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
Life and Style
LifeReddit asked a simple question with infinite answers this week
Life and Style
Pepper, the 3ft 11in shiny box of circuits who can tell jokes and respond to human emotions
techDavid McNeill tests the mettle of one of the new generation of androids being developed in Tokyo
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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


£50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Linux Systems Administrator

£33000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly successfu...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice