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Pete Rugolo, award-winning composer and arranger, dies at 95

October 17, 2011 | 11:50 am

RugoloPete Rugolo, an award-winning composer and arranger who came to prominence in the world of jazz as the chief arranger for Stan Kenton’s post-World War II band and later wrote the themes for TV’s “The Fugitive” and “Run for Your Life,” has died. He was 95.

Rugolo, who also had a recording career with his own band, died Sunday of age-related causes at a nursing facility in Sherman Oaks, said his daughter, Gina Rugolo Judd.

As a composer and the chief arranger for Kenton from 1945 to 1949, Rugolo is credited with being a major force in shaping the progressive jazz sound of the Stan Kenton Orchestra.

“Big bands of the Swing Era were on their way out, and he came along and brought this remarkable new life to that big band instrumentation,” music critic Don Heckman told The Times.

Rugolo won the DownBeat magazine poll as best arranger in 1947 -- the first of five wins as best arranger over the next seven years.

After leaving Kenton, Rugolo began a two-year stint as the musical director for Capitol Records in New York, where he was responsible for discovering and recording new acts.

“Bebop was just starting then and I signed all the bebop players for Capitol,” he recalled in a 1993 Times interview. “When their stars would come to New York -- Peggy Lee, Mel Torme -- it was up to me to record them.”

Among the artists Rugolo signed was Miles Davis, and he produced the famous “Birth of the Cool” sessions with Davis’ group.

He was working as an arranger and orchestrator at MGM and was West Coast musical director for Mercury Records when he broke into television in 1958 by writing a new theme for “The Thin Man,” the 1957-59 series starring Peter Lawford and Phyllis Kirk.

He went on to write a new theme and music for “Richard Diamond: Private Detective,” the 1957-60 series starring David Janssen.

Among the shows he wrote themes and underscores for in the '60s are the Boris Karloff-hosted anthology series “Thriller” and, most notably,  “The Fugitive,”  starring Janssen, and “Run for Your Life,” starring Ben Gazarra -- the latter series earning Rugolo three consecutive Emmy nominations.

For his extensive work as a composer in television, Rugolo won two Emmys -- in 1970 for the TV movie “The Challengers” and in 1972 for an episode of “The Lawyers,” which was one of the rotating elements of “The Bold Ones” dramatic series.

Born in San Piero Patti, Sicily on Dec. 25, 1915, Rugolo moved to the United States in 1920 and settled in Santa Rosa, Calif. After earning a bachelor’s degree from San Francisco State College, he studied with avant-garde composer Darius Milhaud at Mills College in Oakland.

In addition to his daughter Gina, Rugolo is survived by his wife, Edye; his sons, Pete Jr. and Tony; and three grandchildren.

A funeral will be held for immediate family only; a public remembrance will be announced later.


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--  Dennis McLellan

Photo: Pete Rugolo in 1990. Credit: Los Angeles Times