Frequently Assumed Questions
Q. Who was Raymond Scott — in 50 words or less?
A: Scott was a composer, bandleader, arranger, engineer, orchestra conductor, electronic music pioneer, inventor, and philosopher-visionary. He’s sometimes referred to as “the man who made cartoons swing” because his melodies have been used in countless popular cartoons since the early 1940s.
Q: When and where was Scott born?
A: He was born September 10, 1908, in Brooklyn, New York. (Many historical citations incorrectly listed his birth year as 1909 or 1910.) But he wasn’t born “Raymond Scott”—he came into the world as Harry Warnow, son of Sara and Joseph Warnow. He graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School in 1927, and reportedly did not want to be a professional musician, preferring a career as an engineer. However, his older brother Mark Warnow, by then a professional violinist, allegedly persuaded Harry to go into music by buying him a Steinway Grand piano and paying his tuition to the Institute of Musical Art (Juilliard), from which Harry graduated in 1931.
Q: When did he become Raymond Scott?
A: Around 1934 Harry was playing piano in the CBS radio orchestra conducted by his brother Mark. The band started performing Harry’s novelty compositions, and he wanted to avoid the appearance of nepotism—the assumption that the band was playing his tunes because his older brother was in charge. Harry went looking for a new moniker and found one in the Manhattan phone directory: Raymond Scott. He thought the name “had good rhythm.”
Q: Is Raymond Scott still alive?
A: He passed away on February 8, 1994, at the age of 85, in Los Angeles. But his music is very much alive.
Q: Scott wrote all the music for Warner Bros. cartoons, right? I read that on the internet, so it must be true.
A: Except for a few commercial jingles in the 1960s, Scott never wrote a note of music for cartoons in his life, and he never worked for Warner Bros. However, about 20 Scott compositions have been featured in hundreds of cartoons, including Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies, Animaniacs, The Simpsons, The Ren & Stimpy Show, Batfink, Looney Tunes Back in Action, and others.
Q: If Scott didn’t compose for cartoons, how did his music get in the soundtracks?
A: It got there intentionally by accident — through licensing arrangements by the cartoon production companies. A lot of Scott’s early (1937-1940) compositions have an idiosyncratic, “animated” quality, as well as comic titles like “Dinner Music for a Pack of Hungry Cannibals,” “War Dance for Wooden Indians,” “Huckleberry Duck,” and “Reckless Night on Board an Ocean Liner.”
Q: What is the name of the ”assembly-line” (or ”conveyor-belt,” ”factory,”’ or ”robot”) music I’ve heard in so many cartoons?
A: That’s “Powerhouse,” and it was written for Scott’s six-man “Quintette” in 1936. It was first recorded in February 1937, and released on record the same year. This is the Scott work which has been most used in cartoons. Though many people don’t know the title, it contains two distinct sections which are immediately recognizable to every Earthling: Part “A” has a frantic, cat-chase-mouse feel:
While part “B” is the “assembly-line” riff:
“Powerhouse” was composed in ternary structure, a three-part form in which the “A” section is repeated after the conclusion of the “B” section. A video montage of “Powerhouse” (parts A and B) compiled from Warner Bros. cartoons can be found here.
Q: A “quintet” is a five-man band. Why did Scott’s contain six? Did Scott have a problem with math?
A: There are several reasons why Scott referred to his sextet as a quintet. For one, he said the word “quintet” had a “crisp” sound. He also thought the word “sextet” might prevent some people “from keeping their minds on the music.” It’s also possible he might not have counted himself as a member. Scott hired top-notch musicians, wrote and arranged the music, and was undeniably the leader. However, he didn’t consider himself a good pianist (he once said he wouldn’t hire himself to play in his own bands), and rarely took solos. Elsewhere, by the numbers, Scott’s “Secret 7” often had 10 or 12 members, he composed a “Second Prelude” but no “First …,” he wrote “In an 18th Century Drawing Room” in the 20th, and in 1940 recorded a tune called “Copyright 1950.”
Q: How did Warner Bros. manage to get so much Raymond Scott music in cartoons?
A: Raymond sold his publishing rights to Warner Bros. Music in 1943. His new publisher was Advanced Music, a division of Warner. It is unknown whether WB purchased Scott’s catalog intending to use his music in cartoons (although it is possible). Carl Stalling, WB music director, obviously liked Scott’s music, because he used so much of it in his cartoon scores. Perhaps Stalling had played a role in WB acquiring the Scott titles, but there’s no historical evidence either way. Stalling gave one interview during his life and didn’t mention Scott. Scott was interviewed about his music in cartoons only once, late in life (see Timeline), and offered no revelations. (Scott’s US publishing is no longer owned by WB, the renewal rights having been acquired in 1964 by Music Sales Corp.)
Q: Does all Raymond Scott music sound like a cartoon soundtrack?
A: No. In fact, only a small percentage of it. Scott composed dance music for big bands, “chamber jazz,” a classical work for piano and violin, a Broadway musical (Lute Song), incidental music for theater, film scores, radio themes, sponsor jingles, and hundreds of electronic works, including ambient music, commercial soundtracks, and wild experimental pieces.
Q: Are “Powerhouse” and other compositions by Scott in the public domain?
A: No. All Raymond Scott compositions are still under copyright protection. Under current copyright law, titles copyrighted before 1978 are protected for a period of 95 years from the date of first copyright. “Powerhouse” dates from 1937, and will not enter the public domain until 2033. Scott’s earliest copyrighted title (“You’re My Lucky Charm”) dates from 1933, and many of his electronic recordings from the 1950s through the early-’80s were copyrighted after his death in 1994.
Q: Are there a lot of existing Scott recordings?
A: An enormous amount, from the early 1930s to the late 1980s. Scott was one of the few musicians whose career spanned the 1930s Big Band vogue to the Age of Electronics, and who was productive and inventive in both periods. Scott recorded everything — band rehearsals, demos, radio shows, sound experiments, alternate takes, and more — on whatever format was available at the time: 78 rpm disc, acetate, glass-based disc, wire, magnetic open-reel recording tape, cassette, and computers. He amassed a personal collection of over 2,700 discs and 500 tapes.
Q: Where are these recordings?
A: Scott’s personal collection of recordings, documents, correspondence, photos, sheet music, and ephemera was donated to the University of Missouri at Kansas City (UMKC) in 1994. The audio artifacts are housed in the Marr Sound Archive, and the documents and ephemera are stored in the UMKC library’s Special Collections division. Cataloging the collection has been an ongoing project, and there are finding aids online. Though UMKC owns the physical collection, the Scott family retains commercial rights to all the material, access to which is available to researchers with permission from the family.
Q: You said Scott was an inventor. What did he invent?
A: Quite a few electronic sound-generators and musical instruments, as well as engineering devices, toys, electronic jewelry, and a primitive fax machine. Scott was granted numerous US patents in the 1950s and ’60s. (See Timeline for details.) As his career advanced, he came to increasingly avoid public performances, preferring to spend long hours in his home laboratory crafting his inventions. He worked less and less with live musicians, and more and more with music machines and the engineers who helped him develop them.
Q: Is it true that Scott worked with Bob Moog, the inventor of Moog Synthesizers? I read that on the internet, so it probably isn’t true.
A: Although Bob Moog was over 25 years younger than Scott, they were professional colleagues and good friends for nearly two decades. Moog acknowledged Scott as an early influence during the 1950s and ’60s, and they shared ideas (and sometimes hardware) in the development of their respective electronic devices. In fact, Moog was present when Raymond got married to Mitzi Curtis in 1967. Here’s an interview we did with Moog in 1993.
Q: Did Raymond work with Muppets creator Jim Henson? My friend said he read that on the internet, but I don’t know who to believe anymore.
A: A pre-Muppets Jim Henson and Raymond Scott met in the mid-1960s and collaborated on several projects, including experimental films (“Wheels That Go,” “Ripples,” and “Limbo—The Organized Mind”), an industrial film for IBM (“The Paperwork Explosion”), and a TV commercial for Bufferin pain reliever (“Memories”). The films can be viewed here. The soundtracks for these Scott-Henson collaborations can be heard on the 2-CD set Manhattan Research Inc.
Q: Did Raymond Scott work for Motown?
A: Yes. During the 1950s and ’60s, Scott was developing his Electronium, an instantaneous composition-performance machine, which attracted the notice of Motown founder-owner, Berry Gordy, who visited Scott at his Long Island home in 1969. In September 1970, Gordy placed an order for an Electronium, which he hoped would serve as an “idea generator” for Motown artists and producers. After a six-month working residency at Motown’s Los Angeles headquarters, in 1972 Scott was named the label’s Director of Electronic Research and Development. He worked for Gordy for five years. After a serious heart attack in 1977, Scott retired from Motown at age 69. Motown’s Guy Costa was interviewed in 1996 about Scott’s tenure at the label. (We have attempted to interview Berry Gordy, but could not get beyond his administrative firewall.)
Q: Has anyone recorded and performed covers of Scott’s compositions?
A: During his peak (pre-electronic) composing years (1937-1958), his compositions were covered by hundreds, perhaps thousands of bands and solo artists worldwide. Since his passing in 1994, his works have been covered and/or performed by Kronos Quartet, Don Byron, the Beau Hunks, the Metropole Orkest, Quartet San Francisco, the Raymond Scott Orchestrette, the Stu Brown Sextet, Jenny Lin, Benoit Charest, Ego Plum, Jon Rauhouse, the Neuen Elbland Philharmonie, Vince Giordano & the Nighthawks, Racalmuto, Relâche, the Soldier String Quartet, Jean-Jacques Perrey, the Tiptons (Amy Denio), the West Point Band’s Quintette 7, and many others. In addition, Scott’s works are regularly performed by concert bands and regional symphony orchestras worldwide. Do a YouTube search of “Raymond Scott” and you’ll find lots of performances of his works. A gallery of contemporary artists who have covered Scott is here.
Q: Has anyone sampled Scott’s work?
A: Here’s a few from the past 20 years: Gorillaz, Soul Coughing, Devo, Rush, Gotye, J Dilla, Fatboy Slim, Madlib, Lizzo, T-Bone Burnett, Talib Kweli & Q Tip, El-P, Luke Vibert, the Kleptones, LeLe, Professor Elemental, Danny Brown, and others. An entire album, Raymond Scott Rewired (2013), consists of nothing but 50 years of Scott recordings sampled and mashed-up by the Bran Flakes, Evolution Control Committee, and Go Home Productions.
Q: Other than his cartoon tunes, did Scott write any other well-known songs?
A: Aside from “Powerhouse,” Scott’s best-known tunes are “The Toy Trumpet,” “Mountain High, Valley Low,” and “Christmas Night in Harlem.” Each of these has been covered countless times by artists well-known (e.g., Tommy Dorsey, Arthur Fiedler, Eartha Kitt, Paul Whiteman, Mary Martin), and not-so-well-known. “Christmas Night in Harlem” was a huge hit for Louis Armstrong in 1955, and remains a perennial favorite. And it would surprise Scott to know that his electronic work “Portofino,” a tune he recorded in 1962 but didn’t release commercially during his lifetime, has posthumously become one of his recordings most frequently licensed for TV, film, commercials, and videos.
A: We have a collection of vintage and contemporary arrangements of Scott’s works. These charts are not commercially available, but we provide them in pdf form at no charge to interested musicians, conductors, bandleaders, and academic groups. We have arrangements for piano, sextet, and/or small orchestra (12-15 parts), as well as several larger arrangements, some unusual instrumental settings, and some basic lead sheets. They can be downloaded here.
Q: Has Raymond Scott’s music been used recently in any films or TV shows other than cartoons?
A: Films: Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Starsky & Hutch, Best of Enemies, Howard the Duck, RocknRolla, Lulu on the Bridge, some others we’re forgetting. His music has been heard on the TV shows 30 Rock, the Drew Carey Show, America’s Funniest Home Videos, the Bernie Mac Show, Saturday Night Live, All Creatures Great and Small, L.A. Law, and quite a few BBC shows. More recently, Scott recordings have been heard in the TV shows Narcos, Lovecraft Country, Watchmen, Hollywood, and Strange Angel, and the films Won’t You Be My Neighbor, The Space Between Us, and the documentary Shangri-La. An updated list can be viewed here.
A: Someone did—his son, Stan Warnow. The independent documentary, Deconstructing Dad, a personal look at Scott’s career, was released in 2010. It is available on DVD here.
Q. If Scott is deceased, who owns the rights to his music?
A: Scott left four heirs—his children—who inherited the rights from Scott’s widow, Mitzi, when she passed away in 2012. The heirs established Reckless Night Music LLC to lawfully administer the rights. Some publishing and master rights are owned by other companies, but most of the rights are retained by RNM LLC, which also owns and maintains RaymondScott.net.