“Naked City” Music of Raymond Scott

“Naked City”

Composed and arranged by Raymond Scott in 1953. Transcribed by Menno Daams.

Recorded by The Metropole Orchestra, conducted by Jan Stulen, on June 18-22, 2001 in Hilversum, Netherlands.

Jan Stulen, directing:Jan Oosthof, Jan Hollander, Henk Heijink, Ruud Breuls, trumpets; Bart van Lier, Jan Elsink, Jeroen Rol, Martin de Kam, trombones; Leo van Oostrom, Marc Scholten, Leo Janssen, Jos Beeren and Max Boeree, saxophones/clarinets; Hans Vroomans, piano; Johan Plomp, bass; Ton van Bergeijk, guitar; Frits Landesbergen, drums; violectra (electric violin) Davide Rossi.

The story: Raymond Scott (real name Harry Warnow, 1908-1994), was an interesting fellow. He was a very talented, if eccentric, musician. He was a pioneering inventor of electronic devices that had musical applications. The Wikipedia biography of Scott is very good. It follows closely the notes written by Irwin Chusid, the top expert on everything Raymond Scott, for the wonderful promotional three CD set entitled: Raymond Scott…The First Hundred Years, 1908-2008,” that I was fortunate to obtain somehow several years ago. Here is a link to that biography:   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raymond_Scott

Raymond Scott’s older brother, Mark Warnow (1900-1949), was also a talented and successful musician, and he undoubtedly provided much guidance to his younger brother in matters musical. Mark Warnow, who became a conductor at CBS Radio around 1930, secured a position as staff pianist at CBS for Harry in 1931, after Harry (who soon changed his name to establish a professional identity apart from his brother’s) graduated from New York’s Institute of Musical Art (later Juilliard School of Music). Network radio was burgeoning in the early 1930s. CBS, especially, was a great place for young and talented performers to work.

Raymond Scott at CBS-1938.

CBS announcer/MC Del Sharbutt recalled his first days at CBS: “I first met Bunny (Berigan and the other members of the CBS ‘morning band’) in 1934, while working with the morning band and what a wild bunch of musicians those guys were!  They had about 12 men and the afternoon band had about 30 and these would amalgamate and add more strings and woodwinds to form the symphony orchestra. (At that time, almost all music on radio was performed live, by human musicians.) The staff conductors included Mark Warnow, Fred Rich, Leith Stevens and Walter Gross (who later composed the lovely waltz ‘Tenderly’). The main CBS building was 485 Madison Avenue (at 50th Street), which had one big studio on the second floor housing shows like the Saturday Night Swing Club, and four smaller studios used for smaller musical and chat shows. CBS also took over one or two Broadway theaters that were dark owing to the Depression, and refurbished them for shows with live audiences, like the Chevrolet show that featured Isham Jones. That was the first show of its kind, I believe, and I got the job of MC on it because I wasn’t afraid to go out front and talk to the audience.”  (Note: The flagship CBS network station in New York then was WABC.)

Orson Welles at CBS -1938.

CBS in the mid-1930s was a haven for some of the most creative people on the music, entertainment and broadcasting scene at that time. The musical fare at CBS then was so widely varied that it boggles the mind, especially when compared with the generally homogeneous and unimaginative offerings often found on radio today. At CBS, one could within one broadcast day, run the gamut from outright concert music (The Ford Sunday Evening Hour), to the light classics, with André Kostelanetz, to Kate Smith, to Raymond Scott, to The Saturday Night Swing Club (which had a great deal to do with establishing jazz as a part of the American cultural landscape). In addition, there was a wide variety of what are now called “scripted shows,” from soap operas to dramas to comedies. The Mercury Theater of the Air, under the wildly unconventional leadership of the prodigious twenty-three year old Orson Welles, was allowed to appear and thrive on CBS radio. The music for Welles’s radio dramas was provided by CBS staffer Bernard Herrmann, who followed Welles to Hollywood, and composed the music for Welles’s classic film Citizen Kane. Herrmann later went on to a now legendary collaboration with film director Alfred Hitchcock, composing the music for such memorable films as Vertigo, North by Northwest, The Birds, and Psycho.[i] The mid-1930s also marked the beginnings of the renowned news division at CBS, which ultimately produced the first superstar news person: Edward R. Murrow.[ii] By 1938, CBS was broadcasting, via live relay from WGAR in Cleveland on Sunday afternoons, the first network radio program that was dedicated to Afro-Americans: Wings over Jordan. It came to be recognized as the first radio program of the American civil rights movement. CBS was not the largest radio network in America (NBC was), but it could certainly claim to be the most creative and inclusive. Raymond Scott was very much a part of the coterie of creative people at CBS in the 1930s.

The Raymond Scott Quintette L-R: Pete Pumiglio; Dave Wade; Lou Shoobe; Scott; Johnny Williams; Dave Harris.

Irwin Chusid, in his notes for the CD set “The Raymond Scott Quintet…Microphone Music” (2002), Basta 30-9109-2, provided the facts surrounding the creation of the band and music which started Raymond Scott’s ascent to fame: “Raymond Scott was a pianist and budding composer for the CBS radio network house band based in New York City, beginning in the early 1930s. Under the baton of his older brother, Mark Warnow, Scott and his colleagues performed (live) on and in-between various music, comedy and news programs. It was from this talent pool that he recruited his six-man ‘quintet’ (which he originally spelled ‘Quintette’). The first line-up, organized in late 1936, consisted of Scott on piano, Dave Wade on trumpet, clarinetist Pete Pumiglio, Dave Harris (whom Scott playfully introduced to journalists as the oddly re-monikered ‘Eric Hoex’) on tenor sax, bassist Lou Shoobe, and Johnny Williams (father of esteemed film composer John Williams), on drums. Another CBS cohort, Bunny Berigan, the legendary trumpet soloist…was Scott’s first choice on that instrument. However, Berigan quit faster than a rimshot because he felt Scott over-rehearsed the band, which Bunny found a waste of his time. (CBS staff) trombonist Jerry Colonna (who also warmed-up audiences with his comedy shtick), vocalized with the RSQ on some radio dates, but was not considered a member.”

Pee Wee Erwin practices quacking using his trumpet mouthpiece with the Raymond Scott Quintette – 1939.

The Raymond Scott Quintette recorded rather prolifically in the late 1930s. Its first 78 rpm disk, made on February 20, 1937, for impresario (and Duke Ellington manager) Irving Mills’s Master label, included “Twilight in Turkey,” backed by “Minuet in Jazz.” Record buyers (and, inexplicably, children) became in succession bewildered, enchanted, then addicted to Scott’s music. More records followed (on the Columbia label), with descriptive titles like “Powerhouse,” “The Penguin,” “Reckless Night on Board an Ocean Liner,” “Celebration on the Planet Mars,” “The Girl With the Light Blue Hair,” “Sleepwalker,” and “Dinner Music for a Pack of Hungry Cannibals,” (which the RSQ members, out of Scott’s hearing, referred to among themselves as “Dinner Music that Requires a Pack of Cannabis”).

Scott’s modus operandi was to “compose” his music on piano with his musicians present, and then, after rigorous rehearsal, once all of the parts were set and memorized by everyone, play it that way forever after. Drummer Johnny Williams later recalled: “We really didn’t want to do any of it. But there we were, doing what he called descriptive jazz. We thought it was descriptive all right, but not jazz because jazz is right now, not memorized note for note. After all this compulsive rehearsal, suddenly it all caught on and we were making more money than anybody else in town, all thanks to him. We were doing records, public appearances, making movies, everything.”[iii]

One important aspect of Scott’s music that must be noted is that in 1943, he licensed his compositions to Warner Brothers, where music director Carl Stalling and his successor Milt Franklyn adapted them for use as a vital part of the cartoon entertainment packages known as Merrie Melodies and Loony Tunes. Consequently, those cartoons, which became ubiquitous during the early television era, helped shape the musical sensibilities of generations of American children.

The cover of the CD entitled “Kodachrome,” compositions for Orchestra by Raymond Scott.

The music: Scott had considerable success working with a big band starting in late 1939, and for a few years after, both on CBS and on tour. “Naked City” is music for a big band. Scott composed and arranged it in 1953. This composition is not to be confused with the theme music for the ABC network television series called The Naked City (later just “Naked City”), which ran from 1958 to 1963. (The theme music for that series was originally composed by George Duning, then was replaced by music composed by Billy May, finally replaced by music composed by Nelson Riddle. All three started their careers writing arrangements for big bands during the swing era.) Scott recorded his “Naked City” in 1956 using a band of New York studio musicians. That recording, though very good, received only small circulation. But it has long been an underground favorite. I have posted a link to the Scott recording below so that you can have a basis for comparison with the later recording by The Metropole Orchestra presented above.

The recording of “Naked City” featured here is a brilliant recreation of the Scott original, in sparkling sound, made by Jan Stulen, conducting the Metropole Orchestra. The Metropole Orchestra is a multiple Grammy winning jazz and pop orchestra based in the Netherlands, and is the largest full-time ensemble of its kind in the world. A hybrid orchestra, it is a combination of jazz big band and symphony orchestra. Comprising 52 musicians, it is versatile across many musical forms, and is equipped with a “double rhythm section“ – one for pop and rock, and one for jazz based music. It was founded in 1945. Jan Stulen is a conductor who has had a long career working with theatrical music and a broad range of other music, including jazz. The Metropole Orchestra is known for its adaptations to World Music and classic jazz works. Throughout the years the orchestra had some unique partnerships. Some examples are Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Al Jarreau, New York Voices, Bono, Elvis Costello, Within Temptation, Snarky Puppy, Marcus Miller, Todd Rundgren and Basement Jaxx.[4]

Particularly striking in the Metropole Orchestra’s performance of this moody, noir Raymond Scott composition is the playing of violinist Davide Rossi. The brief tenor saxophone solo is by Leo Janssen.

The Metropole Orchestra recording of “Naked City” was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.

[i] A vivid summary of so-called serious music at CBS in the 1930s is to be found in A Heart at Fire’s Center, The Life and Music of Bernard Herrmann, by Steven C. Smith, University of California Press (1991).

[ii] Edward R. Murrow gathered around him at CBS a great number of exceptional broadcast journalists including: Eric Sevareid, Charles Collingwood, Howard K. Smith, and Daniel Schorr. Mr. Schorr was the last survivor of that illustrious group, working as a senior news analyst on National Public Radio until his death in 2010.

[iii] Recollections of Johnny Williams are a part of the essay written by Michele Wood for the book that accompanied the Time-Life Swing Era 1937-1938 (1971), page 30.

Here is a link to the 1956 Raymond Scott recording of “Naked City.”

 

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