We used to say that we learned storytelling from Bill Cosby, absurdity from George Carlin — and timing from Chuck Jones, the genius behind our favorite Warner Bros. cartoons. Much later, we would say that we likely learned a taste for avant-garde music from Carl Stalling, the composer/arranger for many Warners classics.
We didn’t quite grasp this until we bought what is now one of our most treasured CDs, “The Carl Stalling Project”, featuring music tracks from many familiar cartoons — and a recording session, where you can hear just how hard that shit is to perform. (Stalling also shares credit for inventing the “click track”, an obvious solution to the problem of multi-track syncing that isn’t obvious until somebody else comes up with it.)
Stalling didn’t write all the music from scratch. One reason Warners went to the trouble of producing cartoons was to promote its sheet-music catalog — Tunes and Melodies ain’t by accident — with the happy consequence that Stalling could raid the archives for free. And one of Stalling’s go-to musical references was “Powerhouse”, a silly, jazzy chart by Raymond Scott.
We are reliably informed that the Raymond Scott Quintette celebrated its seventy-fifth anniversary on Monday. And thanks to what we think is Your Hit Parade — home of the Richard Hudnut Extra — we have an honest-to-gosh kinescope of the six-member Quintette (don’t ask) performing “Powerhouse”. If you’ve never heard it in its original form, it’ll be like encountering the William Tell Overture for the first time.