Thursday, July 30, 2009

Cartoon Jazz

You've heard Raymond Scott's music before even if you don't recognize his name. Some have called it "cartoon jazz," because its frantic energy and cheerful melodies made it a natural soundtrack for Warner Bros. Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons (as adapted by the brilliant Carl Stalling) and much later Ren & Stimpy and other modern animated shows.

Born in Brooklyn in 1908 to Russian-Jewish immigrants, Scott (born Harry Warnow) was a composer, band leader, pianist, engineer, inventor and recording studio innovator.

According to Wikipedia, Scott formed the "Raymond Scott Quintette" in 1936 with Pete Pumiglio (clarinet); Bunny Berigan (trumpet, soon replaced by Dave Wade); Louis Shoobe (upright bass); Dave Harris (tenor sax); and Johnny Williams (drums). 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" (recorded by the Kronos Quartet in 1993), and "Bumpy Weather Over Newark." While popular with the public, jazz critics disdained it as novelty music. Besides being a prominent figure in recording studios and on radio and concert stages, Scott wrote and was widely interviewed about his sometimes controversial music theories for the leading music publications of the day, including Down Beat, Metronome, and Billboard. (source: Wikipedia)

One of the best ways to enjoy Scott's cartoon jazz is to acquire Dinner Music for a Pack of Hungry Cannibals (reissued on CD by Basta Records), which his sideman Dave Harris recorded in 1958. Here, Harris and his band the Powerhouse Five recaptured the manic fun and rhythmic sophistication of a dozen Scott numbers.

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