Born in New York, he was the son of Yiddish theatre comic Bessie Zwerling. While in his 20s, he was one of the orchestrators for George Gershwin’s Broadway musical Girl Crazy, became singer Helen Morgan’s accompanist, and later worked as pianist and arranger for singer Rudy Vallee.
He began working in Hollywood in 1933, arranging for Al Jolson at Warner Bros., Alice Faye at 20th Century-Fox and Bing Crosby at Paramount. He orchestrated the original version of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas for the film Holiday Inn (1942), and from 1942 to 1946 he served as head of music for Republic Pictures.
From 1948 to 1954, Scharf was arranger-conductor for the Phil Harris-Alice Faye radio show.
A ten-time Oscar nominee, Scharf worked on more than 100 films, receiving nominations for his musical direction on such pictures as Danny Kaye’s Hans Christian Andersen (1952), Barbra Streisand’s Funny Girl (1968) and Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971).