Biography All Music Guide
All Music Guide:
West Coast jazz arranger and composer Russ Garcia was born April 12, 1916, in Oakland, CA. A product of San Francisco State University, he later studied composition under Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco before mounting a professional career as an arranger, collaborating with bandleaders Horace Heidt and Al Donahue. After settling in Los Angeles, Garcia worked as a composer and conductor on the Ronald Reagan-hosted radio show This Is America. After the program ended, he tenured for two years as a staff arranger with NBC Radio, followed by a stint teaching at Hollywood's Westlake School of Music, where his students included jazzmen Bill Holman, Bob Graettinger, and Gene Puerling. (Garcia later transformed his curriculum into a book, The Professional Arranger.) With 1946's My Dog Shep, Garcia began composing and arranging for feature films. Henry Mancini later tapped him to work on The Glenn Miller Story, resulting in a 15-year tenure at Universal Pictures alongside Pete Rugolo and Benny Carter. In later years Garcia also toiled for Warner Bros. and Disney, working on projects including George Pal's sci-fi classic The Time Machine as well as television series like Rawhide and The Virginian; he also freelanced behind vocalists Anita O'Day and Frances Faye, and by the mid-'50s was also a regular on West Coast jazz dates, eventually forming his own combo, the Wigville Band, featuring Charlie Mariano, Jimmy Giuffre, and brothers Pete and Conte Candoli. In 1957 Garcia also served as arranger and musical director on Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald's classic Porgy and Bess sessions. However, his most memorable work falls outside the jazz sphere altogether: while the AAMCO release Sounds in the Night remains one of the most beautiful and mysterious vocal ensemble recordings ever released, 1959's Fantastica is Garcia's masterpiece, a quintessential space age pop LP that brilliantly imagines the music of other planets and realms. After arranging for Stan Kenton's Neophonic Orchestra, in 1966 Garcia turned his back on his career, selling his home and possessions and with wife Gina setting sail for the Pacific Ocean, determined to bring the message of the Baha'i faith to the remote islands of the Pacific Rim. The Garcias ultimately settled in New Zealand, and he returned to music infrequently in the years to follow.