Hungarian jazz-rock ensemble DeBORT.

With Fleischerei, Lucas has created a particularly vivid and entrancing realm, a musical world that's uncannily familiar, utterly original and tantalizingly foreign like only the past can be.

If you'd like to share music from this release, please feel free to use the following track:
"The Broken Record": @SoundCloud / @Bandcamp / @YouTube



Gary Lucas' Fleischerei: Music from Max Fleischer Cartoons

March 5, 2015: WASHINGTON DC
Washington Jewish Film Festival
@ AFI Theatre
Silver Spring MD
Gary Lucas' Fleischerei: Music from Max Fleischer Cartoons"
Full six-piece ensemble performs live, accompanied by cartoon screenings


Gary Lucas & Sarah Stiles | credit: Jesse Winter

[WATCH: Gary Lucas & Sarah Stiles - Don't Take My Boop-Oop-a-Doop Away]


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