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Going on Record Again : The catchy melodies of Raymond Scott are being revived as his compositions are re-released on albums.

September 03, 1993|KAREN E. KLEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Karen E. Klein is a frequent contributor to Valley Life.

Row after row of old recordings cram the dusty shelves of Raymond Scott's Van Nuys garage. Thousands of reel-to-reel tapes with yellowing labels compete for space with stacks of vinyl 78s sporting torn, faded jackets.

"These are TV and radio jingles for just about every product you can think of," said Scott's wife, Mitzi Scott, gesturing around the dim garage. "GE, Beck's beer, perfumes, automobiles--he wrote tunes for all of them."

A few feet away, in an unused guest house, squat the carcasses of aging electronic instruments and musical novelties that have long since been dismantled or fallen into disrepair.

These two rooms hold the legacy of Raymond Scott, 84, once a prolific composer, and bandleader on the radio and television show "Your Hit Parade." Scott's work was ended by a series of strokes beginning in 1987 that have left him brain-damaged and nearly unable to speak.

Up until a couple of years ago, the prospects for Raymond and Mitzi Scott's retirement years did not look good. Scott's tunes, very popular in his own day, faded by the 1960s and eventually went out of circulation.

"He'd always gotten royalties," Mitzi Scott said, "but over the years, they got smaller and smaller. I did office work up until a few years ago, when the company I worked for went out of business. We both get Social Security, and we basically lived on that."

The Van Nuys couple's future has recently brightened, however, due to a group of music-lovers who discovered Scott's music a few years ago and set out to get it re-released.

East Coast radio personality Irwin Chusid has taken up Scott's cause. He first became aware of the musician in 1989, when a Scott fan sent him some music recorded by the Raymond Scott Quintette in the late 1930s. Chusid began playing the music on his eclectic radio show on station WFMU in East Orange, N.J.

"I don't really care much for Big Band music. It just leaves me absolutely blank," Chusid said, "but this quintet was music for the 20th Century. It was pop in the best sense of the word: catchy, memorable, with melodies that would just get lodged in your subconscious, and you could not get rid of them."

Chusid noticed that although he had never heard of Scott, the hard-to-categorize music he was hearing was instantly familiar.

He did some research and found that more than a dozen of Scott's jazz/pop/classical compositions had been licensed for use in Warner Bros. cartoon soundtracks in 1941 by studio music director Carl Stalling.

Although a handful of animation experts were aware of the Scott/Stalling connection, the frenetic, comic melodies that underscore the antics of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd and Porky Pig were never officially credited to Scott.

In fact, Mitzi Scott swears that Raymond never realized his music was being used in "Merrie Melodies" and "Looney Tunes." Always preoccupied with his latest musical composition or invention, she said, Scott seldom had time for television and never watched a cartoon in his life.

"I was fascinated with this music that seemed to be genetically encoded in the psyche of American minds," Chusid said. "And I was intrigued by this mystery man who was not credited and barely mentioned in the music history books.

"Whenever I played his music, I'd always get phone calls from people. They loved it; their kids loved it, and they wanted to know how to get it," Chusid recalled.

Convinced that the cartoon tunes could captivate a whole new generation of listeners, Chusid approached Columbia Records about releasing a Raymond Scott album during the summer of 1989. "There was no interest whatsoever," Chusid recalled. "I spoke to eight people there, and the responses ranged from 'There's no market for him,' to 'My father likes Raymond Scott.' A couple people said, 'Raymond who?'

Undaunted, Chusid tracked down the Scotts and visited the Van Nuys home. "Raymond was a completely forgotten man. He obviously could not work, and he was living his life in obscurity. The whole thing seemed very tragic," Chusid said.

He struck a deal with Mitzi to professionally represent the Scotts and quickly went to work promoting the music and making sure Scott was getting credit--and royalties--for his compositions.

After the successful release of an album of cartoon music, "The Carl Stalling Project," (Warner Bros., 1990) and a musical called "Bugs Bunny on Broadway," which played the Great White Way in 1991 before touring nationally, Chusid finally got the green light from Columbia to produce a Raymond Scott album.

"We had to drag the metal masters out of Columbia's vault. I cleaned those discs by hand and transferred them to digital recordings," Chusid said. The compact disc, featuring 22 short pieces recorded between 1937 and 1940, is called: "The Music of Raymond Scott: Reckless Nights and Turkish Twilights."

Another album, "The Raymond Scott Project, Volume One: Powerhouse" has been released on the Stash Records label.

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