Hilarie Mukavitz – One night I was watching The Muppet Movie with my mother. We got to the scene where Rowlf comments on his piano playing, saying, “I’m no Heifetz, but I get by.” My mom turned to me and said “That’s YOU! That’s how YOU play!” Indeed, I know I’m not the only piano playing Muppet fan who has been inspired by Rowlf’s style; not exactly concert hall material, but full of gusto, and suitable for whatever group you are playing for at the time whether it’s a church choir, or frogs, bears and chickens and things.
However, all of the Muppet musicians “play” so convincingly, it can be easy to forget there were real human beings actually playing the notes. Part of the credit should go to Steve Whitmire, who operated Rowlf’s hands during most of the piano numbers. The rest goes to Muppet musical director Derek Scott, the man who was actually playing the piano.
Derek Scott was born in England on December 25, 1921. He served in the Royal Airforce in World War II. Scott was part of more than one comedy team, including a collaboration with Terry-Thomas, who is best known as Sir Hiss in Disney’s Robin Hood.
He eventually became a musical director for multiple stage shows in London’s West End, and British television specials. In 1976 he became the musical director for The Muppet Show. Not only was he the one playing the piano for Rowlf, but most of the original music from the series was written by him. He wrote the theme songs to “Pigs In Space,” “Bear on Patrol,” and “The Swedish Chef.” I’ve included all the songs that Derek Scott was credited for in this week’s Muppet Maestros YouTube Playlist.
One credit that Scott gets on IMDB is for some of the music in the score for the zombie classic Dawn of the Dead. As cool as it would be for the man who played Rowlf’s piano parts to be involved in that movie, after scouring the internet, I suspect it was actually a different Derek Scott.
After The Muppet Show, Derek Scott retired from show business. I could not determine whether he played any of Rowlf’s piano parts after 1982. He became an organist and musical director for St. Edmund’s Church in Suffolk. As a church musician with Rowlf tendencies, I like to imagine he threw in the occasional Rowlf-ism into his playing, but I’m sure he probably behaved himself.
So the next time you enjoy the piano playing on “Cottleston Pie” or “You And I And George” don’t forget Derek Scott, the man behind the piano and so much of the music of The Muppet Show.
The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, firstname.lastname@example.org