The Wofo Sextette plays Looney Tunes, Merry Melodies & more
Music from & inspired by Raymond Scott
"Raymond Scott had this fascination for rendering the human mechanical and the mechanical human." - Will Friedwald
Wofo is a Ghent based quintet, with an almost unchanged line up, that drew the attention and built a solid reputation since 2006. Xavier Verhelst (bass) wrote the music for three cd's, acclaimed by both public and press, with colorful and versatile compositions for Mattias Laga (clarinet), Michel Mast (tenor sax), Pieter Baert (piano) and Simon Raman (drums).
Is it a coincidence? Add a trumpet and here is the exact line up of the Raymond Scott "Quintette". The music of WoFo is related to Raymond Scott's by its direct impact and its plasticity. And also, like Scott's music, it is not real jazz, but it smells like.
But who is Raymond Scott?
Steve Schneider wrote: : "arguably the most well-known and influential unknown composer since the 16th Century."
And yes, his name may sound anonymous, but his music will surely ring a bell: it was used countless times in lots of cartoons. Originally for "Looney Tunes" and "Merry Melodies" (Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck,...), later on also for Popeye, The Flinstones, Tom & Jerry, Batman, The Simpsons, ... and ... listen to "Istanbul (not Constantinople)": there's a quote of Scott's "Twilight in Turkey".
Raymond Scott (born Harry Warnow) was born in Brooklyn in 1908. He wrote a first hit in 1934 with "Christmas Night In Harlem", later also recorded by Louis Armstrong. He started his own six-piece band in december 1936, with the misleading name "Quintette". Mmebers were ao. trumpeter Dave Wade, saxophone virtuoso Dave Harris and sublime drummer Johnny Williams (father of the famous film score composer John Williams).
Scott had an unorthodox way of composing : he played some melodies on the piano that the musicians had to learn by heart, let them improvise and recorded these improvisations. Then he selected and assembled some parts into a definitive version that had to be memorised by the Quintette. There was no more room for improvisation, so some critics labeled his music as "screwy pseudo-jazz".
But he radio listeners of that time liked it a lot; notable people like Igor Stravinsky, Leonard Bernstein, Jascha Heifetz and the young Art Blakey were fans as well.
In the late 1930ies, Scott had a series of immense successes with pieces as "Powerhouse", "Twilight in Turkey", "The toy trumpet", "The penguin", "Devil drums", "Boy scout in Switzerland"...
In 1943, he sold the rights to this songs to Warner Brothers; their "music director", Carl Stalling, started to integrate, re-arrange this evocative music - especially "Powerhouse" - in more than 120 cartoons.
Wofo plays a choise from this repertoire, mixed with new, related compositions.
Later, Scott conducted some big bands for CBS (with ao. Cozy Cole, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster and Charlie Shavers, the first mixed black-white big band), was one of the first to compose music for commercials and, from the late '40ies on, was very much involved in the devellopment of electronic musical instruments. In the 1970ies he was on the payroll of soullabel Motown as head of the research & development department.
The recent documentary "Deconstructing Dad", with it's focus on Scott's electronic music, atracted a new, young generation of fans.
To have a "Quintette" like Raymond Scott's, you need a sixth man: all round brass-player Jon Birdsong. Jon studied jazz and classical music at the University of North Texas. We find him as a trumpet player in New York and San Francisco in different jazz and pop bands like Calexico and Beck. In 2003 Jon settles in Antwerp, where he works with Think of One, Flat Earth Society, dEUS, Raymond Van Het Groenewoud, ... He also leads his own projects like Spiral Consort, an ensemble with the conch shell as the main instrument. Jon also plays a particular wind instrument from the renaissance and baroque: the cornetto.
...This music fits WoFo like a glove. The sextette worked its way through a bunch of Scott pieces and original material by bass player Xavier Verhelst with accuracy and flexibility. The concert opened with "La Morra" by 16th century composer Heinrich Isaac. A subdued piece based on bright harmonies. And then came a series of Scott's compositions, sounding irresistibly catchy from the outset...
ParkJazz Kortrijk, Octobre 28th 2012
Wofo plays Raymond Scott, 1st of May 2012, "Boekentoren", Ghent, video: Ivan Sorée.