Sunday, July 27, 2008

Stu Brown's Raymond Scott Project

Stu Brown's Raymond Scott Project is on the bill at the Edinburgh Jazz Festival Thursday evening (31 JULY), at the Jazz Centre, Grassmarket. Besides the classic Scott Quintette repertoire, Stu promises some new material, including his arrangement of "The Toy Typewriter" (from Soothing Sounds for Baby), performed with toy typewriter and digital effects unit. The work also features elements from the "Ripples" work tape (from Manhattan Research Inc.). Stu will also appear on Radio Scotland's Radio Cafe to talk about the RS project on Tuesday 29 JULY. You can listen online.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Scott wrote ...

Here's an index of Scott compositions in the online ASCAP database. This is not a complete list of titles. The eminently hummable "IBM MT/ST: The Paperwork Explosion" is omitted, but the unforgettable, hook-filled "Look for the Hotpoint Difference"—go ahead, whistle that melody!—is included. Go figger. The database includes publisher info and a half-hearted survey of recording artists for each title. "Half-hearted"? We've collected recordings of 59 different artists covering "Powerhouse." The ASCAP database lists nine—and these include "Bass S," "Byron D," "Don Byron," "Sid Bass," "Raymond Scott," "Scott,"and "Scott R." It's an imperfect system. They are working on the problem. Please stay on the line. Your call is very important to us.

Monday, July 21, 2008


On March 12, a compulsively dedicated and immensely talented Raymond Scott devotee named Adam O'Callaghan directed and performed in a monumental cross-genre Scott centenary concert at Concordia University, Montreal. O'Callaghan recruited 50 or so acoustic and electronic musicians — students and professionals — in various ensemble settings.

The program offered repertoire from Scott's 1937-39 cartoon-jazz and 1948-49 chamber-jazz Quintets; orchestral works; the composer's elegant but rarely heard 1950 Suite for Violin & Piano; tunes from the idiosyncratic 1960 Secret Seven album; and pioneering proto-electronica from Manhattan Research Inc. and Soothing Sounds for Baby. The proceedings included re-enactments of Scott's 1950s electronic TV commercials and a rhapsodic replica of a Space Age Scott invention, The Fascination Machine. The concert was a mind-boggler, never likely to be duplicated. Dozens of performance videos from the concert are on YouTube. One performance (just posted) was particularly stunning and unexpected — a surprise collaborator accompanying the trio Unireverse on Scott's electronic lullaby, "Sleepytime" (from Soothing Sounds). The guest arrives onstage three minutes into the performance.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Mrs. Raymond Scott at 90

Mitzi Scott belongs to a generation among whom it is considered improper to give a woman's age. However, we've been advised by her family that she won't mind us revealing that she turns 90 today. What we won't divulge is her birth name. Just call her "Mitzi."

Mitzi and Raymond met in July 1966—he was recently divorced from his second wife, Dorothy Collins—and they were married six months later. That Raymond was an idiosyncratic man obsessed with music and technology was a fact of their marriage. They lived together at Three Willow Park, a Long Island industrial development which Raymond was comfortable calling home.

"He would come into the living quarters for lunch, and I would put his lunch on the table and go back to the kitchen to get my lunch," Mitzi recalled. "By the time I returned to the table, he was gone. He was back in the lab.

"If he awoke at four in the morning and had a great idea, he would get up. Then he might work until 7:00 or 8:00 or 9:00 in the morning, and then go back to bed. One night I woke up—it was around three or four in the morning--and he was hanging over the side of the bed reading some notes, with the lamp on the floor so he wouldn’t wake me up."

Not content merely having Mitzi prepare lunch, Raymond recruited her for projects. "Even before we got married, he had me wiring," she laughed. "He taught me soldering, and to attach the red wire to the blue wire, and the yellow wire to the green wire. I didn’t like doing it—but I got pretty good at it."

Of course living with Scott meant music was part of the package—although it might not be Mozart or Chopin.

"We would be having lunch, with the Electronium on in the next room," she recalled. "He would just leave it on—it was a self-working machine. It composed and performed at the same time. Sometimes it would play something lovely, and I would say, 'Oh my, isn’t that a pretty phrase!' And it would repeat it as though it had heard me and said, 'Well, if you like it that much, I’ll play it again!' It was so out of this world."

When Raymond was hired by Berry Gordy to work for Motown in 1972, Mitzi oversaw the move to Los Angeles. They settled in Van Nuys, remaining in the same home on Valerio Street until Raymond's death in 1994. Two years later she sold the house and moved to Santa Clarita.

Besides living with and taking care of an eccentric musical genius, over the years Mitzi also took in dozens of stray dogs and cats, many rescued from local shelters.

Mitzi was a dancer in the 1940s. Here's a publicity photo from back in the day. She still dances—not professionally, but with a group of spry senior gals.

Thanks to Bianca Bob for 1993 living room photo above.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

The Sleepwalker

In 1991 I was passing around cassettes of Raymond Scott 78 rpm transfers, trying to get anyone who would listen interested in the man's music. At the time, Scott was just another entrant in the "Where Are They Now?" sweepstakes. His recordings were out of print; he was obscure, a music history footnote.
Journalist/historian Will Friedwald got the message and collaborated with me on the first CD release of Scott recordings, The Man Who Made Cartoons Swing—Powerhouse: Volume 1 (Stash Records).

A few months later, I received an unsolicited call from a character named Wayne Barker. After gushing eloquently about his discovery of Scott's music via the CD, Barker put the phone down and played a note-perfect rendition of Scott's "The Sleepwalker." He had learned the tune by ear from the CD—he had no sheet music to work with.

Wayne and I became great pals. In 1999 he helped establish the Raymond Scott Orchestrette, an adventurous repertory septet devoted to re-inventing Scott's compositions. Barker served as the group's co-director, co-arranger and pianist.

In 2007, classical pianist Jenny Lin approached me about hiring an arranger for her projected recording of"Sleepwalker." There was one obvious choice.

Lin's recording of Barker's new arrangement is now available on a just-released CD, InsomniMania. The album's program consists of works with a nocturnal mood: dreams and nightmares; sleeplessness; lullabies. Her press kit observes that "some of the works on this recording were even written during that illusive phase somewhere between consciousness and sleep, which some claim to be an extremely creative period." Scott's is the earliest work in the program. A CD release recital is scheduled for July 10 at Le Poisson Rouge on Bleecker Street.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Videos from the Concordia RS gala

Here's a slew of video clips from Adam O'Callaghan's March 2008 Raymond Scott centenary concert in Montreal. Titles performed include "Dinner Music for a Pack of Hungry Cannibals," the rare "Tenor Man's Headache," "Square Dance for Eight Egyptian Mummies," the electronic "Lullabye" from Soothing Sounds for Baby, "Twilight in Turkey," "War Dance for Wooden Indians" (which includes a fabulous tap dance sequence), and a few Secret Seven numbers. A spinoff of the concert, the Concordia Raymond Scott Quintette, performs at the Montreal Jazz Festival on Saturday, July 5.

  Update (21 JULY): Here's a gazillion photos from the CRSQ @ Jazzfest.