Sax Meets Celluloid with Altoist-Animator Allen Mezquida

Allen Mezquida

How many accomplished professional animators can say that they’ve also played alto with some of jazz’s greatest musicians?

That’s right, none – until now.

Well, actually, Allen Mezquida has been doing his thing for quite a while. Besides being a masterful alto player, Allen has also animated for Disney, Warner Brothers, and Sony. Heck, he’s even had one of his original films shown on Nickelodeon.

Sounds like an unusual combination of vocations, right? Well, read on to hear how these two seemingly disparate worlds aren’t as disparate as one might think.

And oh yeah, most importantly, check out his hilarious, beautifully scored, and at times heartbreaking animated vignettes, as the world of Allen’s tortured protagonist, Smigly is one that will make you laugh, groove, and think.

The Interview

Doron Orenstein: Can you please give a quick background about who you are and what you’re doing these days?

Allen Mezquida: From the late 80’s to about 2002 I lived in NYC and played jazz saxophone. I spent a lot of time on the road and was a bebop snob of the highest order. Along the way I played and/or recorded with Gerry Mulligan, Brad Mehldau, Mark Murphy and Bill Charlap. I played regularly at the Village Gate which, at that time, was a nexus of many great players from Roy Hargrove to Larry Goldings to just about everybody who’s impacting jazz today. It was an incredible time. I didn’t enjoy being on the road at all and didn’t want to play other types of music or teach so I got into animation. Now I do both living in Los Angeles.

DO: Animation and Jazz Saxophone are two very different, and very challenging artforms. How is it that you ended up being extremely skilled a both?

AM: At their best, they’re both storytelling mediums. Jazz is abstract but the players I love are able to take you on an adventure with their solos even within the short form. The other similarity is that rhythm is possibly the most important factor. Animation is all about rhythm and subdividing the time.

DO: Your animations seem to have an overarching theme about the challenges we have to overcome in order to live our dreams in this fast paced and demanding society. Can you talk a bit more about the viewpoint and inspiration behind your animated work?

AM: The whole essence of “SMIGLY” came out of being completely sick of the bullshit we have to wade through as creative people in a harsh soul-crushing world. Even if you’re not in a so-called creative field you’re often executing something meaningless within a very blunt power structure. The added bonus is that I’m reaching more people using my jazz music in the animations than I ever did playing in clubs.

DO: Can you talk a little bit about how you create and record the great music you’ve got for your animations?

AM: Except for when I just play solo, I use music from recordings that I made some time ago. I plan on recording a bunch of new things soon. Occasionally I will use other peoples music if I really like it and the check clears. Dig?

DO: What has the response to your animations been like?

AM: The response has been incredibly positive. Even though “jazz” is sort of the backdrop, people in all walks of life relate to this underdog character called SMIGLY.

DO: Which of your animations would you recommend to someone who’s never seen your stuff?

AM: See below:

I like this new one about modern day fame.

This one has some decent playing on it.

I think you posted this one. (You can post it again!)

To learn more about Allen and watch more of his videos, hop on over to [Sorry(!), but this web page has disappeared since the original publication of this article]