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.

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