The editorial staff at JazzProfiles couldn't resist re-posting this feature with additional videos about two of the most-talented and nicest composer-arrangers the Jazz world ever had.
Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
Pete Rugolo and Hank Mancini were the best of friends.
Both were also the best at what they did - primarily composing and arranging for big bands, movies and television.
And both were lucky, too, and they knew it.
Pete, still in the military, meeting Stan Kenton at the Golden Gate Theater in San Francisco toward the close of World War II and giving him arrangements that were perfectly in keeping with the way Stan wrote charts for the band at a time when Stan was looking to replace himself at the band's chief orchestrator.
The soon-to-be-unemployed Hank Mancini coming out of the barber shop at Universal City Studios and encountering a chance meeting with Blake Edwards who was in the planning stages for Peter Gunn, a new half hour television series, and being offered the opportunity to write the music for it.
"What is it," Mancini asked, "a Western"?
I heard Pete and Hank speak at a university in Northridge, CA where they shared their respective reminiscences with an audience of music faculty and students about "what it was like back in the good old days" when there was "so much work writing for movies and TV" that they stayed awake all night creating music to meet production deadlines.
Pete went on to say: "In the early days, we had to copy out our own parts, take them to rehearsals, conduct the music and synch [synchronize] it with "click tracks" to the movie or edit it for the TV show. Sometimes, we even contracted the musicians for the gig."
Overlooking the fact that each was a gifted musicians, Hank commented "I guess we were both at the right place at the right time, because those days are over."
And so they are.
These days the music for many TV shows sounds like it was written by a tone deaf synthesizer operator creating audience sensations by subjecting it to a series of aural, electronic shocks. Thank goodness that John Williams still writes the occasional score for action hero movies.
While listening to their music recently, I was thinking about Pete and Hank and thought it would be fun to connect a series of previous features about them under the banner of one of Hank's most memorable melodies - Two for the Road.
I can still hear the infectious laughter and see the gleam in their eyes as they recounted their heartwarming stories.
Every so often, the good guys win.
PETE RUGOLO: SENSIBILITIES
Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“Pete Rugolo was a soft-spoken, self-effacing man, which may be one of the reasons he has not been given his due as the pioneering jazz composer he was. Kenton managed to be a controversial figure for the scope of what he attempted, which was often denounced as pompous. And it could be, particularly in its later manifestations. But the band for which Pete first wrote had a blazing quality, particularly in its slow pieces, which a lot of young people found moody, almost mystical, and melancholy, an emotion appropriate to the fragile years of adolescence.”
Every so often, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles enjoys revisiting with one of its heroes.
It is our way of saying “Thank You” to those who helped make our entrance into the joys of Jazz possible.
Such reconsiderations are especially pleasurable when we can do so through the perspective of the late
Gene Lees, whose writings on Jazz collectively form one of the great gifts to the music and its makers.
Imagine our delight, then, when we uncovered the following essay by Gene on arranger-composer Pete Rugolo whose sensibilities brought us the brilliant music he wrote for both Stan Kenton’s and his own orchestra, Miles Davis Nontet’s Birth of the Cool when he served as the head of Jazz artist and repertoire for Capitol Records and a whole host of marvelous movie and television music.
Gene Lees, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“I've told this before, but this is how I met the man. If you have reached "a certain age," as the French delicately put it, sufficient to remember the big bands in all their brassy glory, you will recall how the true believers would cluster close to the bandstand, listening to soloists whose names we knew, while the mere fans — some distance behind us — did their jitterbug gyrations. Since I was always one of these ardent listeners, I never learned to dance worth a hoot. But I heard a lot of good music. …
Yet another of the bands I admired came through, playing in the red-brick Armory on
north James Street [in where Gene began his career as a newspaper reporter on the Hamilton Spectator]. As usual I was standing in the crowd of listeners near the bandstand. I was startled to find that the young man (older than I, but about thirty-three at the time) standing next to me was the band's chief arranger, whose bespectacled face I recognized from magazine photographs. I got up the courage to tell him how much I admired his writing; which had grandeur. He was polite to me, and suggested we go up to the balcony to listen. We sat through a long evening looking down at the band and discussing the music. Maybe I don't even know how much I learned that night. Hamilton, Ontario
A few years ago, I was at a party given by Henry Mancini. I found myself in conversation with one of Hank's closest friends, Pete Rugolo. I told him the story about the arranger and said, "Do you know who the arranger was, Pete?"
And he said, "No."
And I said, "You."
"Pete Rugolo was the architect of the Stan Kenton band," said one of Pete's friends of many years, composer Allyn Ferguson, who also wrote for Kenton. Among other things, he wrote Passacaglia and Fugue for the Neophonic Orcherstra. "Pete had the academic background that Stan lacked."
And of course it was the Kenton band I was hearing the night I met Pete. That had to be in 1948 or '49, because Stan broke up the band in '49 and Pete went out on his own, at first as an a&r man with Capitol Records. He would have a place in jazz history if only because he is the man who signed the Miles Davis group that featured writing by John Lewis, Johnny Carisi and most of all Gerry Mulligan to record a series of "sides" for Capitol.
It occurs to me that I already had met Kenton when I met Pete. That must have been in 1947.1 held my first writing job at a broadcasting magazine in Toronto, and for some reason of union politics, Kenton was not allowed to make a certain radio broadcast. I was sent to his hotel to get his side of the story, and I imagine that I was. as a serious fan of that band in its main Artistry in Rhythm period, rather in awe at the idea of meeting him.
I knocked on his door, and he answered, fresh out of the shower, naked but for a towel around his waist, still drying his hair. Since he was about six-foot five, with a long, handsome, craggy face, a semi-nude soaking wet Stan Kenton was a figure to conjure with. He invited me in, I did my interview, and left. I think I was nineteen. It was about twelve years later, when I was editor of Down Beat, when I met him again. He said, "Hello, Gene, nice to see to see you again." So help me.
"Stan could do that," Pete said.
"The only other person I ever knew with a memory for names like that," I told Pete, "was Liberace."
Stan Kenton was an enormously nice man. I mentioned this to arranger and composer Bill Kirchner, who said, "Everyone I've ever known who played in that band said the same thing. Even Mel Lewis, who was, as you know, a man not easily pleased."
The relationship between Rugolo and Kenton has been compared to that between Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn ."That's what they all say, "Pete said. "I really don't know how close Strayhorn was with Ellington. But I think it was similar because Stan never had time to write any more. Every time we'd get to a hotel for a few days, we'd find a piano and discuss different arrangements. We'd call it making menus. He'd say, 'Well, we'll start off with eight bars, and then we'll do this or that.'
We wrote a few tunes together. Collaboration was one. Most of the time he just let me alone. He said, 'You know what to do.'"
On Christmas Day, 2001, Pete Rugolo turned 86, though he looked far younger than that. He is a soft-spoken, self-effacing man, which may be one of the reasons he has not been given his due as the pioneering jazz composer he was. Kenton managed to be a controversial figure for the scope of what he attempted, which was often denounced as pompous. And it could be, particularly in its later manifestations. But the band for which Pete first wrote had a blazing quality, particularly in its slow pieces, which a lot of young people found moody, almost mystical, and melancholy, an emotion appropriate to the fragile years of adolescence.
Pete was born in
in a little mountaintop town near Sicily called San Piero. Messina
Another pioneering jazz writer of the 1940s, when the music was expanding its harmonic and rhythmic language, George Wallington, was also born in
. He first studied piano with his father, who was an opera singer. His name was Giacinto Figlia, and the family moved to Sicily from New York when he was a year old. Palermo
Pete's family made the move when he was five.
"The only thing I remember about it is seeing the Statue of Liberty from the boat," Pete said. "We didn't stop in
. We went right on by tram to New York , where my grandfather was, my mother's father. He came years before we did. And he bought, like, a country store up by the Santa Rosa, California , Russian River , Santa Rosa . When he had enough money, he sent for his children, two sons and a daughter, my mother. My dad had a degree as a stone mason, but when he came here he couldn't get work as a mason. My uncle was a shoemaker, and he taught my father the shoe business. He had a little store in Sonoma County , and when he repaired shoes, they were like new. It was just a little business. We were very poor people. My dad finally bought a little house. My mother worked in a cannery. We all worked. I remember picking hops in the fields. And apples. There were a lot of Italian people in Santa Rosa . Santa Rosa
"I walked a couple of miles to school every day, and then started playing all the instruments. My dad would fix people's shoes and if they couldn't pay him, they would bring him things. Someone brought him a mandolin, and I started playing the mandolin. One time I got a banjo, and I started playing that. And then somebody, who must have owed my dad a few hundred dollars, brought a beautiful grand piano. I learned to play by ear. I would play these Italian tunes, O Sole Mio and things like that.
"There was a little town near
called Santa Rosa . Later on I would hitch-hike to a teacher there for piano lessons. She taught more or less from the jazz books. Petaluma
"I went to high school and junior college in
. From there I went to San Francisco State College to be a teacher. I never thought I'd make a living in music. I studied classical piano for the first time. I had to play some Beethoven for my graduation. I went for four years, got my B.A. I played in dance bands in Santa Rosa . My favorite piano players were Teddy Wilson and Art Tatum. I played at Sweets Ballroom, where every week they would have a name band. Benny Goodman came in with Harry James playing the trumpet. Sinatra came in singing with Tommy Dorsey. We would play the first couple of hours and then we'd hear Duke Ellington or Jimmie Lunceford or Gene Krupa. I remember giving Gene a couple of arrangements. San Francisco
"I learned the hard way, and I got to be pretty good, I must say. Everybody wanted to use me to play piano in dance bands. In those days in
, what they called tenor bands were quite popular. I had to play like Eddie Duchin and people like that. I didn't go for the Freddy Martin type things. Gil Evans was my favorite band." San Francisco
Gil Evans had a highly regarded regional band that played in a Benny Goodman style. It was heard on the radio.
"I liked Fletcher Henderson," Pete said. "Eddie Sauter was one of my favorite arrangers. And Bill Finegan. They were to
One of the best things on the band that I have read is in a liner note by Pete Welding for a reissue CD that he produced, Kenton: New Concepts in Artistry in Rhythm. Acknowledging the later criticisms of Kenton, Welding wrote:
"But the 1940s and most of the '50s belonged to Kenton. His was one of the most vital new bands to have emerged during the war years and, as the decade advanced and put behind it the hit-oriented vocals and novelty fare that initially had enabled it to sustain itself, its music became ever more venturesome in character as its approach was more clearly defined. This stemmed almost solely from Kenton, through the many attractive themes and striking arrangements he fashioned for the band and . . . through supervising . . . the other orchestrators who from the late '40s contributed to its book."
"A lot of the things in the book I did not write," Rugolo said. "Stan wrote Artistry in Rhythm, although I did different arrangements of it. He'd been using it as a theme, the slow version. I did Artistry Jumps. Stan wrote Concerto to End All Concertos and Opus in Pastels." Indeed, Kenton wrote and arranged a lot of the material that defined the band by the mid-1940s, including Eager Beaver, Painted Rhythm, Collaboration, Theme to the West, Minor Riff, and Southern Scandal. 'They were all things he wrote before I joined the band," Pete said. "I wrote Elegy for Alto and a lot of things. I wrote most of the original tunes for the band.
"We were supposed to record Ravel's Bolero. But we couldn't get a copyright clearance. Stan said, 'Can you write a new bolero?' So I wrote Artistry in Bolero. Ten out of twelve things in those albums are mine."
One of the things he wrote was an arrangement of Benny Carter's Lonely Woman, featuring a trombone solo by Milt Bernhart. He also wrote an arrangement on All the Things You Are for June Christy. The tune itself is beyond the scope of her chops, and the boodly-oo-debe-bop scat solo in the up-tempo second chorus is particularly inept. But then my views on scat singing are by now a matter of record. He also wrote a piece called Three Mothers, a sort of homage to Woody Herman's Four Brothers. The players were Art Pepper, Conte Candoli, and Bob Cooper. Bebop was in full flower, and Pete sounded very much at home in it.
Kenton had an acute ear not only for arrangers, Bill Russo and Bill Holman among the most important, but for players. The alumni included, as well as those already mentioned, Stan Getz, Eddie Safranski, Kai Winding, Shelly Manne, Laurindo Almeida, Conte and Pete Candoli, Maynard Ferguson, Shorty
Rogers, Lennie Niehaus, Frank Rosolino, Sal Salvador, Bill Perkins, Lee Konitz, Richie Kamuca, Herb Geller, Zoot Sims, Stan Levey, Bill Perkins, Charlie Mariano, Carl Fontana, Pepper Adams, Red Mitchell, Jack Sheldon, Bud Shank, Rolf Ericsson, Jimmy Knepper, Al Porcino, and Red Kelly. A lot of these men also played in the Woody Herman band
There was no great love between Woody Herman and Stan Kenton. Because I liked both men, and Woody was almost a father to me, I tried to soothe things, telling each of them (I lied) something nice the other supposedly had said about him. It didn't work; they either knew each other too well, or they knew me too well. Bassist Red Kelly, one of those who worked in both bands, proposed a theory. "They didn't trust each other," Red said. "Woody didn't trust anything that didn't swing. Stan didn't trust anything that did."
Shelly Manne was quoted in Down Beat as saying that playing drums with Kenton was like chopping wood. Al Porcino, one of the greatest of lead trumpet players, was yet another of those who had played in both bands. A legend has grown up around a remark attributed to Porcino. Stan would sometimes give pep talks to the band. In one of them Stan said (and he had a wonderfully sonorous voice), "We've had the Artistry in Rhythm orchestra, we've had the Innovations in Modern Music orchestra, we've had the Neophonic Orchestra. We've got to try something new."
From the back of the band came the slow bored voice of Al Porcino, "We could try swinging, Stan."
Bud Shank told me a few years ago:
"I had and still have a lot of respect for Stan. He really encouraged the guys in the band to do whatever their thing was. I was hired to be lead alto player, not to be a soloist. That was Art Pepper's job. Whatever your position in that band, Stan encouraged you to do your thing.
"But that band was too clumsy to swing — because of the instrumentation and the voicings. On the other hand, the sounds that came out of it were big noises, really impressive. That's what that band was all about, making those really big noises. As far as swinging, it never did swing. Maybe it wasn't supposed to. I don't know. There sure were some players in it who swung.
"The Contemporary Concepts album, with those Bill Holman arrangements — that's one of the best big-band albums I've ever heard."
And, with Mel Lewis driving the rhythm section, it assuredly swung.
Confirming Bud's statement that Stan let the musicians do their thing, Pete said: "We played a lot of theaters in those days. Stan needed a fast opener. He'd tell me things like that. He changed hardly a note of what I did. He paid me so much a week. At first it was fifty dollars a week, or something like that, but he never said, 'You have to write so many arrangements.' When we traveled I never had time to write. But when we'd get to
I'd write five arrangements. I learned to write pretty fast in those days. One tune a day. L.A.
"I traveled on the bus. We had to pay for our own room and board. We were on the bus a lot, playing one-nighters. We'd play one place and the next night we'd be two hundred miles away. I loved playing
"Yeah, that's where I met you. You were so kind to me."
"I'm glad. I think all the people I met were nice to me. I met Duke Ellington. He would talk to me. In fact he'd call me at in the morning and say, 'When are you going to write something for me?' I couldn't write for him. He was my favorite, and I'd think, 'What if I write something and he doesn't like it?' The other guy I did the same thing to was Frank Sinatra. I got to be a buddy of his. I kept company with him, especially during his bad years when he couldn't sing. He was always after me to do an arrangement for him. And I could never do it. He was my favorite singer, and I thought 'Suppose I do something and he doesn't like it?' So those two, Duke Ellington and Frank Sinatra, I could never write for them. Anybody else asked me, and I would do it. Charlie Barnet. Whatever they wanted. But those two, I never could force myself to write for them.
"After Stan broke up the band in '49,1 stayed two years in
. I went to work for Capitol records, producing. I recorded all the Capitol people that came to town. In those days, New York was wonderful. It had New York 52nd Street and all the jazz. I did some arrangements. I wrote for Billy Eckstine. All the good singers liked my work. A lot of artists were coming into to record. Capitol had an office there. I did Mel Torme's first things, Blue Moon. I found Harry Belafonte singing some place, and signed him. He could sing jazz, but he didn't sell and Capitol let him go. He became famous singing calypso. We've remained friends. New York
"I produced the Miles Davis sessions they later called Birth of the Cool. I didn't make that name up. I heard them rehearsing down in the Village one day. I liked the idea of this band, so I signed them. We made some dates. Nobody knew it was going to be that popular until Capitol released it as The Birth of the Cool.
"It was a thing we all loved doing. We had all those good players, like Gerry Mulligan and Lee Konitz. Capitol put the records out, and the musicians started collecting them. I produced them all. I stayed in the booth and I really was tough with them. I made them do things over and over until they were just right. Stan taught me that. Stan would take a half hour tuning, making sure everything was just right. We really spent time on things, and that's why those records are so good."
"What is remarkable about that Miles Davis band," I said, "is that it only ever played two public engagements, a week at the Royal Roost and a one-nighter at Birdland, and made what was collected into -inch LP, and it has had this immense influence on American music."
'That's right," Pete said. 'The musicians bought the records. It was word of mouth."
It is a more than likely that without Pete Rugolo, those records would never have been made.
He also produced — and wrote — a considerable number of the Nat Cole records, including one of the most famous of them all. "I did about forty things for Nat. For a couple of years, I did all his things. One of the things I was proud of was Lush Life. When it first came out, Capitol didn't like it. They didn't release it for a whole year. They finally put it out as a B side on a real commercial tune. And people started really liking it. That was the first recording of the tune. Billy Strayhorn gave it to me. He said, 'I've got a tune here. I wish you'd show it to Nat.' I loved the tune. I made like a tone poem out of it. I made it about twice as long. But for a long time I got criticized for it.
“Nat was so nice to work for. He never told me what to do. He would give me a list of songs. I knew his keys. And then we'd do a record date two or three times a year. We'd do something here or something in
. He let me write nice things. I wrote some pretty string stuff. " New York
Pete wrote for a dizzying variety of singers during his Capitol years, including the Four Freshmen.
"They came to my office in
," he said, "and they sang Laura for me and a few tunes and I loved them. I talked Capitol into signing them. When I came back out here, I got together with them. They liked the sound of Stan's trombones. So I talked them into recording with five trombones. I wrote the arrangements, I conducted, I produced it. We called it Four Freshmen and Five Trombones. It made a big hit. Later on we tried it again, but it wasn't as successful. I was close friends with them. They were all wonderful guys. New York
"When I moved here to
from L.A. , I went through a divorce. She took every cent out of the bank. When I arrived, I didn't have a nickel. I stayed at June Christy's place for a while. I got a call from a publisher, Mickey Goldsen. He said, 'Pete, you know, your royalties are really good. If you want, I can give you so much a month until you get settled.' I was looking for work. I was ghosting, I was writing things for Les Baxter for fifty dollars an arrangement. I did a whole album with Yma Sumac. I was doing a lot of things for Ray Anthony. So when Mickey Goldsen called me, he said he could give me $200 a month to live on. Many years later he told me, 'Pete, I have to tell you. That was Stan's money. He was supporting you.' New York
"Stan published my songs, and he got the money back in time, but Stan did things like that. Stan had a couple of publishing companies with Mickey. Mickey said, 'Stan was the one. He wanted me to take care of you.'"
(Mickey Goldsen headed Capitol's publishing division during Johnny Mercer's presidency of the company. Later he set up his own publishing companies, under the general head of Criterion Music. He has a considerable jazz catalogue, including many works of Charlie Parker and Gerry Mulligan. He is probably, along with Howie Richmond, the most respected publisher in this business. Howie is now semi-retired, but Mickey is still very active, working ever day and playing tennis every morning. And he is eighty-six.)
"For a while I was an a&r man with Mercury," Pete said. "Stereo was just coming out. I did an album with ten trombones and two pianos. Then I did ten trumpets. I took all the famous trumpet tunes and made arrangements. Then I did one with two basses. I was allowed to do anything I wanted to. I produced Billy Eckstine, Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington.
"I got a call from Johnny Green, who was head of music at
MGM in those days. They were making a movie with Mickey Rooney playing the drums, called The Strip. I wrote sort of a jazz score. That was my first movie. I got to meet Joe Pasternak, who was producing all the musicals, and I did all the Esther Williams pictures. I stayed almost five years at MGM.
"Then one day I got a call from Stanley Wilson at Universal. They said they were doing a TV series with Boris Karloff called Thriller and they thought I'd be good for that kind of score. They wanted a real kind of modern score. So I went to Universal and I did the pilot and they really liked it a lot. I met Roy Huggins, who became a very dear friend, and he used me in everything. I did The Fugitive theme and the music and everything Roy Huggins did. And I did other things at Universal. I stayed at Universal for fifteen years. I did one show after another. I wrote, like, forty minutes of music every week. I don't know how I ever did it. I learned to write real fast! And I never had an orchestrator. I orchestrated all my own music. I did a lot of those movies-of-the-week, as they called them. I did some of the Hitchcock TV shows."
"Were you and Mancini at Universal at the same time?"
'Yeah. By then Hank was doing movies. He didn't do any television then. He'd already done Peter Gunn. We were very dear friends. We had dinner together, we liked to cook together. For a long time he never got the credit he deserved. It went to Joseph Gershenson at Universal. Hank would get an orchestration credit. Gershenson would take the music credit. That was going on a lot in those days."
I said, "Hank did things like Creature from the Black Lagoon, and the royalties are still coming in. As Hank said, 'Movies are forever.'"
"Oh sure. I was griping all the time because Roy Huggins wanted music under everything, fires, machine guns, wrecks. And I was saying, 'I don't have time to write all that music!' But now I'm so glad I did, because the residuals are by the minute. And they took time to do, automobile races, and all that. Now I'm glad I did it"
I asked Pete, who retired some time ago, if he could, in so storied a career, cite high points in his life and work. He said:
"I wrote a lot of television shows. I did movies. I did some jazz albums for Columbia Records. I'm very proud of all the things I did with June Christy, Something Cool.
"And the years with Stan. They were wonderful. Stan was wonderful. We were very close friends, almost like brothers."
Some years ago, Henry Mancini went to the mountain village where his father was born. The road was rough and dangerous. There was no hotel in the village, and he and his wife turned around and went back down the mountain. Now, Hank told me, a freeway ran to the village, and it had evolved into a ski resort. He said it's where the Italians go to ski.
Pete made a similar pilgrimage, but in his case to the village in which not his father but he was born. Again, the road up the mountain was dangerous. And again, there was no hotel, and he never did find the house in which he was born. He and his wife Edie told their driver to turn around, and they went back down the mountain. They went on to
You can listen to an example of Pete’s writing for television on the audio track to the following video. The tune is entitled The Teaser and it would be played for the short “teaser” action you see first at the beginning of each Richard Diamond Private Detective television show starring actor David Janssen.
“The Teaser is a stirring example of Rugolo’s thrilling Latin Jazz. Larry Bunker plays both bongos and (later) vibraphone. The irrepressible Bud Shank plays the Jazz alto solo. Buddy Collette and Bob Cooper are briefly heard on flute and oboe respectively.”
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.”
“Rugolo was always a musical risk-taker ….”
“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 at a very young age . He became a student of expatriate French composer Darius Milhaud [at America in Mills College ; 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
. 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. Montreal
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 and 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
today Pete is far more famous as a film and TV composer. Hollywood
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”.
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
on Christmas Day 1915. His father played baritone horn. Both his sisters were musicians. The Rugolo family came to the Sicily when Pete was five. United States
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 . 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 California . Then he studied with Darius Milhaud at San Francisco College and obtained his M.A. Mills College
“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
. It’s hard to think of another famous film composer with such a varied background of successes. Hollywood
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, 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
. 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 and I would play the last set every night. …. Hollywood
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
to the public, I'm convinced that Stan never would have had the chance to continue on with his progressive jazz. Tampico
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
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, New York 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 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. California
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.
Hank Mancini: "Making yourself As You Go"
© - Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“If modern jazz becomes indelibly linked with manslaughter, murder, mayhem, wisecracking private eyes and droll policemen, the brunt of the responsibility must be borne by composer Henry Mancini. Because of him the point is rapidly being reached where no self-respecting killer would consider pulling the trigger without a suitable jazz background.
Seriously, Henry Mancini has become a pacesetter. Immediately after the first episode of the TV series "Peter Gunn," Mancini's modern jazz background score became a topic of general conversation. The Music from Peter Gunn, his first RCA Victor album (LPM/LSP-1956), rocketed into the nation's number one best-selling spot with the muzzle velocity of a police positive. Various recordings of the main theme music became top single records.
With all this excitement, it was inevitable that others should follow Mancini's lead. TV detectives now swash, buckle and make love to the strains of modern jazz.”
- Bill Olofson, liner notes to More Music From Peter Gunn [RCA LPM-2040]
Had it not been for a chance meeting with producer-director Blake Edwards, I daresay that Henry Mancini may not have had the opportunity to fulfill his lifelong dream of writing music for the movies.
There was no television when the dream first took shape in Henry’s mind after his father took him to see Cecil B. DeMille’s movie version of The Crusades.
The year was 1935. Henry was eleven-years old.
In the 23-years between that fateful day at the Lowe’s Penn Theater in
and bumping into Blake as he was coming out of the Universal Studios barber shop in Pittsburg, PA , Henry Mancini had become a masterful composer-arranger. He did so with a minimum of formal education; essentially by learning through doing. North Hollywood, CA
As the late, writer Ray Bradbury once put it: “You make yourself as you go.”
After serving as a rifleman in World War II, Mancini married and, at his wife Ginny’s suggestion, he relocated to southern
to pursue his dream. Once there, he landed a job in the music department at Universal Pictures. California
Henry did every job imaginable at Universal’s music room from copying scores to writing incidental music to even writing scores for forgettable-at-the-time-later-to-become-cult-classic-“B”-films like The Creature from the Black Lagoon.
Henry, too, might have been forgotten if he hadn’t been for the advent of television as a popular form of entertainment in the 1950s.
And, a rendezvous with obscurity might have loomed even larger for Henry had he not run into Blake Edwards, an old acquaintance, that fateful day in 1958 on the Universal back lot.
What’s the old adage: “I’d rather be lucky than good[?]”
Henry Mancini was a couple of years younger than Blake at the time of there chance meeting [36 and 38, respectively].
The studio system that maintained staff orchestras and staff composer-arrangers was coming to an end and Mancini has just lost his job. He had a wife and three children to support.
As they were parting company, Blake asked Henry if he would be interested in doing a TV show with him.
“Sure,” said Mancini, “what’s the name of it?”
Edwards said “It’s called Peter Gunn.”
Mancini asked: “What is it, a Western?”
Edwards, replied: “You’ll see.”
The rest is history.
Starring Craig Stevens as the stylish private-eye, Peter Gunn was to become one of the most successful series in that genre.
Thanks to Mancini’s genius, it would also lead to major changes in how music was written for television and the movies.
For Peter Gunn, Henry Mancini wrote the first full score in television history.
Both Blake Edwards and Henry Mancini went on to have illustrious television and movie careers that resulted in fame and fortune, distinction and awards, and the comforts of a satisfying and stylish life.
But for me, the epitome Henry Mancini’s composing and arranging always began and ended with his exciting and energetic work on the music for Peter Gunn.
The Jazz pulse with which he infused the music for that TV series has influenced and informed my Jazz consciousness for over fifty years.
One of my great treats in life is to return to this music and savor its timeless brilliance.
I did so once again recently, this time enlisting the aid of the crackerjack graphics team at CerraJazz
LTD and the production facilities at StudioCerra to make the following video tribute to Henry Mancini and the music he composed for Peter Gunn.
I’ve selected Blue Steel as the audio track to this video montage of photos of Henry, the programs main stars, Craig Stevens and Lola Albright, along with some graphics about the series.
Much of the music that Mancini wrote for Peter Gunn features small group Jazz, but Blue Steel, which is from the second album – More Music for Peter Gunn – is composed for a full big band, one that certainly roars on this track.
Led by a trumpet section of Conrad Gozzo [lead], Pete Candoli [soloist], Frank Beach and Graham Young – can you imagine?! – and an orchestra that also includes five trombones, four French Horns, four woodwinds and four rhythm, Blue Steel is a veritable explosion in sound.
Hank’s music always seems to bubble with enthusiasm and humor; its bright, bouncy and bops along.
Blue Steel is only 3:39 minutes in length and yet it is brimming over with compositional devices – vamps, interludes and riffs that launch the soloists; half-step modulations and dynamics that are constantly building in the background until Hank rushes the band effervescently to the foreground; glissandos that probe and punctuate the arrangement; a throbbing walking bass that starts and stops to heighten suspense; vibes-guitar-piano playing mice-running-along-the-piano-keys figures to create a furtive sonority; flute “choirs” interspersed with vibes and then with a piano solo; a trumpet solo that soars over bass trombone pedal tones and ascending, and then, descending French Horns [see if you can catch Pete Candoli’s reference to Your Getting to Be a Habit With Me in his solo].
And just when you think the band is going to explode, Hank brings in a fanfare played by the orchestra in unison with Conrad Gozzo screaming out three, high note blasts to close the piece with a rush of orchestral adrenalin.
This is the music of a master orchestrator at work. Few arrangers have ever called upon a greater palette of colors in their arrangements. Mancini music always seem to have a mysterious gift of melody to it which provides him with a strong, inner core to build his scores upon.
The solo sequence of solos in Blue Steel is Dick Nash, trombone, Ted Nash, alto saxophone, Ronnie Lang, baritone saxophone, Larry Bunker, vibes, John Williams, piano and Pete Candoli, trumpet.
Booting the whole thing along are Rolly Bundock on bass and Shelly Manne on drums.
I’m sure glad that Henry Mancini stopped to get that haircut.
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