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Musical Space: Raymond Scott


American musician Raymond Scott was one of the most important composers of the Twentieth Century because had a knack for constant innovation and writing music for emerging media. I can’t think of any other composer who was so ahead of his time while also being so recognizable.

In the 1930s the Raymond Scott Quintette played original novelty pop tunes that combined experimental textures, frenetic tempos and appropriated jazz riffs. He played regularly on radio and film; selling a lot of records in the process.

As it turns out, his fast-paced music was also perfect for cartoons; when he sold his catalog to Warner Brothers in 1943, composer Carl Stalling was able to insert Scott’s music into his Bugs Bunny scores. You’ve heard dozens of Scott’s tunes accompanying cartoons; his masterpiece “Powerhouse” has been quoted hundreds of times, not only by Warner Brothers, but also in The Simpsons, Animaniacs, and Ren and Stimpy.

Scott worked as a composer for CBS radio in the '40s, and in the '50s became a pioneer in the emerging field of television as music director of Your Hit Parade.

It is obvious, though, that he was more interested in experimentation than fame, putting most of his energy into a company that built the earliest commercially available electronic musical instruments.

Raymond Scott’s later work is some of the earliest purely electronic music for a commercial audience, further proof of his commitment to innovation.

Mark Foley is principal double bass of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra and professor of double bass and head of Jazz Studies at Wichita State University.