In Q&A, animator, writer, actor, director Seth MacFarlane talks about his passion for standard songs and arrangements in advance of a concert tour that starts July 16 with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.
In addition to dispensing his sharp brand of humor, which has been known to be an equal-opportunity offender, Seth MacFarlane likes to sing pop standards, especially when he has a full orchestra as backup.
The continually multi-tasking animator ("Family Guy"), director ("Ted" and the current "Ted 2"), writer and actor performs a program of lushly arranged songs on July 16 with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the first of several concerts he will give this summer around the country. Count on hearing numbers associated with Frank Sinatra and other notable vocal artists who left their mark on the Great American Songbook.
In a phone call from California, the 41-year-old, Connecticut-born MacFarlane talks about his passion for vintage music.
How did your appreciation for standards come about? Was it triggered early on at home when you were growing up?
I think it gradually happened. My parents weren't into this stuff; they were more from the folk music era. My grandfather gave me some albums from the '30s and '40s when I was in eighth grade. And when I saw [Woody Allen's 1987 movie] "Radio Days," I really responded to the music and the way the old songs gave a narrative context for people who were too young to remember the era itself.
When I was in college, I heard a lot of music of the '50s and early '60s — orchestrated jazz — and I thought how sophisticated and gorgeous those charts were. And working on "Family Guy," I was around an orchestra and arrangers every week. For people who know "Family Guy" — there is so much music on the show — it's not that surprising to find me performing these songs.
Sinatra has figured prominently in your musical activity. You recorded your 2011 album, "Music is Better than Words," with a microphone he used. And you have revived some of the arrangements that he used for his recordings. What draws you so strongly to Sinatra?
What I admired about Sinatra was not just the vocals, but the way he really understood and appreciated how much the orchestra and the charts added. When I heard arrangements that people like Nelson Riddle, Billy May and Gordon Jenkins did for him, I became a lover of great orchestration and great playing.
Sinatra did an album, "Tone Poems of Color," where he just conducted the orchestra. [The music on this 1956 album was by Riddle, May and others.] It was his way of showing his appreciation for what his arrangers did for him. No one appreciated great charts more then Sinatra.
I've managed to hunt down a lot of these charts. I'm always asked why they're not played more often. One reason I do these concerts is that you're not hearing them anywhere else. [The arrangements of] "I Get Along Without You Very Well," "Deep in a Dream," "We'll Be Together Again" — these are works of art. It's a sound you don't know you're missing until you hear it. It's such a unique blend, a very rare sound, so specific to that time.
When I do these shows, I like to use charts that show up what an orchestra can do. When I did [a New Year's Eve concert last December] with the San Francisco Symphony … it was a fun evening, a cross between the Sands [storied Las Vegas hotel/casino] 1962, and a typical classical performance.
In addition to Sinatra, are there other singers that have had a strong influence on you?
Rosemary Clooney. Gordon MacRae. Matt Monro really impressed me.
When you get into concert mode, do you leave the irreverent side of Seth MacFarlane at home?
The tone is adjusted for the kind of show it is. I'm not doing the stuff I do in "Ted." But it never gets too serious. It's about enjoying the music.