Raymond Scott

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for Raymond "Benzino" Scott, the CEO of The Source magazine, see Benzino

Raymond Scott (September 10, 1908February 8, 1994), was a composer, bandleader, and inventor. He was born Harry Warnow in Brooklyn to a family of Russian-Jewish immigrants. His brother, Mark Warnow, a conductor and violinist, encouraged his musical career.

As of 2003, Scott's music is most familiar from its use in Warner Brothers animated cartoons. He also was a bandleader and innovator in electronic music.

A 1931 graduate of the Juilliard School of Music, Scott began his professional career as a pianist for the CBS Radio house band. In 1936, while at CBS, he formed his band, the Raymond Scott Quintette. It was a six-piece group, but the puckish Scott thought quintette (his spelling), sounded "crisper" and told a reporter he feared that "calling it a 'sextet' might get your mind off music". The quintette was an attempt to revitalize Swing music through tight, busy arrangements and reduced reliance on improvisation. Scott called his musical style "descriptive jazz," and gave his pieces titles like "New Year's Eve in a Haunted House," "Dinner Music for a Pack of Hungry Cannibals," and "Reckless Night on Board an Ocean Liner." While popular with the public, jazz audiences disdained it as novelty music.

Scott believed strongly in composing and playing by ear. He composed his pieces by humming phrases to instrumentalists in his ensemble. During the process of putting a composition together, his players might improvise, but, once complete, the piece was fixed and no further alteration was permitted. It was all done in the ear and in the head; his players memorized their parts; and no notes were written down. The quintette performed from 1937 to 1939 and made recordings many of which were hits at the time.

Scott never composed a note that he intended for use in cartoons. According to his wife, he not only did not compose for cartoons, he did not watch them either. But in 1943, the music found a home at Warner Brothers, where music director Carl Stalling was a Scott fan. Warner Brothers bought the band's catalog and used the music extensively in cartoons. His music has appeared in Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies, The Simpsons, Ren and Stimpy, Animaniacs, and Duckman cartoons.

One Scott composition, "Powerhouse", appears in more than 35 Warner Brothers cartoons and has also been used as a theme for the Cartoon Network as well as being used by the rock band Rush in their 1978 song "La Villa Strangiato" on their Hemispheres album.

Outside of cartoon soundtracks, one of his best-known compositions is "The Toy Trumpet," a cheerful pop-music confection that is instantly recognizable to many people who cannot name the title or composer. In the 1938 film "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm," Shirley Temple sings a version of the song with lyrics. Another Scott composition, "In An Eighteenth-Century Drawing Room," is an unremarkable but commercially successful pop adaptation of the opening theme from Mozart's Piano Sonata in C, K. 545.

Image:Toytrumpet.png
Opening bars of melody line of "The Toy Trumpet"

Scott was an early electronic music pioneer. As well as designing novel instruments such as the Clavivox and Electronium, he recorded records of entirely electronic music, such as 1962's ground-breaking Soothing Sounds for Baby, a series of albums designed to lull infants to sleep, and which today sounds uncannily like the ambient work of Tangerine Dream or Brian Eno from the mid 1970's. His electronic music did not find much favor as pure music, but his firm, "Manhattan Research, Inc." had considerable success in providing striking, ear-catching sonic textures for broadcast commercials. He served as director of Motown's electronic music and research department from 1971 to 1977. Robert Moog, developer of the Moog Synthesizer, met Scott in the 1950s, designed circuits for him in the 1960s, and acknowledged him as an influence.

Scott developed the first devices capable of producing a series of electronic tones automatically in a sequence. Scott credits himself as inventor of the sequencer (although these electromechanical devices, with motors moving photocells past lights, bore little resemblance to the all-electronic sequencers of the late sixties).

In the mid-1990s, the Beau Hunks (a Dutch ensemble originally formed to perform music created by Leroy Shield for the Laurel and Hardy movies) released two albums of Scott's music. Clarinetist Don Byron has recorded and performed his music, as has the Kronos Quartet. A number of Scott's original recordings have been re-released. As of 2003, a reappreciation and revival appear to be in progress.

Quotations

  • "Perhaps within the next hundred years, science will perfect a process of thought transference from composer to listener. The composer will sit alone on the concert stage and merely think his idealized conception of his music. Instead of recordings of actual music sound, recordings will carry the brainwaves of the composer directly to the mind of the listener." —Raymond Scott, 1949
  • '"The composer must bear in mind that the radio listener does not hear music directly. He hears it only after the sound has passed through a microphone, amplifiers, transmission lines, radio transmitter, receiving set, and, finally, the loud speaker apparatus itself." —Raymond Scott, 1938
  • "Being introduced to the music of Raymond Scott was like being given the name of a composer I feel I have heard my whole life, who until now was nameless. Clearly he is a major American-composer."—David Harrington, Kronos Quartet
  • "It's those front-line types that go into uncharted areas, and pave the way for others. Life is short. Always go to the source, sources like Raymond-Scott."—Henry Rollins
  • "Quirky, memorable [Scott] themes like "Powerhouse" in Warner Bros. cartoons arguably helped shape the postwar musical aesthetic as much as anything Elvis or the Beatles did."—John Corbett, Chicago Reader
  • “Scott was definitely in the forefront of developing electronic music technology and in the forefront of using it commercially as a musician.”—Robert Moog

Work on Broadway

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