Its musical excitement and transcendence aside, to fully understand the cultural value of a project like Raymond Scott Reimagined, you need to know what the legendary composer and bandleader contributed to the American musical canon decades ago – and why it’s so important that his legacy has been restored and made available to current and future generations.
In in his late 30’s heyday, the Raymond Scott Quintet (oddly named because it was a six-piece) attempted to revitalize swing via tight, busy arrangements that de-emphasized improvisation. Yet for those who grew up on Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Daffy Duck and other Warner Bros. Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies, Scott is far more lionized for the tons of music he composed that Carl Stalling adapted for over 120 animated cartoons. In modern times, the Scott catalog has been part of the soundtrack to everything from The Ren and Stimpy Show to The Simpsons. In the 70’s, Scott, inventor of a revolutionary electronic keyboard device known as the Electronium, served as director of Motown’s electronic music and research department in L.A.
Perhaps the saddest aspect of Scott’s vast Wikipedia page is, “Largely forgotten by the public by the 1980s, he suffered a stroke. . .his recordings were largely out of print, his electronic instruments were largely out of print. . .and his royalty stream had slowed to a trickle.” Fortunately, in the early 90s, there was a bit of a renaissance of interest in his music after music historian and record producer Irwin Chusid cultivated, produced and released the compilation Reckless Nights and Turkish Twilights on Columbia Records. This and other media projects spearheaded a movement that resulted in numerous releases over the next few decades.
The origins of Raymond Scott Reimagined trace back to 30 years ago, when Jeremy Cohen, Grammy nominated violinist and founder of classical crossover greats Quartet San Francisco, heard Reckless Nights… Blown away by what he heard – and having been a longtime fan of the Scott cartoon adaptations – he reflects, “The lantern was lit for a longstanding quest. Scott’s music found its way into arrangements for my group. We found boundless passion and energy for bringing his music to our audiences.”
In modernizing Scott’s compositions for the labor of love that would evolve into Raymond Scott Reimagined, Cohen’s obvious choice of collaborator was four-time Grammy winning composer, arranger and bandleader Gordon Goodwin, who as a composer for Warner Bros. animation had previously taken a deep dive into Scott’s genius.
In addition to bringing in the class, grace, empowering fire and majestic fury of Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band ensemble into the mix on six of the tracks, Cohen and Goodwin brought in another Grammy winning element, gospel/R&B a capella greats Take 6, to bring a deeper, soulful humanity – to a hypnotic, whimsy-filled pop/classical spin through “In an 18th Century Drawing Room” and the dreamy, romantic closing track meditation “Serenade.”
Pairing their exuberant jazz sensibilities with Quartet San Francisco’s lively pop-classical magic, The Phat Band’s greatest Goodwin arranged triumphs on the collection are the bustling, lightning quick romp through the opening cut “Powerhouse” (you can almost see the Looney Tunes characters running amok as you listen); their infusion of sparkling and chipper quirkiness into the relentlessly joyful “Toy Trumpet” (featuring the wild, old timey horn soloing of Wayne Bergeron); and the spirited, bouncy strutting of the likewise culture and time-transporting “Twilight in Turkey.”
Beyond his trademark swinging brass arrangements, another important Goodwin contribution to Raymond Scott Reimagined is the snappy, uber-jazzy and rambunctious “Cutey and the Dragon,” which Goodwin developed from an unfinished lead sheet that Scott had been working on with, and for, his granddaughter Katy. Considering it a work in progress, Goodwin created a monster piece out of it – and in so doing, fashioned the true heart and soul of the collection.
Those boom-boom big band excursions are nicely balanced by several smaller ensemble arrangements, most notably the string quartet and saxophone quintet vibe of the nostalgic, starry-eyed dance “Yesterday’s Ice Cubes” (which truly sounds like a remastered 30’s track) and the string quartet with two pianos (both played by Goodwin himself!) on the loping, fanciful and mischievous (not to mention unbelievable infectious) “Huckleberry Duck.”
Helping bring context to the music on Raymond Scott Reimagined – and as a way to experience a through line to its rich history and Scott’s life and career – Cohen, Goodwin and the album’s other contributing creators include three interstitials of Raymond commenting on key creative issues, along with spoken words from audio historian Art Shifrin and legendary film composer John Williams, excerpted from the documentary film Deconstructing Dad (directed by Raymond Scott’s son Stan Warnow). John’s brother Don Williams plays timpani on “Twilight in Turkey,” creating a fascinating historical through line from the time their dad Johnny Williams served as the drummer for the Raymond Scott Quintette.
In one of those spoken word segments, with charming new accompaniment, we hear Scott sharing his love of the creative process, saying he would rather compose originals instead of always playing standards. He adds, “I think it’s possible to play brand new music and to write it so marvelously, that even though it’s the first time you hear it, you like it anyway.” If this is the first time you’re hearing Raymond Scott outside childhood memories of Bugs Bunny and friends, you can judge for yourself if he was successful!