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Raymond Scott

Biography

Born: September 10, 1908; Brooklyn, NY   Died: February 8, 1994; North Hills, CA  
Born Harry Warnow in Brooklyn, Raymond Scott was the younger brother of Mark Warnow, a violinist and one of the first musical directors hired by CBS from its foundation in the late '20s. Although Scott grew up fascinated with electronic gadgets and collected a mail-order electrical engineering degree by the time he was 17, Warnow had heard Scott's youthful piano improvisations and bribed him into attending New York's Institute of Musical Art (now Read more Juilliard) with the gift of a grand piano. Scott graduated in 1931 and was named to the staff of CBS radio as a musical director; at this point he changed his name to "Raymond Scott" in order to shield his brother against charges of nepotism, picking the name at random from the Manhattan telephone directory. He contributed his earliest significant composition, Christmas Night in Harlem, to the off-Broadway show Blackbirds of 1934 and became a staff pianist and arranger at the CBS Radio Network.

In 1936, Scott founded Raymond Scott Quintette, one of the first chamber jazz groups, the Raymond Scott Quintette, and their first piece, The Toy Trumpet, which was an immediate popular success. This was followed by a number of other pieces such as Powerhouse, War Music for Wooden Indians, and Dinner Music for a Pack of Hungry Cannibals, all widely recorded by groups other than his own. Scott's compositions -- representing a marriage of light classical music and jazz, yet demonstrating no strong polarity toward either side of the coin -- were widely imitated by composers as John Kirby, Bert Shefter, Morton Gould and others. Paul Whiteman and Percy Faith were also champions, routinely employing Scott's work in standard pops concert programs.

In 1939, Scott expanded his Quintette into a full orchestra, but as a touring group, they were not successful. In order to recoup the funds lost through this venture he sold his catalog of compositions to Warner Bros. Music. Carl Stalling, musical director of the cartoon division at Warner Bros., made extensive use of Scott's music to illustrate the adventures of such beloved cartoon characters as Bugs Bunny and Wile E. Coyote and in doing so disseminated Scott's music to a much wider audience than the composer could ever have imagined. In 1942, noticing the dire situation in terms of good musicians available in New York for radio broadcasts during the Second World War, with the encouragement of CBS executive John Hammond, Scott founded the first mixed-race jazz orchestra for broadcast purposes.

Scott got out of radio in 1945 to write the Broadway show Lute Song with Bernard Hanighen. When Lute Song debuted in 1947, Mary Martin starred, and while the show did not last very long; it added the standard "Mountain High, Valley Low to Scott's catalogue. In 1949, Mark Warnow died suddenly of a heart attack, and Scott was awarded the lucrative role of becoming Warnow's successor on the popular Your Hit Parade program. This job only required that he work two days a week, and he was able to redirect considerable resources in terms of time and money into his Manhattan Research Laboratories, the first electronic music studio in New York, developing instruments and, ultimately, producing commercial jingles.

Throughout the '50s and '60s, Scott pressed onward with his electronic research, which included building the earliest known sequencers, adapting the Theremin to a standard keyboard and, in 1965, the first artificially intelligent computer, the Scott Electronium, which composed music with no intervention on the part of the operator. The only evidence of this work published in his lifetime was the three-LP set Soothing Sounds for Baby in 1963, which foreshadows the advent of minimalism and techno, even as it was intended as a medical tool for building the brains of babies. Scott also produced albums of music scored for conventional instruments through 1960, such as This Time with Strings, A Yank in Europe (composed for English bandleader Ted Heath), and The Unexpected. Scott's last-known non-electronic work was the industrial show A Man Named Brown in 1970, written for the company that produces Jack Daniels' whisky.

In 1972, Scott was invited to come West by producer Berry Gordy, and ultimately settled in Van Nuys, Califonia. Retired from Motown in 1977, Scott realized that his inventions were by that time outdated and enrolled in a community college to take a computer course. Scott was working with a PC and a DX-7 midi keyboard when a series of strokes incapacitated him in 1988. After his death in 1994, Scott was hailed as a pioneer in various quarters as his was the sum total of all the music and culture he was familiar with, and as such, foreshadows the development of post-modernism, a genre in which he is now regarded as a major influence. Read less


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