Pete Rugolo: Arranger crucial to both Miles Davis and Stan Kenton

When he joined Stan Kenton's band as an arranger in 1945 Pete Rugolo became the first in his trade to be regularly acknowledged in public. Arrangers had until then always operated anonymously in the engine room of a band, but whenever Kenton introduced a piece to his audiences he always gave Rugolo credit for what he had written. And so he should have done, for Rugolo established the character of the band, inventing a medium that Kenton labelled "Progressive Jazz".

"Pete was one of the first to apply an extensive symphonic or non-jazz compositional technique to the jazz orchestra," said the wordy but worthy composer Bill Russo.

Rugolo remembered those early years. "I guess that an arranger's idea of paradise is some place where he can write anything he wants to and still manage to make a living. That's why I felt like I was walking through the pearly gates when, fresh from the army, I went to work with Stan Kenton. Not only could I arrange the way I wanted to, but I could even compose originals and know they'd be heard. To make the situation more unbelievable, Stan never said, 'Don't do it this way' or 'Don't do it that way.' He was willing to try anything so long as he felt the writer really meant what he was saying."

Establishing the Kenton style was one of two major things that Rugolo did for jazz. The other was to bring before the public an obscure band from the late '40s that became known as"The Birth of the Cool." It was anine-piece led by the trumpeter Miles Davis and it changed the whole direction of jazz in terms of style and harmonic progression.

When he left Kenton in 1949 Rugolo worked for two years as music director for Capitol Records in New York.It's amazing that he managed to persuade such a commercially minded company as Capitol to record the Davis band, for it had had virtually no public exposure and no prospect of selling many records. Indeed the company may have had second thoughts because they didn't issue any of the groundbreaking recordings until a couple of years later. They have since remained constantly among the best-selling jazz records of all time.

Rugolo moved from Sicily to San Francisco with his family in 1921, getting a BA from San Francisco State College in 1938. He then enrolled in Mills College in Oakland, where he studied music and gained his MA under the composer Darius Milhaud, who was on the faculty of the college.

He was still in the army when he sold his first arrangement, "Opus A Dollar Three Eighty", to Kenton. Kentonhired him at $150 a week in November 1945 and they stayed together until1949. Many people considered that Rugolo's era produced the greatest in Kenton's music.

"Progressive Jazz", in which medium Kenton's was the only band, was by definition bombastic, unswinging and extremely loud. Kenton's jazz had Wagnerian pretensions and Rugolo was its most brilliant and precise orchestrator. In the first signs of post-war youth rebellion, his fans loved Kenton's musical detonations. "When you played for Kenton he just wanted louder, louder, louder," was how the trumpeter jack Sheldon summarised the music.

Until Rugolo joined Kenton the leader had himself written most of the musical library for the band. Rugolo's talent was so great that it needed a different language. Kenton gave way and Rugolo became the dominant voice of the band. He was a master of compressing an expansive symphonic writing style into the limits of the three-minute record. It was Rugolo also, who discovered the young Canadian trumpet virtuoso Maynard Ferguson and persuaded him to join the band.

Whereas Kenton had always favoured grandiose titles for his compositions ("Concerto To End All Concertos"), Rugolo's names for his own hits were more mundane and included things like "Minor Riff", "Monotony", "Interlude", "Collaboration", "Conflict", "Lament" and "Impressionism".

Jazz fans divided exactly into love or hate of the Kenton-Rugolo music. There was no in between.

In 1950, when Rugolo left New York for Hollywood, he found himself financially strapped. Kenton told him that royalties from Rugolo's compositions were pouring in and paid him a monthly cheque. It later emerged that this was untrue and that the money came from Kenton's own pocket. Rugolo was able to return the favour in 1979 by helping out with the medical expenses during Kenton's final illness.

After his time with Kenton, Rugolo became the first of many jazz musicians to make his name writing music for films and television. He rose to the top of his field and won a shower of Emmy awards and nominations and glittering Hollywood prizes. He wrote innumerable film and television scores, most notably the themes and music for the Sixties series The Fugitive starring David Janssen and The Thin Man, which featured Peter Lawford.

Rugolo recorded many albums during the 1950s. They were notable for the characteristically glittering orchestrations and were often designed and used to demonstrate high-fidelity equipment in the home. Others were more obviously gimmick-laden – Ten Saxophones and Two Basses and Ten Trumpets and Two Guitars speak for themselves. Although there were good recordings that featured the finest of the West Coast jazz musicians, the impact of Rugolo's music under his own name lacked the fire of his work for Kenton.

Peter Rugolo, arranger, composer, bandleader: born San Piero, Sicily 25 December 1915; married Edye (two sons); died Los Angeles 16 October 2011.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
The 67P/CG comet as seen from the Philae lander
scienceThe most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
film
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Koenig, creator of popular podcast Serial, which is to be broadcast by the BBC
tvReview: The secret to the programme's success is that it allows its audience to play detective
News
Ruby Wax has previously written about her mental health problems in her book Sane New World
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas