Saturday, October 1, 2011

Pete Rugolo: Gentility and Greatness

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Gentle and self-effacing to a fault, Pete has had more influence on jazz than he would ever claim.”
- Gene Lees

“Rugolo was always a musical risk-taker ….”
- Ted Gioia

“Pete was one of the first to apply an extensive symphonic or non-Jazz compositional technique to the Jazz orchestra. Rugolo was without a doubt the initiator of Third Stream Music.”
- Bill Russo

Many years later, in an interview in Metronome, he recalled what it was like to become a member of Kenton’s arranging staff in 1946: "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."
- Pete Rugolo

“Take one little idea, one little ‘gem’, and develop it. It’s knowing what not to put in, when not to fill. Write a couple of bars and develop them. Simplicity is the key.”
- Pete Rugolo

Has there ever been a more talented composer-arranger than Pete Rugolo?

Has there ever been a kinder, nicer human being?

Even when you meet Pete Rugolo in person, this accomplished and incredibly talented man, makes you feel good!

Take, for example, this anecdote as told by Gene Lees in John Reeves, Jazz Lives: 100 Portraits in Jazz [p. 14]:

“A few years ago I ran into Pete Rugolo at a party.

I told him of a night back in my home town, Hamilton, Ontario, when I went to hear one of the touring big bands I admired. I can still picture the scene: the old red-brick armory down on James Street North. I got into a conversation with the band's arranger.

He was memorably kind to me, although I was very young and a stranger to him. He was already quite famous. We sat on the sidelines and dis­cussed the music. He made me feel as if I mattered, and I never forgot him for it.

"Do you know who that man was?" I asked Pete at the party.

"No," Pete replied, looking quizzical.

"You. And I have meant to tell you about it for a long time."

In the same piece, Gene describes some aspects of Pete’s background and some of the achievements of his early career:

“Pete was born in Sicily [December 25, 1915], but was brought to America at a very young age [5]. He became a student of expatriate French composer Darius Milhaud [at Mills College in Oakland, CA; Dave Brubeck also studied at Mills with Milhaud].

While he was still in military service, he sold an arrangement to Stan Kenton and, after the war, became the Kenton band's chief arranger. He was with Kenton from 1945 to 1949, which many people consider the band's glory years.

It was Rugolo, along with Kenton, who discovered the high-flying horn of young Maynard Ferguson during a visit to Montreal. Pete's grand arrangements and compositions on the one hand embodied Kenton's ideas, and on the other shaped the character of the band. They featured passages of very wide voicings, and blazing brass played fortissimo.

Though it became fashionable in later years to disparage the Kenton band, it did indeed expand the vocabulary of jazz orchestration, and it influenced generations of arrangers, par­ticularly those who went into film scoring. There the dramatic musical vocabulary explored by Rugolo and Kenton proved particularly effective. Pete was one of the many composers with jazz experience to enter the field, and he wrote music for many films and television shows.”

As our small way of paying tribute to Pete, and also making a contribution to the centenary Stan Kenton’s birth, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles has brought together the following testimonials to Pete’s gentility and to his greatness as a musician.

This article was first published in Crescendo & Jazz Music, August, 1993.
Copyright © 1993, Howard Lucraft. All Rights Reserved

The prestigious American Society of Music Arrangers and Composers (ASMAC) gives an annual “Golden Score” award for “continued excellence and achievement in arranging and composing”. As a long–time ASMAC member (and both former vice president and executive director) I am a proud major influence in the choice of awardees in previous years, which have included Alex North and Benny Carter. This year the “Golden Score” most deservedly went to Pete Rugolo.

All jazz buffs know of Pete as the primary composer and arranger in the early, highly successful years of the Stan Kenton Orchestra. In Hollywood today Pete is far more famous as a film and TV composer.

Pete’s film credits (mostly musicals for Joe Pasternak) include “Where the Boys Are”, “Skirts Ahoy”, “Latin Lovers”, “The Strip”, “Everything I Have Is Yours”, “Easy to Love”, and “Jack the Ripper”. His TV scores (some of which received Emmy awards and nominations) are too numerous to mention. Possibly the most famous are “Richard Diamond”, “Run for Your Life” and “The Bold Ones”.

Hollywood has always applauded Pete for his unique creativity—for his thematic material, form and style and original colors in orchestration. When Pete had his big band he introduced a special reed sound. In contrast to the Glenn Miller clarinet lead, Pete had an alto flute lead, above four saxophones.

Pete’s pertinent pointers for today’s arrangers—use imagination, courage and inquisitiveness in writing—always wonder how this and that would sound together. “Nowadays there are no rules to follow”, Pete declared. “Today the techniques of players have improved so much. You can write almost anything and they will play it.” Pete likes to use colors that are only possible in a studio—such as a bass flute against eight brass.

Pete Rugolo was born in Sicily on Christmas Day 1915. His father played baritone horn. Both his sisters were musicians. The Rugolo family came to the United States when Pete was five.

He claims that he originally learned to write “just by trial and error. I just got the sheet music and started to write arrangements. I was playing piano in my home town of Santa Rosa, California. I used to question the arrangers in the name bands that came to town.” Later Pete did study extensively. He gained a B.A. at San Francisco College. Then he studied with Darius Milhaud at Mills College and obtained his M.A.

“To be an effective composer for films and TV the more schooled you are as a musician the more fluently you can write. You must know harmony and counterpoint thoroughly.” Speed writing is essential, of course, for TV series. “You must have the idea(s) properly in your mind before you start.” Pete is probably the most modest, self–effacing yet ultra original composer/ arranger in Hollywood. It’s hard to think of another famous film composer with such a varied background of successes.

After some 100 compositions and arrangements for Kenton he became an A&R man at Capitol Records. There he arranged, composed, directed and produced jazz records with Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong, Maynard Ferguson, Shorty Rogers, Shelly Manne, Buddy DeFranco, Dizzy Gillespie—and the list goes on and on. Pete’s vocal arrangements /productions include June Christy, Nat Cole, Mel Torme, Billy Eckstine, Peggy Lee, to mention but a few.

Returning to his later film/TV writing he has emphasized to students: “Study the published scores, like those of Henry Mancini.” (Typically modest, Pete didn’t mention the many published Rugolo scores.) Pete’s further advice: “Never copy anything. Develop a style that people know it’s you—whether it’s a tone color, or rhythmic pattern or different voicing of strings or whatever.” Pete also stresses the “kitchen sink” trap. “Take one little idea, one little ‘gem’, and develop it. It’s knowing what not to put in, when not to fill. Write a couple of bars and develop them. Simplicity is the key.

“Never feel that you have to set the world on fire in one go. Remember you are going to write a thousand arrangements!”

Ted Gioia offered these reflections on Pete in his West Coast Jazz: Modern Jazz in California, 1945-1960: [pp. 148-149; the two quotations by Pete are from an interview that Ted conducted with him on October 16, 1989].

© -  Ted Gioia, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“After Rugolo's discharge from the service, he joined the Kenton squad full-time, with a $150 a week salary and—even rarer for a staff writer— constant public acknowledgment by Kenton for his contributions to the band. The Kenton position was demanding. "For the four or five years I was with the band full-time, I wrote probably about ninety percent of the band's material," Rugolo recalls. "Stan wasn't writing much then, and occasionally someone else would contribute a chart. But most of it I did." Time pressures aggravated the situation:

‘I never had time to write during those years. Sometimes I'd have to come up with three or four arrangements in a couple of days. Or with seven ar­rangements in four days, like when we did a June Christy project. I listen back to those pieces and sometimes I wish I had had more time, but some­times I'm surprised at what I came up with. You see, it was hard to find time to write when the band was on the road. I don't know why, but Stan wanted me to show up every night at the concerts—sometimes I would sit in on the piano for the last hour of the concert, while Stan would go mix with some of the people.’

During the postwar years, however, Rugolo proved to be an ideal collaborator for Kenton. He played Billy Strayhorn to Kenton's Duke El­lington, and as with the Ellington/Strayhorn collaborations, Kenton and Rugolo could each create individual music that flowed seamlessly into the work of the other. Rugolo recalls their working sessions:

‘Stan might have an idea. He'd maybe say, "Let's do something for [bassist Eddie] Safranski," or he'd want something for [drummer]  Shelly [Manne] or [tenor saxophonist] Vido [Musso]. Some­times we'd sit for a few minutes at the piano and work on some ideas. A lot of times we would write what we'd call a menu. Stan would say, "Let's start with a piano introduction, then a piano solo of sixteen bars, then Vido"— things like that. Then I'd go and do all of the actual writing. Stan wasn't writing much at all at that time. He never really changed anything I wrote. Even though I would do some daring things with time signatures or disso­nances, or classical things.’”

Steven Harris in his magnificent retrospective on The Kenton Kronicles: A Biography of Modern America’s Man of Music – Stan Kenton shared these observations by Pete.

© -  Steven Harris, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Stan was probably the greatest showman of all the bandleaders. He just gave a downbeat with his arms stretched out, and that sold everybody. At the keyboard, lOths were nothing to him; I had to "roll" mine. Stan was so handsome and had a wonderful personality. June Christy had that same dynamic personality. Whenever she had to make announcements on some radio show or introduce a song at a concert, she was so good at it—just the opposite of me. ….

I became staff arranger around November, 1945, when I got out of the service. I was discharged in San Pedro and met with Kenton at the Palladium in Holly­wood. There were a couple of other arrangements I brought with me and Stan really liked them, even more so than the first ones. Not long after that, the band headed back east for Frank Dailey's Meadowbrook [in February, 1946.] Whenever I was on the road with Stan, he'd always take a rest around midnight and I would play the last set every night. ….

Eager Beaver, that's what really drew the people to Stan, the commercial sides. If he hadn't managed to sell things like And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine or Tampico to the public, I'm convinced that Stan never would have had the chance to continue on with his progressive jazz.

As far as any composing format goes, for some of the things Stan and I did together, we would have a meeting. We'd get together at the piano and if he had an idea for a tune, I would finish it. We'd write what we called a "map." We would put down a piano solo for the first eight bars, and figure out a sax or trombone solo for so many bars...we worked together that way on numbers such as Theme To The West. But for the most part, Stan didn't have the time to compose. Most of the time, he gave me total freedom in the arrangements and choice of tunes. The only input he gave me for compositions was wanting a specific arrangement for Shelly Manne, Eddie Safranski and Vido Musso for our debut album on Capitol, and some pop tunes for June Christy...Curiosity and all those awful tunes we had to do.

I knew what Stan liked, truthfully, and I worked that way for the first year or so, the way he would write things, to try to please him. But he never told me harmonically what to write or stopped me. After that I was on my own. I decided to go a little further and he gave me all the freedom in the world. That's when I got more adventurous and daring with progressive jazz. Stan never said, that's too wild, but sometimes the guys in the band thought the music was copied wrong. I'd say, No, no, I wrote it that way intentionally!’ …

By the time we premiered the Progressive Jazz Orchestra in September, 1947, I had written a new arrangement of the opening and closing theme of Stan's Artistry In Rhythm, which was the same one that Stan played until the end. He always got credit for the full arrangement, but I did write the closing section. …

At the start of 1950, Stan called me in New York about forming the new Innovations Orchestra, and I came out to help organize it. We didn't have much time until the first LA concert at Philharmonic Hall. In one week I wrote Mirage, Conflict, Lonesome Road and Salute, staying up night and day. When I look back I think, if only I had time to write more. I was traveling with the band and Stan wanted me there almost every night. At that time, I decided to come out to California with the intention of writing for the studios—that was my big ambition. But it wasn't easy getting work out here. Because of my reputation, people were afraid to use me; they thought I was too wild. I was very low on money until I got a call from Mickey Goldsen who was publishing all of our music—Stan's and mine. He said my royalties were coming in nicely, which was good news for me. Instead of a lump sum, he offered to give me a monthly check on a regular basis. I truthfully don't remember how much I received, but this went on for at least a year until I got settled here.

Some years later, Mickey confessed something to me. He said, "I have to tell you something about all those royalties...Stan was responsible for a lot of that." Stan secretly paid me out of his own pocket to help me out. I returned the favor shortly before Stan's passing. When he had his long illness in the hospital, Audree Coke contacted me. I gladly offered to assist in his medical expenses by relinquishing all my publishing rights to Stan and Creative World. I should have renewed them, but didn't give it another thought. After 28 years, all publishing rights come back to the com­poser. I wrote over 100 pieces and would have owned everything by now, over a million dollars worth. …

The last time I saw Stan perform was at Howard Rumsey's Concerts by the Sea in 1977. Some months later, I went to visit Stan in the hospital after his near-fatal fall. I didn't let anyone know I was coming, it seemed to be hush-hush. The accident affected his memory, and at first he didn't recognize me. After I talked with him, he knew who I was. That was the last time I saw Stan. In short, I owe my career to him.” [pp. 58, 60-62 excerpted]”

In a chapter entitled “The Arrival of Rugolo (1946)” in his definitive biography, Stan Kenton: This is an Orchestra!, Michael Sparke offers these reminiscences by Pete on his time on the band.

© -  Michael Sparke, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“‘Little by little,' Rugolo recalled, ‘I started bringing in the more modern stuff, and at first the guys in the band weren't crazy about it, because they said it didn't swing. They liked Basie. But slowly they came around. The trumpet players especially had never seen writing like it, where they would have to come in at different times and all that, and after a while they started to enjoy the challenge. Saxophones were funny too—people like Vido Musso, who was not a good reader, he'd count on Boots Mussulli to tell him when to come in, 'cos I was writing for the saxes with everybody coming in at different times, not all five of them together. …

Truthfully, a lot of the guys didn't like my arrangements, because though there were some people in the band that liked modern music, others just liked swinging, Basie-type things. And they would balk because we played so many of my things that didn't really swing. They weren't supposed to swing, they were supposed to be concert pieces. …

I'd bring in some of these progressive arrangements, and the guys had never played anything like that before. They'd say, “Hey, I have a wrong note here,” and I'd say, “No, I want you to play it like that.” They were used to playing all the old-time things, and I introduced these new ideas to Stan. He played everything open in the early days, and I liked to experiment with different timbres and tone colors. I'd put maybe two trumpets in a Harmon, one in another kind of mute, and leave one open, opening up all kinds of tone colors. Stan was wonderful, he never changed a note. He thought the more modern the better. …

Stan might sometimes come up with part of a theme, but more often the actual melody was my own work. Then many times Stan and I would discuss a piece at length, and write what we called a 'menu' or 'map,’ such as piano intro, Vido 1st eight, saxophone chorus, Kai solo, and build to a big ending. And then I would go away and write the arrange­ment, though often as the work progressed I'd have to change radically from the original design. At other times Stan and I would agree about the need for a particular composition, such as a drum number to feature Shelly, and we'd exchange ideas, and then I'd write the piece the way I thought it should be. But as for Stan actually writing any of the notes, he didn't do anything when I was with the band. Stan was always so busy promoting the band, he never had the time to write any more."

Milt Bernhart, a principal trombonist with the Kenton band during much of Rugolo’s time as head arranger offered these comments about the working relationship between Stan and Pete:

“‘In much of the Rugolo-Kenton writing partnership, Stan might suggest something, and that's about as far as it would go. The man with the pen in his hand was Pete. Stan never had the score paper and was writing something. He stopped doing that. I had the feeling that he didn't mind, because he considered that was a chore he could easily dispense with. If he had an arrangement in his head, he'd have liked somehow to have been able just to project it onto paper. But that wasn't possible, so it was no problem for him to have Pete do the writing. And if Stan had suggestions, Pete would respond, one way or the other, and that's how they meshed.’”

And Bill Russo, also a trombonist with Stan and an arranger-composer before and after Pete’s tenure with Kenton offered these insights into Pete’s importance with Stan and in the overall scheme of things:

“‘Pete was the perfect person for Stan, and the band played his stuff better than it ever played the rest of us [in later years]. It's because even with the outstanding players involved, [the 1946-'48 edition] wasn't a swing band, and it would be a preposterous assump­tion for that band to think it was.’ ….

Stan's encouragement of his arrangers was powerful and convinc­ing—he got people to do things they might not otherwise have done. He always tried to get the best out of people and frequently succeeded. Pete Rugolo was the perfect person for Stan, because Pete was one of the first to apply an extensive symphonic or non-jazz compositional technique to the jazz orchestra. Rugolo was without doubt the initiator of Third Stream Music.’”

Stan and Pete preferred the term Progressive Jazz.” [pp. 46-48, excerpted].

Fortunately, Pete’s brilliant arrangements were widely recorded with his own band, primarily in the 1950’s and 60’s and much of this body of music is still available on CD’s and in other digital formats.

The following video tribute offers a sampling of Pete’s work. The audio track is an original composition by Pete entitled Oscar and Pete’s Blues. Pete composed the tune around a number of phrases or “licks” favored by the late, Jazz pianist, Oscar Peterson.

The soloists are in order: Larry Bunker on vibes, Andre Previn on piano, Frank Rosolino on trombone and Dan Fagerquist on trumpet.