Raymond Scott (1908-94) was a true eccentric, a musical innovator who followed his own unusual path. Born Harry Warnow, he worked as a pianist for the CBS Radio house band early in his career. Since his older brother Mark was the band’s conductor, he adopted the name of Raymond Scott to avoid it looking like nepotism, particularly when the orchestra played his unusual compositions.
In late 1936 he put together the Raymond Scott Quintette (which was actually a sextet), playing what Scott called “descriptive jazz.” His very complex and generally memorable arrangements (which often had two or three themes to each piece) certainly had descriptive song titles. The music somehow conjured up specific images during such songs as “Reckless Night On Board An Ocean Liner,” “War Dance For Wooden Indians,” “Celebration On The Planet Mars,” “New Year’s Eve In A Haunted House,” “Boy Scout In Switzerland,” “Bumpy Weather Over Newark,” “The Tobacco Auctioneer,” and even “Dinner Music For A Pack Of Hungry Cannibals.” He had three hits during the 1937-39 period that were actually covered by some other bands: “Powerhouse,” “The Toy Trumpet,” and “Twilight In Turkey.”
Scott’s recordings of 1937-39, in addition to the music, had two unusual aspects. He persuaded his musicians to learn the complex arrangements by ear rather than having the music written down. And all of the individual solos were set and did not change despite sounding spontaneous.
In later years Raymond Scott led a big band that played some of his pieces along with more conventional arrangements, he was the musical director of Your Hit Parade during 1949-57, and he became a pioneer in electronic music, but it is his Sextette recordings that are his main musical legacy.
Raymond Scott Reimagined is an extraordinary revival of nine of Raymond Scott’s pieces. The Quartet San Francisco (a very versatile string quartet) is joined by arranger Gordon Goodwin and his Big Phat Band with the vocal group Take Six making appearances on two songs. Not limited to the three minutes of a 78, Goodwin charts had the musicians stretch out a bit more on some of the pieces while always putting the emphasis on Scott’s quirky themes. The instrumentation, which is much larger than Scott was able to utilize, brings out additional colors to the unique music and there are occasional although concise solos. In addition, there are five short excerpts from interviews in which Raymond Scott, often with humor, talks about his music.
“Powerhouse,” “Toy Trumpet” and “Twilight In Turkey” are here along with such pieces as the relatively conventional “In An 18th Century Drawing Room,” the previously unrecorded “Cutey And The Dragon” (an unfinished work that Goodwin completed), and “Huckleberry Duck.”
The music, which should be played loud so as to hear the intricacies of the frequently joyful ensembles, is simply brilliant and played flawlessly by the virtuosic musicians. The strings in particular add new dimension to the songs. Raymond Scott Reimagined is one of the most memorable recordings of the year.
Gordon Goodwin and his Big Phat Band • Raymond Scott Reimagined
Violinjazz JCCD 110