Who Was Raymond Scott?

Raymond Scott (1908 - 1994) was an American composer, pianist, electronic music pioneer, and electronic instrument inventor. His career spanned most of the 20th century and he was one of the earliest pioneers who laid the groundwork for electronic music as we know it today.

By The Raymond Scott Archives

"Hands-down my favorite composer and a brilliant engineer whose homebrew, pre-digital sampling and sequencing techniques were 60 years ahead of their time."
— Cory Doctorow, BoingBoing, 2017

Below: a Short Video Intro to Raymond Scott

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Raymond Scott Video Introduction, From the collection of: The Raymond Scott Archives
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Early Years c. 1910—c. 1935

Raymond Scott at the Keyboard, Paul Gordon, 1934, From the collection of: The Raymond Scott Archives
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Raymond Scott was born Harry Warnow in Brooklyn, New York, where his father, Joseph, had a music shop. At five years old, Harry became fascinated by the shop's Pianola (player piano), stretching his small hands over the keys, eventually learning to keep pace with its mechanical, rhythmic perfection. The Pianola was Harry’s first music teacher.

Harry also liked to play with the audio equipment in the shop, and by age 12, in the bedroom he shared with his brother, Mark, Harry had assembled his first audio lab. He committed mischief with his microphones, swinging mics from the third-floor window to record random conversations of passersby, or his neighbor's embarrassing piano practice.

Harry’s plans to become an engineer were upended by his older brother, by then a prominent CBS radio bandleader. Mark recognized Harry’s musical talent and paid for his tuition at New York’s Institute of Musical Art (now Juilliard). By 1931, Harry had his degree, and Mark hired him as a staff pianist at CBS. In 1934, concerned about the appearance of nepotism, Harry Warnow changed his name to Raymond Scott.

The Raymond Scott Quintette

Raymond Scott Quintette, From the collection of: The Raymond Scott Archives
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 In 1936 Scott created the Raymond Scott Quintette, which was a literal overnight success due to Scott’s “descriptive jazz” compositions that infused swing music with tempo changes and quirky syncopated rhythms. Many of the Quintette titles were painstakingly crafted for the record-buying public, and later featured in Warner Bros. Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons, re-recorded by the WB orchestra. Scott has been called "The man who made cartoons swing."

A track such as ‘Powerhouse’ is full of quirky changes of speed and texture, which had jazz critics calling him a screwball, but had audiences gripped. That’s why Warner Bros. bought the rights to Scott’s music: its rapid-fire splicing from one mood to another matched the frenetic editing of Looney Tunes. — Tom Service, “Electric Dreams,” The Guardian (April 2009)

Composer and Bandleader Who Was His Own Audio Engineer—He Even Wrote a Song Entitled "Love Song to A Microphone."

Raymond Scott at Work Soldering in this 1938 Publicity Photo, 1938, From the collection of: The Raymond Scott Archives
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Even with his musical success, Scott's first love was still engineering, and audio engineering in particular. He mastered all aspects of sound capture and manipulation in his own recording studio. His special interest in the technical aspects of recording, combined with the state-of-the-art facilities at his disposal, provided him with enormous hands-on experience as an engineer. Using those hands to solder was as natural to him as using them to play the piano. 

The Raymond Scott CBS Big Band

The Raymond Scott CBS Big Band

The groundbreaking 1942 CBS Big Band was the first multiracial radio orchestra, featuring jazz greats like Ben Webster, Cozy Cole, and Charlie Shavers. They could swing hard, while navigating Scott's complex passages. But unlike the Quintette, they also played improvised jazz. 

Raymond Scott CBS Big Band by Photographer UnknownThe Raymond Scott Archives

Credits: Story

The Raymond Scott Archives channel — created & curated by Stan Warnow, Deborah Scott Studebaker, and Jeff Winner.

Additional content from Corey Goldberg, Irwin Chusid, and Henry Studebaker.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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