Monday, December 26th was the 75th anniversary of the debut of the Raymond Scott Quintette. Why should this matter? Well, besides the fact that the “quintette” included six musicians (he didn’t count himself), Scott was responsible for music that is part of everyone’s life.
What music? Take, for example, this little ditty:
Yes, Scott compositions like “Powerhouse” and “Twilight in Turkey” and several others (like “Dinner Music for a Pack of Hungry Cannibals” or “The Toy Trumpet”) were used by Carl Stalling as part of the musical soundtrack for Warner Bros. cartoons for decades. Scott music was all over Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies made after 1943, when Warner Bros. bought the rights and Stalling began to liberally sprinkle the themes into his arrangements. It was the music of Bugs and Daffy and company, and it’s deeply embedded in the brains of anyone who grew up watching those cartoons. Ditto for Ren and Stimpy fans, who heard the original Scott recordings on some of those episodes as well.
But Scott was more than the guy who wrote the music adapted for cartoons. In fact, he didn’t actually write any of that music for cartoons. He was a popular bandleader in the 30s and 40s, called a novelty act by jazz purists but still popular. He led the first racially integrated radio band, and then became a pioneer in electronic music and recording, doing various projects (including scores for experimental films by Jim Henson and releasing a before-its-time ambient project under the title Soothing Sounds for Baby) and increasingly withdrawing from public while spending his time and money on proto-synthesizers and other instruments until his passing in 1994.
One of the best sources for all things Raymond Scott is Irwin Chusid, the music historian and WFMU personality who wrote the liner notes for the compilation Reckless Nights and Turkish Twilights, which is a really amazing album if you’re at all interested in Scott’s work. Those liner notes are posted here and the rest of the Raymond Scott site, compiled by Jeff Winner with Chusid’s input, is here and includes testimonial quotes about Scott from people like Henry Rollins, John Williams (whose father was the drummer for Scott’s Quintette), Leonard Maltin, R.E.M.’s Peter Buck, XTC’s Andy Partrdge, John Flansburgh of They Might Be Giants, Mark Mothersbaugh, and John K, plus Elvis Costello’s liner notes for the Beau Hunks’ Scott tribute CD Manhattan Minuet. And there’s more at raymondscott.blogspot.com. Go check it all out, because 75 years of Raymond Scott music is worth celebrating.