A teenaged tinkerer put through Juilliard at the behest of elder brother and CBS Light Music director Mark Warnow, Scott first gained significant public notice due to his Quintette, a chamber jazz group with a proto-bebop instrumentation that played composed pieces noted for their musical sophistication and wacky, cartoonish titles such as "Powerhouse", "Dinner Music for a Pack of Hungry Cannibals" and "Reckless Night on Board an Ocean Liner". He later incorporated the Quintette into a touring big band that proved less than successful, and sold the rights to his most famous compositions for a money to cover losses from the tours and to raise another band. As World War II interrupted these ambitions, Scott worked with drummer Cozy Cole to found the first racially integrated studio orchestra, performing on CBS Radio broadcasts when musicians were in short supply owing to conscription. Although he made his living in jazz, mentally Scott remained a classical composer whose main inspiration was Mozart -- progressing through his recordings chronologically, one can detect a distinct learning curve, demonstrating Scott's gradual absorption of the styles of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Glenn Miller up through BeBop itself.
Buoyed by a lucrative gig leading the band on the popular Your Hit Parade program, Scott was able to devote the '50s to research in electronic music, from which he developed the first self-sustaining electronic works in the form of radio and television jingles. He continued in this vein for the rest of his active career, and in 1967 invented what may have been the first artificially intelligent computer, a self-composing machine called the Electronium or Scottronium.
Your Hit Parade was the American Idol of its day, although it was not competitive and the performing cast remained static for most of its run. The incursion of rock and roll led to ABC firing everyone, including Scott, from the show at the end of the 1956-1957 season. No fan of celebrity, and soon to be diagnosed with a heart condition, Scott embraced obscurity and worked behind the scenes, educating electronic music pioneer Robert Moog and working with Muppets creator Jim Henson along the way. Nevertheless, it cost him the recognition he so richly deserved as an artist and inventor. His last years were spent as an engineer at Motown; some of his very last electronic music of the '80s showed that he had come to understand the inner workings of funk.
Ironically for Scott, who never watched cartoons and composed to animation only one time, it was Bugs Bunny who came to the rescue. The early compositions he had sold off were woven into the fabric of Carl Stalling's soundtrack music for Warner Bros. cartoons and now part of the national consciousness, a fact first acknowledged in print by author Will Friedwald in the book Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies (1988). The '90s witnessed an explosion of interest in Scott, and though he still lived as this was underway, he was unable to participate in it. A stroke he suffered early in 1988 deprived him of the ability to communicate with anyone outside of his immediate family.
Much of the effort in regard to Scott's work has been expended in favor of the '30s Quintette repertoire, regarded as central to his output. Just earlier this year a chance connection led Stan Warnow and Scott website curator Jeff Winner to a previously unknown cache of original Quintette recordings. Winner also reports that they have managed to interview elusive composer John Williams, whose father -- the drummer, architect, and expert marksman Johnny Williams -- performed with both Raymond Scott and Mark Warnow. Scott's electronic music, compiled onto the 2-disc Basta set Manhattan Research Inc, has established him as a true progenitor of techno and electronica. However, Scott's classical music and his voluminous output as a "straight" Swing Era bandleader and broadcaster remain little known. That may be changing: among the re-releases slated for the Scott Centennial is his 1956 album This Time with Strings, featuring original works for string orchestra.
It took 20 years for Raymond Scott to make a comeback, and it might well take another 20 or more for the full extent of his interest, activity and contribution to be known.
Raymond Scott Quintette - Powerhouse (recorded 1939)
Jenny Lin, piano - The Sleepwalker
Raymond Scott Quintette - Snake Woman (recorded 1948)
Raymond Scott, electronics - Lightworks (1962)