Raymond Scott

Raymond Scott was an extremely interesting music composer, instrument inventor, sound technician and professional musician. Raymond, his birth name was Harry Warnow, was born in Brooklyn New York in 1908(died in 1994). Gifted from the start Raymond attended the Julliard School of Music in NYC, graduating in 1931. After College his brother Mark Warnow helped him get a job at CBS Radio as a pianist in the house band. At that time commercial television was virtually non-existent and radio was the definitive means of reaching the masses. Radio stations used all types of music to score their shows and this is where Raymond was exposed to various methods of using music to accentuate a mood and portray a atmosphere. He would continue to build on the techniques he learned at CBS when he left it’s wing in 1936 and started his own jazz band.

Raymond handpicked some of the best jazz musicians of the day to be in his band, regardless of race. Raymond had a completely different take on jazz then many of his predecessors. An element which was a major part of many jazz performance back then and even today, improvisation, was discouraged by Raymond. He allowed people to improvise during song writing sessions but once the song was finalized improvisation was off the table. Also unlike most big name headliners Raymond took the back seat when it came to solos and preferred to back his fellow members on piano, humbly stepping aside where he thought his abilities were bested by his colleges. A final element that really set Raymond Scott’s music apart from the rest is his use of themes, in some cases very descriptive themes. Many of Raymond’s songs have detailed titles like “New Year’s Eve in a Haunted House” or “Dinner Music for a Pack of Hungry Cannibals” these titles describe the scene you can expect to imagine while listening to the songs. A very interesting concept for it’s time. Most of Raymond’s music is purely instrumental so these scenes aren’t portrayed with lyrics but through very well thought out deliberate instrumentation. I happen to love Raymond’s take on jazz. It’s a departure from much of the other jazz that’s out there and quite refreshing.

In addition to his jazz playing Raymond Scott was also very active in the audio engineering field. After some years of playing in his band he eventually stepped off the stage completely and just wrote music for the band and thought of new ways to perfect it’s recordings. In time this love of audio engineering turned Raymond into a instrument inventor, primarily of electronic instruments. He was the forerunner of electronic instrument design and would mentor many of the big names we hear today in that field particularly Bob Moog but many others. Bob Moog who would himself go on to become a electronic instrument inventor perfecting on some of Raymond’s work and also pushing the industry in new directions. One particular instrument that Raymond worked on for his entire career, lifetime really, was called the Electronium. The idea was a instrument that could play music on the fly and completely at random. Kind of like a player piano that could even choose it’s own style, not bound to a single instrument sound or to a prescribed melody. A really unique idea, especially since he started work on the Electronium in the 50′s.

I’ve saved one of the more interesting things about Raymond Scott for last. You may not know this but chances are you are very familiar with many of his songs. In 1943 Warner Brothers purchased the rights to publish Raymond’s music. Anyone familiar with cartoons also knows that in 1943 Warner Brothers also owned and created Loony Tunes and Merrie Melodies, perhaps some of the most iconic cartoons ever created. When Warner bought the rights to publish Raymond’s music that meant that the creators of our beloved cartoons attained full access to Raymond’s catalog. Raymond’s thematic swing jazz fit in with the cartoons seamlessly and was used to score hundreds of WB’s cartoon shorts. Ironically through Raymond Scott’s career he didn’t write a single tune with the intention of being used by Warner they were all picked up after the fact. Pretty neat stuff.

Below is not a full discography, Raymond Scott’s music has been released in various forms over the years and becuase of the randomness of his releases I’m only going to list the albums that you have a chance of finding. I have “Reckless Nights and Turkish Twilights” and it’s great…

1) This Time With Strings [1957]
2) The Secret 7: The Unexpected [1960]
3) Soothing Sounds for Baby Vols. 1-3 [1963]
4) The Raymond Scott Project: Vol. 1: Powerhouse [1991]
5) Reckless Nights and Turkish Twilights [1992]
6) Manhattan Research Inc. [2000]
7) Microphone Music [2002]
8) Ectoplasm [2008]

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