In late 1936, Scott recruited a band from among his CBS colleagues, calling it the "Raymond Scott Quintette." It was a six-piece group, but the puckish Scott thought Quintette (his spelling) sounded "crisper"; he also told a reporter that he feared "calling it a 'sextet' might get your mind off music." The original sidemen were Pete Pumiglio (clarinet); Bunny Berigan (trumpet, soon replaced by Dave Wade); Louis Shoobe (upright bass); Dave Harris (tenor sax); and Johnny Williams (drums). The Quintette represented Scott's attempt to revitalize Swing music through tight, busy arrangements and reduced reliance on improvisation. He called this musical style "descriptive jazz," and gave his works unusual titles like "New Year's Eve in a Haunted House," "Dinner Music for a Pack of Hungry Cannibals" (recorded by the Kronos Quartet in 1993), and "Bumpy Weather Over Newark." While popular with the public, jazz critics disdained it as novelty music.
Scott believed strongly in composing and playing by ear (quote: "You give a better performance if you skip the eyes"). He composed not on paper, but "on his band" — by humming phrases to his sidemen, or by demonstrating riffs and rhythms on the keyboard and instructing players to interpret his cues. It was all done by ear, with no written scores (a process known as "head arrangements"). Scott, who was also a savvy sound engineer, recorded the band's rehearsals on discs and used the recordings as references to develop his compositions. He would rework, resequence, or delete passages, or add themes from other discs to construct finished works. During the developmental process, his players were allowed to improvise, but once complete, the piece became relatively fixed, with little further improvisation permitted — a practice that alienated some jazz purists and critics. Although Scott rigidly controlled the band's repertoire and style, he rarely took piano solos, preferring to direct the band from the keyboard and leaving solos and leads to his sidemen. He also had a penchant for adapting classical motifs in his compositions; this earned him the wrath of some serious music authorities who dismissed such practices as "trivializing the classics." The public, who bought his records by the millions, seemed indifferent to any controversy.
The Quintette existed from 1937 to 1939, and racked up numerous big-selling discs, including "Twilight in Turkey,", "Minuet in Jazz", "War Dance for Wooden Indians," "Reckless Night on Board an Ocean Liner," "Powerhouse," and "The Penguin." One of Scott's best-known compositions is "The Toy Trumpet," a cheerful pop 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. Trumpeter Al Hirt's 1955 rendition with Arthur Fiedler and The Boston Pops has become a standard. Another oft-recorded Scott classic, "In An Eighteenth-Century Drawing Room," is a pop adaptation of the opening theme from Mozart's Piano Sonata in C, K. 545.
In 1939 Scott, seeking greater challenges during the Swing Era, folded his Quintette into a big band, including bass player Chubby Jackson. They were both a recording and touring success. When Scott was appointed music director of CBS radio in 1942, he made history by breaking the color barrier, organizing the first racially integrated radio band. Over the next two years, he hired some of the hottest black jazz heavyweights of the day, such as saxophonist Ben Webster, trumpeter Charlie Shavers, bassist Billy Taylor, trumpeter Emmett Berry, trombonist Benny Morton, and drummer Cozy Cole. In 1942, Scott—who once told an interviewer he wouldn't hire himself to play piano in his own bands—relinquished his keyboard duties with his bands, so he could focus more closely on hiring, composing, arranging and conducting. (He later returned to the keyboard with some of his bands.)
In 1946, Scott established Manhattan Research, a division of Raymond Scott Enterprises, Incorporated, which he announced would "design and manufacture electronic music devices and systems." As well as designing audio devices for his own personal use, Manhattan Research Inc. provided customers with sales & service for a variety of devices "for the creation of electronic music and musique concrete" including components such as ring modulators, wave, tone and envelope shapers, modulators and filters. Of unique interest were instruments like the "Keyboard theremin", "Chromatic electronic drum generators", and "Circle generators". Scott would often describe Manhattan Research Inc. as "More than a think factory - a dream center where the excitement of tomorrow is made available today. Bob Moog, developer of the Moog Synthesizer, met Scott in the 1950s, designed circuits for him in the 1960s, and acknowledged him as an important influence.
Relying on several instruments of his own invention, such as the Clavivox and Electronium, Scott recorded futuristic electronic compositions for use in television and radio commercials as well as records of entirely electronic music. A series of three albums designed to lull infants to sleep, Scott's groundbreaking work Soothing Sounds for Baby was released in 1964 in collaboration with the Gesell Institute of Child Development. The music, which today sounds uncannily similar to the ambient work of Tangerine Dream or Brian Eno from the mid 1970s, did not find much favor with the record-buying public of the day. Still, "Manhattan Research, Inc." had considerable success in providing striking, ear-catching sonic textures for broadcast commercials.
Scott developed some of the first devices capable of producing a series of electronic tones automatically in sequence. He later credited himself as being the inventor of the polyphonic sequencer. (It should be noted that his electromechanical devices, some with motors moving photocells past lights, bore little resemblance to the all-electronic sequencers of the late sixties.) He began working on a machine which would compose using artificial intelligence. The Electronium, as Scott would eventually dub it, with its vast array of knobs, buttons and patch panels is "considered to be the first-ever self-composing synthesizer". Some of Raymond Scott's projects were less complex, but still ambitious. During the 1950s and 1960s, he developed and patented a large number of consumer products that brought electronically-produced sounds into the homes and lives of Americans. Among these were electronic telephone ringers, alarms, chimes, and sirens, vending machines and ash trays with accompanying electronic music scores, an electronic musical baby rattle and intriguingly, an adult toy that produced varying sounds dependent on how two people touched one another. It was Scott's belief that these devices would "electronically update the many sounds around us - the functional sounds."
Scott and Dorothy Collins divorced in 1964; in 1967 he married Mitzi Curtis. During the second half of the 1960s, as his work progressed, Scott became increasingly isolated and secretive about his inventions and concepts; he gave few interviews, made no public presentations, and released no records. From time to time he welcomed curious visitors to his lab, among them the eccentric outsider Bruce Haack, who also built electronic instruments and (with no involvement from Scott) recorded numerous LPs of somewhat subversive children's music. During his jazz/big band period, Scott had often endured tense relationships with musicians; however, when his career became immersed in electronic gadgetry, he made friends with and seemed to prefer the company of technicians, including Bob Moog, Thomas Rhea, Alan Entenmann and future Muppetmaster Jim Henson (for whose early experimental films Scott composed and recorded electronic soundtracks).
In 1969, Motown impresario Berry Gordy, tipped off about a mad musical scientist engaged in mysterious works, visited Scott at his Long Island labs to witness the Electronium in action. Impressed by the infinite possibilities, Gordy hired Scott in 1971 to serve as director of Motown's electronic music and research department in Los Angeles, a position Scott held until 1977. No Motown recordings using Scott's electronic inventions have yet been publicly identified.
Guy Costa, Head of Operations and Chief Engineer at Motown from 1969 to 1987, said about Scott's hiring:
Scott would later say that he "spent 11 years and close to a million dollars developing the Electronium". Scott was, thereafter, largely unemployed, though hardly inactive. He continued to modify his inventions, eventually adapting computers and primitive MIDI devices to his systems. He suffered a series of heart attacks, ran low on cash, and eventually became a mere "Where Are They Now?" subject.
Having been largely forgotten by the public by the 1980s, Scott suffered a major stroke in 1987 which left him unable to work or engage in conversation. His recordings were largely out of print, his electronic instruments were cobweb-collecting relics, and his once-abundant royalty stream had slowed to a barely-enough-to-pay-the-bills trickle.
"Powerhouse" has been used as a promotional bumper for the Cartoon Network, as well has having been interpreted by the rock band Rush in their 1978 song "La Villa Strangiato" on their Hemispheres album. The same tune was reinterpreted as the song "Bus to Beelzebub" by the New York band Soul Coughing, who have used Scott samples in other compositions, such as Scott's "The Penguin" in their song "Disseminated". They Might Be Giants have also incorporated "Powerhouse" into their music, briefly including it in their song "Rhythm Section Want Ad" from their self-titled 1986 debut album. In 1993, Warner Bros. music director Richard Stone scored an entire installment of Steven Spielberg Presents Animaniacs around "Powerhouse" (the episode, entitled "Toy Shop Terror," notably had no dialogue except in the closing seconds, thus allowing Stone's Stalling-meets-Spike Jones arrangement to dominate the soundtrack). In late 2006, "Powerhouse" began airing regularly as the soundtrack for a Visa check card TV commercial. It has also often been used as a bumper on "Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!", NPR's weekly quiz show. It also received a memorable appearance in The Simpsons, played over the ludicrous and allegedly true method by which bowling alleys assemble new pins.
Clarinetist Don Byron has recorded and performed Scott's music, as have the Kronos Quartet, Steroid Maximus (J. G. Thirlwell), Jon Rauhouse, The Tiptons (with Amy Denio), Jeremy Cohen's Quartet San Francisco, Skip Heller, Phillip Johnston, and others. The New York-based septet The Raymond Scott Orchestrette has recorded an album and does occasional performances of radically modernistic interpretations of Scott compositions. Classical pianist Jenny Lin covered Scott's "The Sleepwalker" on her 2008 album InsomniMania
The posthumously released 2-CD set, Manhattan Research Inc. (Basta, 2000, co-produced by Gert-Jan Blom and Jeff Winner) showcases Scott's pioneering electronic works from the 1950s and '60s on two CDs (the package includes a 144-page hardcover book). Microphone Music (Basta, 2002, produced by Irwin Chusid with Blom and Winner as project advisors) is a more thorough exploration of the original Scott Quintette's work, covering most of the band's better-known titles as well as previously unreleased material. The 2008 CD release Ectoplasm (Basta) chronicles a second (1948-49) incarnation of the six-man "quintet" format, with Scott's future wife Dorothy Collins singing on several tracks.
DEVO founding member Mark Mothersbaugh, through his company Mutato Muzika, purchased Scott's only (non-functioning) Electronium in 1996, with the intention of restoring it to working order, but with no progress in that direction thus far.
How I Got to Know the Man Behind the Cigars, the Limos and Champagne ; RAYMOND SCOTT BY THE MAN WHO KNEW HIM BEST - 'S MIKE KELLY
Dec 15, 2013; AN inquest last week confirmed that Raymond Scott committed suicide in his prison cell.There was a certain Shakespearean element...