Tom And Jerry Music—Performed Live!

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by Leonard Maltin
September 17, 2013 2:47 PM
8 Comments
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Many symphony orchestras now play music from Hollywood’s golden age,  but none that I’m aware of has attempted to perform Scott Bradley’s breakneck-paced scores for Tom and Jerry cartoons—until now. I’m indebted to Rob Paquin for sending me the YouTube link to this remarkable performance by the John Wilson Orchestra at London’s Royal Albert Hall, as part of the BBC Proms concert series.

In his e-mail Rob writes, “As you can hear from the full house audience, it was a great success and long overdue. John Wilson has been painstakingly trying to restore the original arrangements for classic scores. He is a big fan of MGM's distinctive musical sound when Conrad Salinger and Johnny Green were in charge of the music department, and I think he comes incredibly close to capturing that sound. I thought you would enjoy the link since you did so much in your animation book Of Mice and Magic to bring attention to Scott Bradley's great contribution to the enjoyment of the Tom and Jerry cartoons.”

Here's this amazing segment.

 

Yes indeed. Bradley has never gotten the same degree of attention as Carl Stalling, his counterpart at Warner Bros., but he too was a superb musician with a wonderful sense of humor. And like Stalling, he had free use of his studio’s song library, which enabled him to integrate tunes like “You Were Meant For Me” and “The Trolley Song” into his scores.

The unnamed party who posted the Tom and Jerry link on YouTube writes, “Pete Morris, who worked on the arrangement with John Wilson, on 4 September wrote the following in response to questions about this video: ‘We wanted to create a score that wasn't too fragmented and that didn't rely on visuals so the music you hear is a compilation of some of the best bits of Scott Bradley's music. There is no single video for the music; it comes from eight different cartoons: Smitten Kitten, Sufferin' Cats, The Framed Cat, Cat Fishin', Just Ducky, Jerry and Jumbo, The Cat Comes to Dinner and Mouse for Sale.

Conductor John Wilson

“On 8 September Pete Morris added, ‘John is a dab hand at reconstructing scores from audio. Check his Wiki page for info. In this case, however, we used score fragments, archives and a lot of patience. I used FCP to extract candidate snippets of video and linked them to create 3 candidate narratives which John and I then worked on. Copyright is a nightmare (MGM, Warner, Sony, Turner, EMI have all owned bits in the past). Only JW has the clout to cut though that quagmire. Scores are as rare as hens' teeth.'”

If you like, you can watch and listen to the entire concert (click HERE ), which celebrates film music in fine fashion with compositions by Alfred Newman, Max Steiner, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Bernard Herrmann, Miklos Rozsa, David Raskin, Franz Waxman and others—even my great favorite Jerome Moross, whose great score for The Big Country is included right alongside themes and suites from Street Scene, Citizen Kane, Ben-Hur, Psycho, A Place in the Sun, and more. At intermission, conductor John Wilson discusses the program and his decision to include Scott Bradley (at the 51-minute mark).

Kudos are also due to the BBC director who captures all the action of the percussionists who get a real workout during the Tom and Jerry score, even hurling plates into a metal garbage can. (Remember, when these shorts were originally scored, the orchestra could stop and start; editing was definitely a convenience, even if it was used sparingly.)

Wouldn’t it be great to witness a performance like this in person?

 

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8 Comments

  • mike schlesinger | September 18, 2013 6:22 PMReply

    Lovely! Now dare we hope for a sequel featuring Bradley's even zanier music for Tex Avery's classics?

  • Peter Morris | September 19, 2013 6:38 AM

    Thank you, Mike! Huge kudos to John Wilson and his talented performers, of course. . . The biggest problem in putting together a new suite is copyright. Ownership of physical media, publishing rights, performing rights and so on are traded as commodities nowadays and the lawyers tend to advise against access, to put it mildly. Also there is the question of getting hold of archive materials - even if they still exist, which many don't. It could be a long road but I'll put my mind to it. . .

  • Peter Morris | September 18, 2013 8:15 AMReply

    Leonard, I'm so sorry! I was publicising the concert before it happened (I wrote to Dave Koch, Jerry Beck, Daniel Goldmark and a bunch of others) but completely forgot to write to you. Thank you for putting this article up on your blog.

    The origin of the piece and my involvement is that I've known John Wilson for a few years, since we last talked about doing a Bradley piece. He rang me in June 2013 with his head spinning. He'd been watching too many T&J cartoon to try and find a good one that might be played in its entirety. He knows I've published on Bradley and know his works well. After 30 seconds, I knew that what we really needed was a suite, not a single cartoon. It was, therefore, a matter of designing a narrative that could be supported by original music so that it hung together in a 4-minute piece.

    After I presented two candidates suites to John, he preferred the longer format and so the piece grew to 6'10", which you see in the video. As for the percussion section, I said in an email to John "I think your department of bangs, whizzes and bodily noises could do with a dustbin lid, some pipes, an anvil and so on. Would be wonderful to see them featured in comic roles." However, John took it to another level. I remember at rehearsal him saying, with a twinkle in his eye: "I need to go and talk to my percussion section".

    Anyway I can answer questions from you and others if you have them.

    Thanks again!

    Pete Morris

  • Mark Kausler | September 17, 2013 4:53 PMReply

    I really enjoyed seeing and hearing this, thanks, Leonard! Of course, Scott Bradley only used 19 musicians in his orchestra, decrying Stalling's use of a larger group. He achieved a cross-section between a small 1940s Dorsey ensemble, and a symphony orchestra, with his deft use of strings and wind instruments, like flutes and horns. I got a cold chill when the flautist and oboists played a little of Jerry's theme, that's in my brain almost all the time. The sound effects were added on a separate track by the effects cutters, not usually performed at the same time as the music, but it works here, and the audience really loves it. My main problem is that the tempo lags a little bit here and there, Bradley usually used a 6 to 8 frame tempo on the fast stuff, and that's hard to perform for a large group not used to doing such quick changes. If you find any more live Bradley performances, please link to them!

  • Peter Morris | September 18, 2013 8:39 AM

    Whoops! 6-8 frames is, of course 180 to 240 bpm. Silly me. . .

  • Peter Morris | September 18, 2013 8:30 AM

    Thanks for the comments Mark. Yes, Bradley certainly used smaller bands than Stalling and I've often seen this number 19 passed around. From the scores I have, Sufferin' Cats was the smallest at 17 but there are several in the low to mid 20s. Can't remember offhand what he used for Hollywood Bowl and Cat Concerto. My scores are at work but I'll check up when I'm next there.

    In order to pay homage to the original sound, John started with Bradley's preferred string section (3 violins, 1 viola, 1 cello, 1 bass) but built the orchestra up over the piece. While we lose the intimate performance of 20 or so musicians, we get in the 100-piece orchestra's performance a sense of the manic physicality that we would have had in the visuals. Certainly watching the full string section live was thrilling, even if I did watch it through tears, having been so thrilled to get Bradley's work performed at the BBC Proms.

    I found it interesting that you would measure tempo in frames - those of us outside the film industry count in Beats per Minute and 6 to 8 frames correspond to 120 to 180 bpm. Of course, John was more interested in creating a natural arc for the performance than directly imitating the transient and fragmented performances essential for sync.

  • Tony Caruana | September 17, 2013 1:28 PMReply

    I watched this when it was broadcast and I yelled out a cheer when the announcer mentioned Scott Bradley. What an evening that was.

  • DBenson | September 17, 2013 3:53 AMReply

    Great stuff. I've seen CDs of BBC Prom concerts; let's hope this makes one of them.

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