BEST BETS: Cartoon Christmas Trio gets animated at Milton Theatre

The Cartoon Christmas Trio consisting of, from left, Jeff Knoettner, Rob Swanson and Jimmy Coleman, will play songs from favorite holiday animated specials at the Milton Theatre Sunday night. Choruses from The Jefferson School and Mariner Middle School will also perform. (Submitted photo)

Like many kids, Rob Swanson looked forward to the television holiday classic “A Charlie Brown Christmas” year after year. But not so much for the touching story and colorful characters. It was the music that got him.

And it helped lead him to what is now a 30-year career in music as an accomplished bassist.

“It was that ‘Charlie Brown’ soundtrack and a couple of other albums thrown in there that piqued my interest in jazz. That’s for sure,” he said.

It was also that soundtrack that helped form Mr. Swanson’s Cartoon Christmas Trio that plays every song from the beloved special plus others from animated holiday favorites such as “Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” “Frosty the Snowman” and more.

The trio, in its 22nd season, plays the Milton Theatre Sunday night at 7 with the assistance of choirs from Sussex County’s Jefferson School and Mariner Middle School.

Mr. Swanson, a Wilmington native now living in Chester County, Pennsylvania, said it all started with a conversation with the owner of the now-defunct Bourbon Street Cafe on Kirkwood Highway in Wilmington.

“I was in my mid-20s playing punk, rock and jazz gigs while my parents were into classical music and I was talking to the owner about how the ‘Charlie Brown Christmas’ soundtrack just really swings and is super cool,” he recalled.

“The club owner suggested I put together a trio and we could do a Charlie Brown night at Christmastime. It sold out and we did it again three nights in a row the following year and they all sold out. So I thought ‘Maybe we’re onto something here.’”

The trio expanded to playing theaters such as The Kimmel Center in Philadelphia a few years later, and a holiday tradition was born.

Mr. Swanson said he wasn’t surprised by the Cartoon Christmas Trio’s immediate popularity.

“The cartoon’s been on since 1965 and so many people have grown up with it. It’s a pretty iconic piece of Americana. Nobody had been doing this type of thing around town,” he said.

“If they take it off the air someday, our popularity might wane but like I say, it’s pretty iconic.”

As the Cartoon Christmas Trio, they perform the whole “Charlie Brown Christmas” soundtrack along with some others that were in the TV special but not on the soundtrack album.

“We call them ‘Charlie Brown’ deep tracks,” Mr. Swanson joked.

They perform the music with the exact instrumentation used by composer Vince Guaraldi.

Other “quirky” arrangements of holiday cartoon songs are included in the program.

“We don’t have a full orchestra so we give them our own jazz trio treatment,” he said.

Mr. Swanson, a graduate of the prestigious West Chester School of Music, has made a name for himself as one of the most versatile working bassists in the Philadelphia area.

Playing electric and upright bass, he can find himself in up to 20 different musical configurations in any given month, ranging from straight ahead bebop jazz, groove, world, funk, and rock.

He is joined by pianist Jeff Knoettner and drummer Jimmy Coleman.

Mr. Knoettner is a product of the Berklee College of Music, who has performed in various festivals, including the Melon Jazz Festival, Clifford Brown Jazz Festival, River Blues Festival, the New York State Blues Festival, Cape May Jazz and Rehoboth Jazz Festival.

He has performed and recorded with numerous groups, including The Renaissance Quintet, Arpeggio Jazz & Music Ensemble, the Val Ray Experience, Rob Swanson, E. Shawn Qaissaunee, and the Tino Gonzales Band, which has opened for blues legends B.B. King, Buddy Guy and Charlie Musselwhite.

Philadelphia-based Mr. Coleman has worked with artists of such musical styles as R&B, jazz, funk, pop and electronica.

While studying drums and percussion at Indiana University, he was a member of Bootsy Collins’ inspired/co-produced band, Shaq. He has recorded and/or toured with John Legend, Siora, Eric Hutchinson, Eddie Bruce and many others.

Along with being accomplished musicians, the three are also teachers and use this holiday-inspired music to reach students on the topic of jazz.

“If we go into a school and talk to 500 students, 450 don’t understand anything about jazz,” Mr. Swanson said.

“So we can take these songs and teach them a bit about understanding jazz formula and what makes jazz jazz,” he said.

“We can explain how improv set structure works and personal interpretation. It’s a pretty cool concept to tie that in and give that cross platform between cartoons and music.”

Understandably, this is the busy season for the Cartoon Christmas Trio.

“This year we started the day before Thanksgiving at Winterthur Museum and we’ll go up until a couple days before Christmas,” Mr. Swanson said.

The tight window keeps the three from getting tired of the tunes.

“By the end of the run, we’re sometimes ready for it to end but we still love playing the music. If we did it 12 months of the year, we’d probably get bored. But I’ve done about 4,000 weddings over the last three decades and you find the same thing with playing stuff like ‘September’ by Earth, Wind and Fire,” he said.

“Look at the Rolling Stones singing ‘Satisfaction’ a million times. With every genre of music, you’re going to have the problem. Success breeds that problem. It’s a nice problem to have.”

Tickets for Sunday’s show are $10 to 20 and available for purchase online at MiltonTheatre.com, via phone by calling 302-684-3038, or at the event itself.

The Milton Theatre is at 110 Union St.

Wall of Cain pays tribute

For those already tired of Christmas tunes, local power rock trio Wall of Cain will bring their Tribute To Classic Rock to the Dover Century Club, at 40 The Green in Dover, tonight at 8. Doors open at 7:30.

Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at www.wallofcain.com.

The trio, consisting of Nathan Ames on guitar, Chris Leslie on percussion and Chris Kirby on vocals and bass guitar, will be performing songs from their upcoming CD as well as a full set paying tribute to some of the greatest bands in rock history.

This is the first show in their “Tribute to Classic Rock” concert series, which plays the Milton Theatre on Jan. 11. This is a BYOB event.

‘Holiday Adventures on Ice’

The Centre Ice Rink at Delaware State Fair in Harrington will present “Holiday Adventures on Ice,” at 6 p.m. today and 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday.

Directed by the Centre’s skating director, Jerry Santoferrara, and coach Tom Harrison, “Holiday Adventures” features music and characters from beloved holiday classics including “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” “Frosty the Snowman,” “Polar Express” and “White Christmas.”

More than 50 local skaters of all ages and levels including Bay County Figure Skating Club members as well as students and coaches from the rink’s skating programs will perform.

Tickets cost $10 for adults and $8 for ages 3-16, with free admission for children 2 and younger. For more information or to purchase advance tickets, visit www.delawarestatefair.com. Tickets also will be available at the door.

Dancing Stars ready

The lineup is out for this year’s Dancing with the Delaware Stars.

In its ninth year, this annual event has become the primary fundraiser in Kent County for Mom’s House of Dover and Boys & Girls Clubs of Delaware. The event will take place Saturday, Jan. 27 at 6 p.m. at Dover Downs Hotel & Casino.

The event pairs local celebrities with dance professionals to perform a judged dance routine similar to the hit television show. All dance couples vie for the coveted Mirror Ball trophy.

Couples are judged based on dollars raised, judges score and votes from the public.

This following are this year’s pairings:

•Carla Bricotto, owner, Clean as a Whistle, and Kyle Sammons, Zumba instructor;

•Autumn Chalabala, director, Chesapeake Utilities, and Raykeem Ward of Dreams of Hope;

•James Collins, Delaware chief information officer, and Brittany Faulkingham of the School of Delaware Ballet;

•Lori Liguori Ewald, brand awareness of High 5 Hospitality, and Tyler Kuhn, community relations officer;

•Donyale Hall, owner of Minority Contractors, Inc., and Robert Sherrell of USA Dance;

•Erik Kaufman of L & W Insurance, and Autumn Schneider of Broadpoint Custom Construction;

•Pam Marecki, assistant vice president of marketing and communications of Bayhealth Medial Center, and Ryan Batchelor, dance instructor;

•Jules Phillips, owner of Mimesis Window Tinting, and Maria Fry, dance instructor;

•Robert Price, DPT, owner of CORE Physical Therapy, and Kimmy Noll Price, owner of En Point Studio;

•Bill Schultz, athletic director, Smyrna High School, and Tricia Massey of ecarte dance theatre;

•Lt. Col. Edward Szczepanik, Chief of Wing Safety, 436th Airlift Wing, and Stephanie Harrison, administrative and financial resource manager for 3AS;

•Catherine Wright, M.D., Bayhealth ENT and Sean Floyd, lead trainer at CNU Fit.

There are a limited number of tickets available for purchase; VIP is at $135, which includes cocktail hour, sitdown dinner, dance competition and dance party.

Event tickets are $60, which includes cash bar reception with complimentary hors d’oeuvres, dance competition, dance party and 10 votes.

Table purchases are available for $1,250 (seats 10).

Tickets for the Dippold After Party, which will run from 11:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m., are $25.

Visit www.dancingdestars.org to purchase tickets and/or place your vote.

Now Showing

New in theaters this weekend is the suspense-thriller “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” and the Thurgood Marshall biopic “Marshall.”

On DVD and download starting Tuesday is the animated “Despicable Me 3” and the thriller “American Assassin.”

Reach features editor Craig Horleman at chorl@newszap.com

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