Last week, famed bandleader Pete Rugolo died at the age of 95. A brilliant arranger and progressive composer, he brought a decidedly modernist touch to big-band jazz, most famously with his work for Stan Kenton. He worked with Nat King Cole, Mel Tormé, June Christy, Harry Belafonte, the Four Freshmen, Peggy Lee, Billy Eckstine and many, many others.
Interesting to locals: Pete Rugolo grew up in Santa Rosa, graduating from Santa Rosa High School in 1934.
Though he eventually recorded under his own name (and specialized in fun, lively cover art), the album that introduced me to Pete Rugolo is still my favorite: the June Christy album Something Cool, a jazz-vocal landmark. Rugolo had been rearranged, tinkered with and sent back to the rewriting board by his previous employers, but as he recalls in this interview at age 84, “I did the album Something Cool, and everything I wrote, they never changed a note. They just loved all my work.”
It shows. Listen to “Something Cool” below, and pay attention in the bridge, when Christy sings about going to Paris in the fall—Rugolo answers with a jubilant three seconds of music that evokes, well. . . Paris in the fall. It’s a classic Rugolo touch that I’ve always loved, and the rest of the album’s arrangements are equally sophisticated and ahead of their time. Enjoy the song.