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Raymond Scott and “The Toy Trumpet”

Raymond Scott (September 10, 1908 – February 8, 1994) was an American composer, band leader, pianist, engineer, recording studio maverick, and electronic instrument inventor, who was born Harry Warnow in Brooklyn, New York to Russian Jewish immigrants, Joseph and Sarah Warnow. His older (by eight years) brother, Mark Warnow, a conductor, violinist, and musical director for the CBS radio program Your Hit Parade, encouraged his musical career. A 1931 graduate of the Juilliard School of Music, where he studied piano, theory and composition, Scott, under his birth name, began his professional career as a pianist for the CBS Radio house band conducted by his older brother Mark. Harry reportedly adopted the pseudonym “Raymond Scott” to spare his brother charges of nepotism when the orchestra began performing the pianist’s idiosyncratic compositions. In 1935 Scott married Pearl Zimney (1910–2001).

In late 1936, Scott recruited a band from among his CBS colleagues, calling it the “Raymond Scott Quintette.” They made their first recordings in New York on February 20, 1937, for the Master Records label, owned by music publisher/impresario Irving Mills (who was also Duke Ellington’s manager). The Quintette represented Scott’s attempt to revitalize Swing music through tight, busy arrangements and reduced reliance on improvisation. He called this musical style “descriptive jazz,” and gave his works unusual titles like “New Year’s Eve in a Haunted House,” “Dinner Music for a Pack of Hungry Cannibals,” and “Bumpy Weather Over Newark.” The Quintette existed from 1937 to 1939, and racked up numerous big-selling discs, including “Twilight in Turkey,” “Minuet in Jazz,” “War Dance for Wooden Indians,” “Reckless Night on Board an Ocean Liner,” “Powerhouse,” and “The Penguin.” One of Scott’s best-known compositions is “The Toy Trumpet,” a cheerful pop confection that is instantly recognizable to many people who cannot name the title or composer. In the 1938 film Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Shirley Temple sings a version of the song with lyrics. Another oft-recorded Scott classic, “In An Eighteenth-Century Drawing Room,” is a pop adaptation of the opening theme from Mozart’s Piano Sonata in C, K. 545.

In 1939 Scott, seeking greater challenges during the swing era, folded his Quintette into a big band, including bass player Chubby Jackson. They were both a recording and touring success. When Scott was appointed music director of CBS radio in 1942, he made history by breaking the color barrier, organizing the first racially integrated radio band. In 1943 Scott sold his music publishing to Warner Bros., who allowed Carl Stalling, music director for Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies, to adapt anything in the Warner music catalog. Stalling immediately began peppering his cartoon scores in Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies with Scott quotes, such as in The Great Piggy Bank Robbery. After serving as CBS radio music director for a number of variety programs from 1942 to 1944, Scott left the network to pursue other projects. He composed and arranged music (with lyrics by Bernie Hanighen) for the 1946 Broadway musical Lute Song, starring Mary Martin and Yul Brynner. In the late 1940s, Scott began recording pop songs using the layered multi-tracked vocals of his second wife, singer Dorothy Collins (1926–1994). A number of these were commercially released.

In 1948, Scott formed a new “quintet,” which served for several months as house band for the CBS radio program, Herb Shriner Time. When his brother Mark died in 1949, Scott succeeded him as orchestra leader on the popular CBS Radio show Your Hit Parade. The following year, the show moved to NBC Television, and Scott continued to lead the orchestra until 1957. In 1950 Scott composed his first—and only known—”serious” (classical) work, entitled Suite for Violin and Piano. The five-movement suite was performed at Carnegie Hall on February 7, 1950, by violinist Arnold Eidus and pianist Carlo Bussotti, who subsequently recorded the work. In 1958, while serving as an A&R director for Everest Records, Scott produced singer Gloria Lynne’s album Miss Gloria Lynne.

In 1959, Scott organized a band of top-tier jazz session musicians and recorded an album entitled The Unexpected, credited to The Secret Seven, and released on the Top Rank label. Scott and Dorothy Collins divorced in 1964, and in 1967, he married Mitzi Curtis (1918–2012). In 1966-67, Scott (under the screen credit “Ramond Scott”) composed and recorded electronic music soundtracks for some early experimental films by Muppets impresario Jim Henson. In 1969, Motown Records impresario Berry Gordy visited Scott at his Long Island labs and hired him in 1971 to serve as director of Motown’s electronic music and research department in Los Angeles, a position Scott held until 1977. Largely forgotten by the public by the 1980s, Scott suffered a major stroke in 1987 that left him unable to work or engage in conversation, and he died on February 8, 1994, at the age of 85 in North Hills, Los Angeles, CA.

Although Scott never scored cartoon soundtracks, his music is familiar to millions because of its adaptation by Carl Stalling in over 120 classic Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Daffy Duck and other Warner Bros. Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies animated shorts. The only music Scott actually composed to accompany animation were three 20-second electronic commercial jingles for County Fair Bread in 1962. My collection contains one work by Scott:

The Toy Trumpet.


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