Add another chapter to the saga of Krazy Kat. The beguiling black comic strip feline of indeterminate gender and heritage celebrates a 105th birthday November 13 with a party at the Treme Coffeehouse. The event marks the paperback release of Michael Tisserand’s masterful biography of Krazy Kat’s creator, George Herriman.
Tisserand enlisted John Boutté to “play” Krazy Kat in a song written for the celebration, along with Ben Schenck of the Panorama Jazz Band. The song is a synopsis of the central theme in the Krazy Kat story, Kat’s love for the brick throwing anarchist mouse Ignatz. The song balances the Krazy Kat story with period music from Panorama and a wonderful piece of theater from Boutté.
The music is one of the greatest examples of how effective traditional New Orleans jazz can be when applied to twenty-first century culture, as Schenck’s shrewd arrangement and the band’s expressive playing frame a story that has symbolic resonance with several contemporary themes.
The band begins to play Krazy Kat’s “Happy Land” theme in a nineteenth-century waltz style before Boutté cuts in and insists they play it at a brisker tempo: “This is a jazz song, not a dreamy waltz.” Gary Washington’s banjo is used in the narrative structure in such a brilliant fashion you could swear Danny Barker had a hand in this deal, especially when Krazy Kat refers to happy land as a place where you get to eat ham and eggs several times a day.
“Michael Tisserand approached me about this,” said Schenck, “because Krazy Kat sings that song with a banjo in the comic strip. He suggested that I make something out of the song. There’s not much there to work with, just the ‘Happy Land’ refrain that’s based on a Scottish hymn. Tisserand found the ‘ham and eggs’ verse from a Mark Twain story. So I got together with John Boutté and we came up with some chord changes for the piece. Michael and I worked out a script, then I wrote the music and we recorded it in 18 separate pieces at Oak Street Recording studio with Lu Rojas. Boutté was great. John had an affinity for Krazy Kat. He’s a Krazy Kat fan. Michael called him up and he jumped on it. He kept us all laughing throughout the process.”
“Happy Land” will be released in November as part of Panorama’s ongoing “Song of the Month” club. Membership is $3 a month.
“That was Michael’s idea,” said Schenck. “He’s a member of the club. We haven’t missed a month since we started it in May of 2014. This is our 55th release. We put out two last December, one for Hanukkah and one for Christmas.”
On November 13 Tisserand will hold a book signing and Boutté will be on hand with the Panorama band to play the song live. All bricks will be checked at the door.