Raymond Scott By Arthur Jackson
Raymond Scott isn’t merely a name from the past, and may still be fondly remembered by pre-war listeners; but how many, I wonder, realise just how enormous his talent span was, apart from the novelties like Toy Trumpet and In An Eighteenth Century Drawing Room. He wrote for Hollywood, Broadway, and radio and had his own band that featured (naturally) his own compositions as well as standards; in all, dance music of the highest quality as well as an individual brand of swing music.
He was born in Brooklyn N.Y. on 10 September 1910 into a musical family as Harry Warnow with orchestral conductor Mark Warnow as his elder brother. Harry originally intended to be an electrical engineer (in later years he would become one when he retired as a bandleader) but was basically more interested in music. Changing his name to Raymond Scott to avoid any suggestions of nepotism he was given a position as a pianist under brother Mark Warnow on CBS radio.
Soon after, Scott began writing his (then) revolutionary small group pieces for his CBS Quintet (allsix of them). Far from casual, these pieces with their novelty titles were something new in…what? Was it jazz, dance music, swing, popular classics….or just plain music? It was popular for a while but invited comparison with the larger swing bands, and once the novelty of the eccentric writing and instrumentation wore off the lack of any rhythmic impulse became evident.
In the late 1930’s the Scott Quintet went to Hollywood to appear in such films as "Ali Baba Goes to Town", "Love and Kisses", "Nothing Sacred", "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm", "Happy Landing" etc. These featured his own compositions like Toy Trumpet, Huckleberry Duck, Twilight in Turkey, In An 18th Century Drawing Room, Dinner Music for a Pack of Hungry Cannibals, War Dance for Wooden Indians, Minuet in Jazz, and would you believe, A Dedicatory Piece to the Crew and Passengers of the First Experimental Rocket Express to the Moon. There were also Reckless Night on Board an Ocean Liner, Toonerville Trolly and others all published by Scott’s own Advanced Music Company.
While in Hollywood his jaunty themes were adapted by Warner Brothers MD Carl Stalling and Scott himself for their "Looney Tunes" and "Merry Melodies" cartoons, but after this he was into the big band scene with a 13-piece combination including such jazzmen as Gordon Griffin, Hugo Winterhalter, Bernie Leighton, Chubby Jackson, Jimmy Maxwell, Shelley Manne and Art Ryerson, recording for Columbia, the band’s repertoire including many new Scott compositions as well as augmented versions of his best-known standards. It was successful and toured extensively, but the best sidesmen were being called up, so Scott was forced to return to the security of the CBS studios. Here he led an all-star inter-racial band including Ben Webster, Charlie Shavers, Les Elgart, Benny Morton, Johnny Guarnieri, Tony Mottola, Cosy Cole… even Coleman Hawkins sat in at times!
Scott’s two principal girl singers were (pre-war) Nan Wynn who went to Hollywood to dub the voices for non-singing actresses like Rita Hayworth, and a teenager, Dorothy Collins (post-war). Mr & Mrs Scott semi-adopted Dorothy as a daughter, then later she became the second Mrs Scott as well as his permanent singer. Another aspect of this man’s talent appeared in 1945/46 when he did Broadway scores for "Beggars are Coming to Town" and the successful "Lute Song" which ran for over a year and included a wonderful evergreen in Mountain High, Valley Low.
After the war he formed another big band for touring and his own radio programme. When his brother, Mark Warnow died in 1949 Raymond Scott replaced him as a conductor of the "Lucky Strike Hit Parade", where he and Dorothy stayed as resident leader and singer for several years. At one stage Scott had his own Audiovox record label then became MD for Everest Records until his interest in electronics took over with the formation of a new studio complex at his Long Island home where he functioned as technical adviser for various record companies.
Eventually this became his sole occupation and in 1960, strangely enough for one of his musical background he worked as a consultant for Tamla Motown Records inter alia for the next seventeen years, during which time he transferred all his activities to California. Scott retired through ill-health and spent the rest of his life in Van Nuys in California where he died in 1994 after a series of strokes at almost the same time as his divorced wife, Dorothy Collins.
© Copyright Arthur Jackson 2007.
This article first appeared in ‘Journal Into Melody’ September 2007