Russ Garcia: Musician who worked with Welles and Armstrong


Russ, you're a genius. If I ever get rich I'm going to put you on salary." The speaker was Louis Armstrong, the year was 1957 and he and Ella Fitzgerald were in the middle of recording Garcia's arrangements of the songs from Porgy and Bess.

"Armstrong was wonderful," said Garcia. "He didn't know anything about prejudice and he didn't care anything about money, either. He loved everybody, he loved making music. We'd record during the day and then he'd go out on Central Avenue and jam all night on trumpet."

Garcia was due to travel from New Zealand earlier this month to appear at the Modern Sounds Festival in Los Angeles and then at further gigs in New York, but he died as a result of a fall before he could do so. He was 95.

During the West Coast jazz era of the 1950s, Garcia wrote for and recorded under his own name many albums featuring the cream of Los Angeles jazz musicians. He also made albums with singers including Mel Tormé, Julie London, Anita O'Day and Sammy Davis, Jr. He undertook many symphonic commissions and wrote for Stan Kenton's Neophonic Orchestra.

In 1952 he provided the score for Charlie Chaplin's Limelight. Due to Chaplin being investigated for "subversive tendencies" the film was not released in the United States until 20 years later, when it won several Oscars. One of them should have gone to Garcia but, due to a mix up of names, it went to Chaplin, along with Larry Russel and Ray Rasch.

Born in Oakland, California in 1916, Garcia served in the US Army infantry, landing on Omaha beach a week after D-Day and fighting in the Battle of the Bulge. He studied at San Francisco State University and later with the composers including Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Ernst Krenek.

Garcia began his career arranging and playing trumpet in the bands of Horace Heidt and Al Donahue. He soon moved into radio as conductor and composer for the Ronald Reagan-hosted This is America. When the show ended he worked for two years as NBC's staff arranger and then taught at Westlake College in Los Angeles, where his students included Bill Holman, Bob Graettinger and Willie Maiden, all of whom subsequently wrote for the Stan Kenton band. In 1954 Garcia published The Professional Arranger-Composer, a book version of his teaching curriculum.

He moved into the film industry in 1946, where his output was prolific; he was at Universal for 15 years and then moved on to Warner Bros and Disney. He worked with Orson Welles and Judy Garland and collaborated with Henry Mancini on the music for The Glenn Miller Story (1953). But the work he was most lauded for – and proudest of – was his remarkable musical score for George Pal's The Time Machine (1960), although "Fantastica" (1959), a work for voices, was often cited as his masterpiece.

During the '50s, as well as his orchestral work, he wrote jazz arrangements for sessions by Buddy DeFranco, Roy Eldridge, Johnny Hodges and Charlie Barnet, alongside making outstanding jazz recordings under his own name. He formed his own jazz group, the Wigville Band, that included Charlie Mariano, Jimmy Giuffre and trumpeters Pete and Conte Candoli.

In 1952 he had married his second wife Gina. The couple, like their friend Dizzy Gillespie, followed the Baha'i faith, and in 1966 they sold their possessions and left Hollywood in a trimaran to sail the Pacific and spread the word. During their trip, in 1969, the couple met some musicians in Fiji who asked them to sail to New Zealand and play some jazz jobs. They did and liked the country so much that they settled there.

Garcia continued to work from New Zealand and spent about half of each year playing around the world on trips to China, all over Europe, back to the States and anywhere that his work took him. He was a close friend of the pianist Oscar Peterson, and when Peterson suffered a bad stroke, Garcia flew from New Zealand to see him in Toronto.

Russell Garcia, musician: born Oakland, California 12 April 1916; twice married (one daughter, and one son deceased); died Kerikeri, New Zealand 19 November 2011.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the Apple Watch for you? Well, it depends if you want it for the fitness tech, or for the style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own