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Paying tribute to Toontown's tunesmiths

Jim Hill

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Paying tribute to Toontown's tunesmiths

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Where would Toontown be without tunes?

Think about it? How many moments in your favorite animated films were actually made better by music? When a scene's underlying emotion was suddenly brought forward by a skillful piece of scoring. Or where a particular bit of comic business was nailed home because a few bars of an unlikely tune played in the background.

It used to be that the invaluable contributions that those composers made to the success of various animated films and shorts was unfortunately overlooked. Forgotten. But not any longer. As for this moment, there are a number of projects (some already on store shelves; some still in the works) that attempt to pay tribute to Toontown's top tunesmiths.

The first to hit the marketplace was Daniel Goldmark and Yuval Taylor's great new book, "The Cartoon Music Book" (Chicago Review Press, November 2002). Featuring a forward by Leonard Maltin, this is a truly fun collection of essays and interviews with some of the best composers working in animation today. Top talents like Alf Clausen ("The Simpsons") and Mark Mothersbaugh ("Rugrats") are discussed in great detail here. Not to mention the giants of the past -- like Carl Stalling, Raymond Scott and Hoyt Curtin.

If you're an animation history buff (as I am), there's lots of great reading to be found in this volume. From Chuck Jones' thoughtful essay about "Music and the Animated Cartoon" to Greg Ehrbar's sure-to-appeal-to-baby-boomers piece about the music that was featured in those Rankin/Bass Christmas special, "Put One Foot in Front of the Other." I spent hours burrowing through this book, learning something new virtually on every page.

Speaking of Greg Ehrbar, he and Tim Hollis are hard at work on a brand new book that will celebrate Disney-produced recordings. Tentatively titled "The Walt Disney Records Story," this volume is due to be published in October 2005 by the University of Mississippi Press. Provided -- of course -- that Ehrbar and Hollis can unearth all the info that they need to complete this book.

Toward this end, Greg and Tim are appealing directly to Disneyana fans to help them out during the research phase of their project. If any of you folks out there have any intriguing information about these recordings (or -- more importantly -- know who to get ahold of any of the talented people who actually worked on these Disney LPs, 45s and 78s) Ehrbar and Hollis would love to hear from you. Their e-mail addresses, respectively, are Gregory Ehrbar at [email protected] and Tim Hollis at [email protected].

"So what sort of stories are Greg and Tim looking to cover in their 'Disney Records Story' book?" you ask. Well, pulling a quote from the press release that these guys just sent me:

Hollis and Ehrbar explain why Walt and Roy Disney resisted going into the record business for over three decades, until the success of "The Ballad of Davy Crockett" convinced Roy to take the plunge.

That should give a sense of the sorts of stories that Ehrbar and Hollis are trying to tell.

And -- speaking of "Davy Crockett" -- noted Disney house composer Buddy Baker contributed a score for those TV shows. And this coming Sunday, the University of Southern California will be paying tribute to the late great composer. This once-in-a-lifetime event -- which is free and open to the public -- will be held in the Bing Theater on the USC University Park campus starting at 3 p.m.

Among those expected to take part in this Sunday's festivities are Academy Award winner Richard Sherman, best known for his work on Disney's "Mary Poppins." Jazz drummer Louis Bellson and composer Joe Harnell are also scheduled to appear at this tribute. As are many other close friends of the "Old Mousetro." Sherman, Harnell et al will share stories about what it was like to work with Baker. And -- of course -- his music will be performed and film clips from the various Disney projects that George worked on over the years will also be screened.

Just so you know: This Sunday's event -- "A Tribute to Norman 'Buddy' Baker" -- is being staged in conjunction with an exhibit that commemorates Baker's life and career with Walt Disney Studios. This exhibit (which also touches on the great work that Buddy did while he was director of the Scoring for Motion Pictures and Television program at USC) is being showcased in Alfred Newman Hall on the USC University Park campus. It will be presented through May 2004.

Okay. So to review here, folks:

Daniel Goldmark and Yuval Taylor's "The Cartoon Music Book" is a great read. Particularly if you an animation history buff.

Greg Erhbar and Tim Hollis need your help in order to do a really thorough job with their "The Walt Disney Records Story" Book. Which is due to be published by the University of Mississippi Press in October 2005.

And -- if you're going to be in the Los Angeles area this weekend and are a fan of Disney music -- then you might want to take in the tribute to Buddy Baker. Which is being held in the Bing Theater on the USC University Park campus starting at 3 p.m.

Okay. That should be enough book/Disney related news to hold you folks for today. Talk to you tomorrow, okay?

If you're planning on picking up a copy of "The Cartoon Music Book" you can help support JimHillMedia.com by ordering your copy from Amazon.com by clicking the link to the right.

Your cost will (unfortunately) remain the same (though it is currently 30% off!) But - if you go there through us - we get a tiny cut of what you spend. So help keep Jim Hill behind the computer where he belongs and and pick up your copy of "The Cartoon Music Book" through the link to the right.

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