Monday, February 23, 2015

Raymond Scott Goes to Middle School

Tess, Zack H. and fellow poets perform "The White Clothesline"
at The Willows Community School. Photo: Tessa Posnansky
Take 100 middle school students and a lesson on poetry and art that embraces light and shadow. Add careful observation, thoughtful discussion, and provide an environment where these students can sketch, paint, write and share. 

What do you get? A poem called “The White Clothesline,” performed before an audience, with intro music from Raymond Scott Rewired. This mix of words, images and music holds a special meaning for me because Raymond Scott was my father.

Much has been written about Raymond Scott as an unswerving taskmaster, working his musicians relentlessly in pursuit of a lofty standard of perfection. His method of teaching me to play the piano as a young childpracticing endless scaleswas anything but fun.

Aidan in "The White Clothesline."  Photo: Heidi Roberts
But my father also had a playful side, as well as a passion for combining and recombining sounds, styles, and genresThat was fun! It was fun for him, and for those who shared his vision. I must have inherited his fascination with combining art forms and modalities.

I’m the third of Raymond Scott’s four children; I am also a writer who teaches poetry at the Willows Community School in Los Angeles. On February 12, ten of my talented students performed a piece that embodied creative confluence—a process dear to my father’s heart. 

Confluence: a place where people or things come together. Confluence came to work with me over the past few weeks: Blending art with poetry. Connecting fragments written by 100 students into an ancient poetic form known as the “cento.” Weaving 6th and 7th graders’ voices and perspectives. Bringing ten of those students onstage to speak the truths hidden within a white towel, a pair of white ski pants, and a tiny white sweater. Finally, adding a musical introduction that was a mash-up in itself!

Schaedyn and Malaika perform. Photo: Tessa Posnansky
When I searched my music library for an intro cue, I wasn’t looking specifically for a Raymond Scott composition. In fact, I brought in three selections to play for my kids. But when I put on “Good Duquesne Air” (audio below)—one of my favorite tunes from the fascinating Raymond Scott Rewired project—we had an immediate groove going on. “That’s so cool!” “What is that?” “Who is that?”  I explained that it was my father’s music, reimagined by mixmaster Mark Vidler (of Go Home Productions). On Poetry Night, the vintage and modern elements of “Good Duquesne Air” gave the audience a mysterious feel for what was yet to come.

In a confluence, streams flow and merge together from various sources. Fusing art with poetry opened up wider vistas for our students. Distilling the writings of many young poets into a cento told a new story. 

And incorporating even a taste of my father's musical legacy into “The White Clothesline” reminded me that a creative confluence is a gift big enough to share.

Friday, February 20, 2015

February 20, 1937

Raymond Scott music travels at various velocities. It can be delivered on LPs that spin at 33-1/3 revolutions per minute. There are a handful of rare 45 rpm singles. His electronic music was captured on tape that rolled at 3-3/4, 7-1/2, or 15 inches per second. The rotational speed of a Basta compact disc of Scott's Soothing Sounds for Baby varies from 210 rpm (outer edge) to 480 (inner edge). But Scott's music first came to prominence on fragile platters that whirled at 78 rpm.

It is therefore fitting that 78 years ago today, Raymond Scott entered a New York studio with his legendary Quintette to record his first commercial sides. It was a productive day. While no one knows how long the February 20, 1937 session lasted, by the time Scott and his cohorts mopped their brows and went home, they had recorded two timeless classics — "Minuet in Jazz" and "Twilight in Turkey" — and two immortal works — "The Toy Trumpet" and "Powerhouse." Not only were these four recordings all approved for commercial release, they are inarguably the definitive versions of all four works.

How long did it take Brian Wilson to complete Smile? Is it done yet?

Al Brackman, an associate producer for the Master label, which signed the RSQ, told historian Michèle Wood: "Our studio at 1776 Broadway was basically just an office with a seven- or eight-foot ceiling. There was a long hall leading to it from the elevators. Opposite the office door, there was a men's room lined with tiles. Scott insisted on recording at night so he could put one mike in the hall and another in the men's room. With that and the other mikes in the office he achieved what they call 'echo' and gave the recordings a big auditorium sound."

We don't have any photos of that makeshift Broadway chamber, but we have lots of photos of the RSQ during radio gigs (see above—saxophonist Dave Harris was cropped out by the cameraman). 

The first RSQ release was "Twilight in Turkey," backed by "Minuet in Jazz." The disc sold out within a week. "It had nothing to compete with it," said Brackman. "If you liked Scott, you had to buy Scott."

Fans first bought "Powerhouse" on the Master label, which went bankrupt in late 1937. The track was reissued on Brunswick in 1938, and in 1939 on Columbia. Same recording each time.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Ghost Train Orchestra, Feb 28, Brooklyn

Our friend Brian Carpenter, leader of the fabulous Ghost Train Orchestra, whose Book of Rhapsodies CD contains several cleverly arranged works by Raymond Scott, writes:
Don't miss our last show with the Book of Rhapsodies band on Saturday February 28 before we head into the studio to record Book of Rhapsodies Volume II (all of which can be heard live at this show). We'll debut new arrangements of strange and beautiful chamber works penned by Raymond Scott, Alec Wilder, Charlie Shavers, and Reginald Foresythe, as well as a special treat — some pieces by a seemingly unknown bandleader/composer from the '30s and '40s recently discovered by Irwin Chusid. We can't wait to debut these pieces live (and tell you who it is.)
Saturday February 28
Jalopy Theater
315 Columbia Street
Red Hook, Brooklyn
8pm doors / 9pm show

Note: I won't reveal the name of the "unknown" bandleader/composer, but I didn't discover him. His work was discovered by our friend Takashi Okada of Tokyo, who passed the recordings along to me, and I sent them on to Brian certain that he would appreciate them. It was Brian's idea to arrange and perform them.

Here's GTO's recording of Scott's "New Year's Eve in a Haunted House."

Friday, February 13, 2015

Powerhouse for string quartet

Violinist Jeremy Cohen, leader of Quartet San Francisco, has been a longtime champion of Raymond Scott and recorded a number of Scott tunes arranged for string quartet on the QSF album Whirled Music. Cohen has made the string arrangement for Scott's "Powerhouse" available through his ViolinJazz Editions series ("New pearls for adventurous chamber musicians").

Scott's early Quintette works have occasionally been referred to as "chamber jazz," so it's fitting that they be arranged for and performed by chamber ensembles. The Kronos Quartet recorded an arrangement of Scott's "Dinner Music for a Pack of Hungry Cannibals" on their album Released 1985-1995. Kronos have also performed Scott's "Powerhouse," "The Penguin," and "Twilight In Turkey," but they haven't recorded these titles nor have they published the arrangements.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

A memorial anniversary

Raymond Scott passed away 21 years ago today, at the age of 85. His death was not unexpected—he had been stroke-ridden since 1987, and his wife Mitzi had struggled for years as his caretaker at their home in Van Nuys. The above photo was taken in 1985, when Raymond was 76 or 77; he had already suffered a series of heart attacks and had not worked professionally in almost a decade.

If I recall correctly, at some point in late 1993 or early '94 Raymond was admitted to a nursing home in North Hills, where he suffered a fall, broke his hip, and eventually contracted a fatal bout of pneumonia. I was notified by Mitzi, and promised to get word to the press.

Memories are vivid, because 1994 was a brutal winter in the northeast; in early February I was largely housebound due to extraordinary accumulations of snow and ghastly banks of ice around town. The internet had not yet become a medium of instantaneous communication—no Facebook, no Twitter, no Instagram, no blogs. I didn't even have an email (huh?) account. There were only two options for getting the news out: telephone and fax. I spent the entire day calling, informing, leaving messages, fielding incoming calls, writing obit drafts, and faxing. Coverage was extensive: the New York Times (reproduced below); Los Angeles Times; Billboard; Variety; and the wire services. 

Despite my best attempts to present facts to the media, one erroneous claim made it into many stories, and that untruth remains in circulation to this day. It is plainly evidenced in the NYT headline: "a Composer for Cartoons."    

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

THE NEW YORK TIMES and WALL STREET JOURNAL praise new live bioplay in New York City

The new live bioplay based on Raymond Scott's life, POWERHOUSE, has received rave reviews — see below.

     THE NEW YORK TIMES Critic's Pick (Andy Webster):

     "An electrifying account of the life of the composer Raymond Scott. ... Scott had eccentric ideas: He believed in telepathy; despite his roots in swing, he discouraged improvisation from his bands; and his lifelong passion for technology led him on a quest to invent the electronium, a machine that could compose and perform music on its own."

     THE WALL STREET JOURNAL (Will Friedwald):

     "The most ambitious event is 'Powerhouse' in the West Village, a theatrical meditation on the iconoclastic composer Raymond Scott, whose quirky compositions helped Looney Tunes live up to their name. This highly original one-act play concerns itself with Mr. Scott’s three wives as well his lifelong obsession with transforming musicians into machines and computers into composers, and is at its most inspired when enacting Scott’s cartoon career with a cast of delightfully 'animated' animal puppets."

     Get tickets for the final week: here

Monday, September 08, 2014

Raymond Scott Orchestrette @ Lake George

The Raymond Scott Orchestrette takes their namesake's inspired eccentricities into the 21st century, reinventing the Scott catalog for modern ears. They're based in New York City, but rarely play in their hometown. Your soonest opportunity to see this marvelous septet is at the Lake George Jazz Festival, at which they'll offer the closing set on Sunday, September 14 at 4:30.

Also appearing at the festival will be Steven Bernstein's Sexmob, who hail from NYC as well. Both ensembles got a nice advance writeup in the Lake George Mirror.

Full disclosure: Raymond Scott is NOT in the Orchestrette. (He passed away in 1994.) But we think he'd be honored to know his music continues to captivate audiences 75 years after he wrote it.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Book with 2-CDs: "MANHATTAN RESEARCH INC." plus Vinyl Figurine & CD Set — Now On Sale

144-page Hardcover Full-color Book & 2-CD Set:

We have small quantities of the much-celebrated and beautifully-designed 144-page hardcover, full-color book & 2-CD set titled, MANHATTAN RESEARCH INC., featuring Raymond Scott's legendary 1950s-'60s electronic music. For a limited time our price is only $19. (+ shipping). They are brand-new, in shrink-wrap.

 • To order Book & 2-CD set with PayPal CLICK HERE <

We're also offering the gorgeous deluxe vinyl figurine and CD set made by Presspop in Japan for only $39. (+ shipping). They are brand-new. The limited-edition package features a miniature replica of Raymond Scott's patented 1950s keyboard synthesizer, The Clavivox, and a CD featuring rare, unreleased tracks from the Scott Archives.

 • To order Vinyl Figurine & CD set with PayPal CLICK HERE <

See images below:
Deluxe Vinyl Figurine & CD Set

Monday, February 24, 2014

Shooby Taylor Rewired

The new Basta album Raymond Scott Rewired features a radical overhaul of the entire Scott catalog by three of the music world's premiere remix artists — The Bran Flakes, Evolution Control Committee, and Go Home Productions. It was released on February 18.

The final track, Scott's iconic "Powerhouse," which was collaboratively layered by the three mixmeisters, features a special guest. The late, legendary outsider scat-master William "Shooby" Taylor, a.k.a. "The Human Horn," takes a few vocal turns throughout the mix. I chronicled Taylor's story over at a website devoted to my Y2K outsider music book and CDs, Songs in the Key of Z. Taylor's idiosyncratic vocal stylings were studio-recorded in the 1980s over commercial LPs by artists like Miles Davis, the Harmonicats, Erroll Garner, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, and Johnny Cash. Needless to say, these artists were not consulted about the collaborations, and all went to their graves none the wiser.

I own the dozen or so Shooby master reels, which contain 94 tracks, many of which I intend to release digitally in the near term. The samples used in "Powerhouse" originated from a series of a cappella recordings by Taylor. Buy the album — or at least the track — to appreciate Shooby in a remarkable setting. You can hear (and buy) four Shooby solo recordings in the iTunes Store: "Stout-Hearted Men," "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing," "Indiana," and "It Gets Better All the Time."

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

REWIRED released

Street date: TODAY. As in, NOW. CD and digital.

Rhythmic redesigns by three extraordinarily talented sonic artists.

Contains real Raymond Scott music, as well as some original sounds. Over 250 RS samples went into the album's 19 tracks.

All the info at

And contrary to some online listings, there is NO vinyl edition. Yet.

Monday, February 17, 2014

"Machines should do the work ..."

"... People should do the thinking."

That proclamation helped make the case for 1967's IBM MT/ST, an early word processing unit heralded in "The Paperwork Explosion," which appears on the Raymond Scott electronica collection, Manhattan Research Inc.

Scott loved technology and embraced most such advances. He might be surprised, yet delighted to know that his collected recorded legacy stored at UMKC's Marr Sound Archive is about to be gobbled up by a giant robot.

Chuck Haddix, director of the Marr Sound Archives, which houses the
Raymond Scott disc & tape collection. Photo courtesy Kansas City Star.

As reported in the Kansas City Star:
Chuck Haddix strolled up and down the aisles between the towering stacks of recordings stored at the Marr Sound Archives, in the ground floor of Miller Nichols Library at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Being surrounded by the treasure-filled shelves — rows and rows of radio broadcasts and music recordings on vinyl, shellac, acetate, metal and glass — seemed to flip a switch in Haddix, and he couldn’t stop talking about the sound locked in the grooves of the preserved discs. 
“During World War II when aluminum was scarce, record discs were made of glass,” Haddix, the archives’ director, said. Aluminum, then later glass, formed the interior of records covered with cellulose nitrate, sometimes known as lacquer, which was grooved with the recording. 
Because glass discs were easily broken, the ones tucked carefully into acid-free jackets on the Marr archives’ shelves are rare. 
But in a few more years, this scene won’t exist. The thousands of discs — one of the largest archived collections of recorded sound in the country — are being relocated to the library’s third floor, where they will be housed in the university’s gargantuan, robotic storage unit.
Here's a short (6 minutes) documentary about the Marr Sound Archives, One Room, 317,000 Records, by Jordan Kerfeld.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Shirley Temple (1928-2014)

We note the passing of legendary actress Shirley Temple yesterday at age 85. Despite her countless starring roles in major motion pictures, she is today best-known as the inventor of the non-alcoholic cocktail. Nonetheless, she has a Raymond Scott connection—or two. The first she knew about. The second, probably not.

A young (age 9) Shirley tap-danced with Bill "Bojangles" Robinson to Raymond Scott's "Toy Trumpet" in the 1937 film Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. (YouTube clip here.) The scene was apparently captured in one continuous take. The Raymond Scott Quintette performed the tune, but do not appear on camera (though they do appear in costume in the above publicity still).

After their breakout radio and recording success in New York in 1937, Raymond and his band were signed to 20th Century-Fox and whisked off to Hollywood. They provided music for and sometimes appeared in a half-dozen or so films with such major stars as Carole Lombard, Fred Allen, Eddie Cantor, and Sonja Henie. Scott reportedly disliked the film industry, which he found shallow. About studio execs he once griped, "They think everything is wonderful." The costumes in the above photo were no doubt another reason for Scott to despise Tinseltown. "We are musicians," he groused, "not comedians."

The Marr Archives, which houses the Raymond Scott collection, includes a disc with an unfinished composition entitled "Shirley's Tune." It dates from the RSQ's Hollywood sojourn, but the unreleased work never made it into the film and its purpose remains a mystery. However, it was sampled by The Bran Flakes on the forthcoming remix album Raymond Scott Rewired, on the track "Shirley's Temple Bells," which you can hear on Soundcloud.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Alarm Will Sound/Dance Heginbotham: Twinned

John Heginbotham's dance work, Manhattan Research, featuring the music of Raymond Scott, premiered in August 2013 at Lincoln Center Out of Doors. Heginbotham returns to the Scott catalog with Twinned, a collaborative performance with music ensemble Alarm Will Sound, which debuts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on February 20, in New York. Heginbotham will use seven short Scott electronic works as transition music during the evening's program, which includes music by Aphex Twin, Tyondai Braxton, and Edgard Varèse.

This is a one-evening performance at the Met's Charles Engelhard Court. Tickets are available here.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Raymond Scott Rewired

UPDATE (Feb 6): Raymond Scott Rewired now has a website.

As a musician, composer, bandleader, and inventor, Raymond Scott was a perfectionist, but not a stylistic purist. His late-1930s six-man "Quintette" crafted novelty jazz that layered ethnic contours and pan-global riffs over a propulsive beat. In the 1940s Scott's antic melodies were adapted in Warner Bros. cartoons because WB music director Carl Stalling found the compositions genetically animated. Scott's mid-century orchestral works were danceable, except when they veered into complex, cerebral concert-jazz. In the 1950s and '60s Scott invented and recorded with electronic instruments. He was a genre-hopper, reflecting a musical restlessness and adventurousness. Scott loved what he did, but craved what came next.

As archivist for the Scott musical estate, I commissioned three remix artists to take apart Scott's catalog and reshape it in a fresh way. The Bran Flakes (Otis Fodder, Montreal), The Evolution Control Committee (TradeMark Gunderson, U.S.), and Go Home Productions (Mark Vidler, U.K.) were ftp'ed hundreds of Scott recordings in various genres, including unreleased material, spanning the 1930s to the 1980s. They were invited to have fun, but keep it rhythmic. Each contributed six audio montages with new titles, and they collaborated on Scott's signature tune, "Powerhouse."

The result is RAYMOND SCOTT REWIRED, produced for the Basta label. The album will be released in North America on February 18. Three tracks can be streamed on Soundcloud.

Over 250 sample sources were used in the construction of these 19 tracks. Those samples were edited, looped, flipped, and stretched; they were tweaked with EQ, pitch-shifted, compressed, and transformed. Disassembling one man's sonic legacy and reassembling the pieces into something different, something worth hearing repeatedly, requires an intuitive gift that approaches songwriting. Scott fans will recognize some passages, but in countless cases, the source recordings have been altered beyond recognition. The composer himself would have difficulty identifying his own works. The reconfigurations were done playfully, but respectfully. Nothing was destroyed. The originals still exist.

The cover art was adapted from an unfinished, untitled, black & white Jim Flora illustration from the 1950s.