(born Harry Warnow
, 10 September 1908
— 8 February 1994
), was an American composer, band leader, pianist, engineer, recording studio maverick, and electronic instrument
inventor. He was born in Brooklyn
to a family of Russian-Jewish immigrants. His brother, Mark Warnow
, a conductor, violinist, and musical director for the radio program Your Hit Parade
, encouraged his musical career. Though Scott never scored cartoon soundtracks, his music is familiar to millions because of its adaptation by Carl Stalling
in over 120 classic Bugs Bunny
, Porky Pig
, Daffy Duck
and other Warner Bros. Looney Tunes
and Merrie Melodies
animated features. Scott's melodies have also been heard in twelve Ren & Stimpy
episodes (which used the original Scott recordings), while making cameos in The Simpsons
, The Oblongs
, and Batfink
. The only music Scott actually composed to accompany animation were three 20-second electronic commercial jingles for County Fair Bread in 1962.
A 1931 graduate of the Juilliard School of Music
, where he studied piano, theory and composition, Scott, under his birth name, began his professional career as a pianist for the CBS Radio
house band. His older (by eight years) brother Mark conducted the orchestra. Harry reportedly adopted the pseudonym
"Raymond Scott" to spare his brother charges of nepotism
when the orchestra began performing the pianist's idiosyncratic compositions.
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.
Opening bars of melody line of "The Toy Trumpet"
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 the late 1940s, contemporaneous with guitarist-engineer Les Paul
's studio work with Mary Ford
, Scott began recording pop songs using the layered multi-tracked vocals of his later-second wife, singer Dorothy Collins
. A number of these were commercially released, but the technique failed to earn Scott the chart success of Les and Mary. In 1948, Scott formed a new six-man "quintet," which served for several months as house band for the CBS radio program, Herb Shriner Time
. The ensemble also made studio recordings, some of which were released on Scott's own short-lived Master Records label. When his brother Mark Warnow died in 1949, Scott succeeded him as orchestra leader on the popular radio show Your Hit Parade
. The following year, the show moved to television, and Scott continued to lead the orchestra until 1957. (Collins was a featured singer on Your Hit Parade.) Although the high-profile position paid well, Scott considered it strictly a "rent gig," and used his lavish salary to finance his electronic music research and development, albeit largely out of the public limelight.
Electronics and research
Scott, who attended a technical high school in Brooklyn, was an early electronic music
pioneer and adventurous sound engineer. During the 1930s and 1940s, many of his band's recording sessions found the bandleader in the control room, monitoring and adjusting the acoustics, often by revolutionary means. As Gert-Jan Blom & Jeff Winner would write, "Scott sought to master all aspects of sound capture and manipulation. His special interest in the technical aspects of recording, combined with the state-of-the-art facilities at his disposal, provided him with enormous hands-on experience as an engineer.
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:
- "He started originally working [on the Electronium] out of Berry’s house. They set up a room over the garages, and he worked there putting stuff together so Berry could get involved and see the progress. At one point Scott worked out of a studio. The unit never really got finalized—Ray had a real problem letting go. It was always being developed. That was a problem for Berry. He wanted instant gratification. Eventually his interest started to wane after a period of probably two or three years. Finally Ray took the thing down to his house and kept working on it. Berry kind of lost interest. He was off doing Diana Ross movies."
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.
In 1959, Scott organized a band of top-ranking jazz session musicians and recorded an album entitled The Unexpected
, credited to The Secret Seven
The secrecy extended to withholding the identity of the musicians in the album's liner notes. The players were later identified as Elvin Jones
, Milt Hinton
, Kenny Burrell
, Eddie Costa
, Sam "The Man" Taylor
, Harry "Sweets" Edison
, Wild Bill Davis
and Toots Thielemans
The cartoon connection
Though commonly believed to be a cartoon music composer, in fact Scott never wrote a note for a feature cartoon in his life. According to his wife, not only did he not compose for cartoons, he didn't even watch them. His historical and inadvertent renown as "the man who made cartoons swing" began in 1943 when Scott sold his music publishing to Warner Bros. Carl Stalling
, music director for Warner's Looney Tunes
and Merrie Melodies
, was allowed to adapt anything in the Warner music catalog, and immediately began peppering his scores with Scott quotes. Besides being used in Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies
, Scott's tunes have been licensed to propel the hijinks of The Simpsons
, Ren and Stimpy
, The Oblongs
, and Duckman
cartoons. "Powerhouse" was quoted ten times in the 2003 full-length WB feature Looney Tunes: Back in Action
Obscurity and rediscovery
His legacy underwent a revival in the early 1990s with the release of Reckless Nights and Turkish Twilights
(Columbia, 1992, produced by Irwin Chusid
with Hal Willner
as executive producer), the first major-label CD compilation of his groundbreaking 1937-39 six-man quintet. A year earlier, Chusid and Will Friedwald
produced a CD of live Scott quintet broadcasts titled The Man Who Made Cartoons Swing
for the Stash label. Around this time, the director of Ren & Stimpy, John Kricfalusi
, began hot-wiring his cartoon episodes with original Scott quintette recordings. In the late-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. Various members of the Beau Hunks (reconfigured as a "Saxtet," then a "Soctette") later performed and recorded various Scott works, sometimes in collaboration with the Metropole Orchestra.
"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.
- "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
- "I had a big thing for Raymond Scott loops -- 'Bus to Beelzebub' is also Raymond Scott -- hell, if Soul Coughing ended tomorrow I'd probably eke out a living producing hiphop records, using nothing but breakbeats, Raymond Scott, and Carl Stalling's Warner Bros. orchestra playing Raymond Scott compositions."—Mike Doughty of Soul Coughing
- "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
- “Raymond Scott was definitely in the forefront of developing electronic music technology, and in the forefront of using it commercially as a musician.”—Bob Moog
In addition to Warner Brothers cartoons (which were originally intended for theatrical screening), the following films include recordings and/or compositions by Scott: Nothing Sacred
(1937, various adapted standards); Ali Baba Goes to Town
(1938, "Twilight in Turkey" and "Arabania"); Happy Landing
(1938, "War Dance for Wooden Indians"); Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm
(1938, "The Toy Trumpet"); Just Around the Corner
(1938, "Brass Buttons and Epaulettes"); Sally, Irene and Mary
(1938, "Minuet in Jazz"); Bells of Rosarita
(1945, "Singing Down the Road"); Not Wanted
(1949, theme and orchestrations); West Point Story
(1950, "The Toy Trumpet"); The Trouble with Harry
(1955, "Flagging the Train to Tuscaloosa"); Never Love a Stranger
(1958, score); The Pusher
(1960, score); Clean and Sober
(1988, "Singing Down the Road"); Honey, I Shrunk the Kids
(1989, "Powerhouse" [uncredited, affirmed in out-of-court settlement]); Search and Destroy
(1995, "Moment Whimsical"); Funny Bones
(1995, "The Penguin"); Lulu on the Bridge
(1998, "Devil Drums"); Looney Tunes: Back in Action
(2003, "Powerhouse"); Starsky and Hutch
(2005, "Dinner Music for Pack of Hungry Cannibals"); RocknRolla
Covers and samples
- Gorillaz: Self-titled album Gorillaz featured a track titled "Man Research (Clapper)" which uses a sample from "In the Hall of the Mountain Queen" on Scott's Manhattan Research, Inc. (usage uncredited on album; infringement conceded in out-of-court settlement)
- J Dilla: Album Donuts featured "Lightworks", a remix of the track of the same name on Scott's Manhattan Research, Inc.
- El-P: Solo album "Fantastic Damage" (Def Jux ), features a track named "T.O.J" that contains samples from "Cyclic Bit", "Ripples (Montage)" and "County Fair (Instrumental)" from Raymond Scott's Manhattan Research, Inc..
- Soul Coughing: Album Irresistible Bliss features a track titled "Disseminated" which uses samples from "The Penguin" by the Raymond Scott Quintette (reissued version found on the CD Microphone Music); the group's album Ruby Vroom (1994) features a track titled "Bus to Beelzebub" which adapts a motif from Scott's composition "Powerhouse"; on the same album the track "Uh, Zoom Zip" uses an uncredited sample from Scott's "The Toy Trumpet," although the tempo of the sample has been manipulated as to be near-unrecognizable
- The Kleptones: Used a sample of "IBM MT/ST: The Paperwork Explosion" in their song "Work" off of their album A Night At The Hip-Hopera.
- Freezepop: Recorded cover of "Melonball Bounce," electronic commercial jingle composed by Scott around for the soft drink Sprite.
- The Boys: Early 1990s Motown R&B band based "The Saga Continues" on melody of Scott's "Powerhouse"
- Venus Hum: Recorded cover of "Lightworks," Scott electronic commercial jingle
- Optiganally Yours: Performed cover of "Powerhouse" live during an over-the-phone radio interview with Irwin Chusid of WFMU
- Madlib: Hip-hop star has used numerous samples of Scott's work, including the voice in "Baltimore Gas & Electric Co." for the track Electric Company, off his album Beat Konducta Vol 1-2: Movie Scenes.
- Lee Press-on and the Nails: Covered Scott's "Powerhouse" on their album "Jump-Swing From Hell"; the band have also recorded the Scott compositions "At An Arabian House Party" and "Devil Drums"
- moe.: Has frequently teased "Powerhouse" in various improvised jams during live performances, most notably Farmer Ben and Spine of a Dog.
- The Coctails: Recorded a medley of "The Penguin/Powerhouse" for a 7" single released by Bob Mould's Singles Only Label (SOL) in . The disc was executive-produced by Irwin Chusid, who also plays percussion on the track.
- Official Raymond Scott web site, by Jeff E. Winner, complete and detailed, including samples of Raymond Scott's music.
- The Raymond Scott Collection at the Marr Sound Archives, University of Missouri, Kansas City
- Photograph gallery of Scott, his bands, and his inventions
- The Cartoon Music Book, edited by Daniel Goldmark and Yuval Taylor, includes chapter by Irwin Chusid chronicling the use of Scott's music in cartoons
- Raymond Scott page at Weirdomusic.com
- ASCAP index of compositions by Raymond Scott
- Raymond Scott: The First 100 Years, biography by Irwin Chusid, director of the Scott Archives