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Friday, February 23, 2024

Introducing Pete Rugolo


Early Stan

Introducing Pete Rugolo and His Orchestra
Columbia Records CL 635

From the back cover: Early in 1954, Columbia gathered three exciting new orchestras together to bring forth the newest and most interesting ideas in present-day dance music. A genuine cross-section of today's finest was planned, and some of the first fruits of that idea are here in this collection. The orchestras were those of Pete Rugolo, Les Elgart and Dan Terry, three notable young musicians, and their dance music is as stimulating – and danceable – as anything to be heard these days.

Pete Rugolo, on whom this collection focusses, is a pioneer in progressive jazz composition and orchestration. One of the most exciting voices in modern music, he has been voted "best arranger of the year" for five successive years in both "Downbeat" and "Metronome," and won a South American poll for outstanding scoring. His unusual harmonies and conceptions have not been for orchestra alone, for he has made arrangements for many star vocalists.

Perhaps best known is his work as chief arranger for Stan Kenton's Orchestra in its most provocative days. More than fifty Rugolo works have  been recorded by the orchestra, and in this collection he pays tribute to the group in Early Stan. Pete Rugolo studied at San Francisco State College and went on to acquire a Masters degree at Mills College. During 1939 and 1940, he studied with Darius Milhaud, the famous French composer, and in 1940, his Suite For Strings won first prize in a Mills College competition. At the same time, he was playing piano with dance orchestras, playing French horn solos with the Sonoma County Symphony in California, and arranging for the Johnny Richards band.

This collection opens with Harold Arlen's That Old Black Magic, taken at a somewhat faster pace than usual, so that the convolutions of the music take on an even greater electricity; influences from the teachings of Milhaud can be found, too, in the extraordinary voicings Rugolo has written for his orchestra. Next follows Early Stan, a Rugolo original, presenting the kind of thematic development that contributed so much to the brilliance of the Kenton orchestra. Bazaar, arranged  by Rugolo from a section of Khachaturian's "Gayne" Suite, offers him an opportunity to show the expressive colorings that can be obtained from a modern dance orchestra, and in California Melodies, he again raises the tempo for growing excitement, winding up with a short waltz coda.

In You Stepped Out Of A Dream, the possibilities of a flavorsome ballad in moderate tempo are explored with a wealth of interesting sounds, while the 360 Special, another Rugolo original, generates its own special exhilaration. A light Latin beat provides the basis for his arrangement of Laura, a setting distinctly in the modern idiom that carefully preserves the feeling of the song, and the collection continues with another Rugolo composition, Come Back Little Rocket, wherein the whole pallet of the orchestra comes into play in a heady, fast-paced explosion. Throughout the collection, the inventions nd control of a master arranger is clearly evident, and the brilliant technicians who comprise the orchestra respond with performance that are a sharp and edged as the music.

The Rugolo treatment of such old standby as In The Shade Of The Old Apple Tree clearly demonstrates what new voicing will do to a tune that is almost over-familiar, giving it an entirely new pulsation. Much the same thing happens in the Sidewalks Of New York Mambo, with its own special humor and the inescapable excitement of the mambo beat. Just what can be done with a basically simple theme in experimental popular music shows up brilliantly in the Theme From The Lombardo Ending, wherein a five-note phrase becomes a full-lengthy arrangement through a series of ingenious and amusing elaborations. For the finale, the Rugolo orchestra offers Mañana, a hit of a few years back, in a rousing interpretation.

That Old Black Magic
California Melodies
You Stepped Out Of A Dream
360 Special 
Come Back Little Rocket
In The Shade Of The Old Apple Tree
Sidewalks Of New York Mambo
Theme From The Lombardo Ending

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