Raymond Scott (born Harry Warnow, September 10, 1908 – February 8, 1994) was an American composer, band leader, pianist, engineer, recording studio maverick, and electronic instrument inventor.
Although 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 shorts. Scott's melodies have also been heard in twelve Ren & Stimpy episodes (that used the original Scott recordings), while making cameos in The Simpsons, Duckman, Animaniacs, 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.)
Early life & career
He was born in Brooklyn, New York to Russian Jewish immigrants, Joseph and Sarah Warnow. His older brother, Mark Warnow, a conductor, violinist, and musical director for the CBS radio program Your Hit Parade, encouraged his musical career.
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 1935 he married Pearl Zimney (1910–2001).
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 byDave Wade); Louis Shoobe (upright bass); Dave Harris (tenor sax); and Johnny Williams (drums). They made their first recordings in New York on February 20, 1937, for the Master Records label, owned by music publisher/impresario Irving Mills (who was also Duke Ellington's manager).
The Quintette represented Scott's attempt to revitalize Swing music through tight, busy arrangements and reduced reliance onimprovisation. 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. Besides being a prominent figure in recording studios and on radio and concert stages, Scott wrote and was widely interviewed about his sometimes controversial music theories for the leading music publications of the day, including Down Beat, Metronome, and Billboard.
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 reworked, resequenced, or deleted passages, or added 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, trumpeterEmmett 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.)
After serving as CBS radio music director for a number of variety programs from 1942 to 1944, Scott left the network to pursue other projects. He composed and arranged music (with lyrics by Bernie Hanighen) for the 1946 Broadway musical Lute Song, starring Mary Martin and Yul Brynner.
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 second wife, singer Dorothy Collins (1926–1994). 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. (This was not the Irving Mills-owned label of the same name; Scott allegedly named his label in tribute to the by-then-defunct Mills enterprise.)
When his brother Mark Warnow died in 1949, Scott succeeded him as orchestra leader on the popular CBS Radio show Your Hit Parade sponsored by Lucky Strike cigarettes. The following year, the show moved to NBC 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, largely out of the public limelight.
In 1950 Scott composed his first—and only known—"serious" (classical) work, entitled Suite for Violin and Piano. The five-movement suite was performed at Carnegie Hall on February 7, 1950, by violinist Arnold Eidus and pianist Carlo Bussotti, who subsequently recorded the work. (Unreleased at the time, the archival recording was released on CD and digitally in November 2012 by Basta Audio-Visuals.)
In 1958, while serving as an A&R director for Everest Records, Scott produced singer Gloria Lynne's album Miss Gloria Lynne. The sidemen included many of the same session players (e.g., Milt Hinton, Sam "The Man" Taylor, George Duvivier, Harry "Sweets" Edison, Eddie Costa, Kenny Burrell, Wild Bill Davis) who participated in Scott's 1959 Secret 7 recording project.
Electronics and research
Scott, who attended Brooklyn Technical High School, 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 wrote, "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 often described 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 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 he said composed using artificial intelligence. The Electronium, as Scott called it, with its vast array of knobs, buttons and patch panels is considered the first 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 ashtrays with accompanying electronic music scores, an electronic musical baby rattle and 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, and in 1967, he married Mitzi Curtis (1918–2012). 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. In 1966-67, Scott (under the screen credit "Ramond Scott") composed and recorded electronic music soundtracks for some early experimental films by Muppets impresario Jim Henson.
During his jazz/big band period, Scott had often endured tense relationships with musicians he employed (quote: "No one worked with Scott; everyone worked under Scott"). However, when his career became immersed in electronic gadgetry, he made friends with and seemed to prefer the company of technicians, including Bob Moog, Herb Deutsch,Thomas Rhea, and Alan Entenmann. From time to time Scott welcomed curious visitors to his lab, among them the renowned French electronic music pioneer Jean-Jacques Perrey, in March 1960. The eccentric electronic instrument builder and children's music composer Bruce Haack visited Scott in the early 1970s (though there is no indication Haack and Scott collaborated in any way).
In 1969, Motown Records impresario Berry Gordy, tipped off about a mad musical scientist engaged in mysterious works, visited Scott at his Long Island labs to witness theElectronium 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 later said 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.
Largely forgotten by the public by the 1980s, Scott suffered a major stroke in 1987 that 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 trickle.