Mr. Rugolo, who first gained prominence as a composer and arranger for bandleader Stan Kenton in the 1940s, was an unseen hand behind some of the most innovative and enduring music of the time.
He was a co-producer of one of the the most influential jazz recordings in history, Miles Davis’s “Birth of the Cool,” produced popular albums by singers June Christy, Patti Page and Nat “King” Cole, and recorded more than 30 records under his own name.
As a prolific Hollywood studio composer in the 1950s and 1960s, Mr. Rugolo called on his jazz training to create the musical backdrop for countless television and film soundtracks, working on everything from big-screen swimming extravaganzas of Esther Williams to TV episodes of “Leave It to Beaver.” He won three Emmy Awards and two Grammys.
Mr. Rugolo seldom appeared on stage himself, and his best work was often done in studios or in the service of others. One of his little-known jobs from his days as a staff composer for MGM was writing music for the 1960 college-age romp, “Where the Boys Are.” He wrote the forward-looking music performed by actor Frank Gorshin’s “dialectic jazz” band.
In 1990, jazz critic Leonard Feather wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Pete Rugolo may well be the most unfairly forgotten man of jazz.”
With a dual career as a Hollywood composer and record-label executive, Mr. Rugolo wrote theme songs for two TV dramas starring David Janssen, “Richard Diamond, Private Detective” (1957 to 1960) and “The Fugitive” (1963 to 1967), about a doctor on the run after being falsely accused of murder. The memorable “Fugitive” theme had the dark, noirish feel of a 1940s movie with an insistent percussive pulse that was one of Mr. Rugolo’s stylistic signatures.
His other TV credits included background music for dozens of shows, including “I Love Lucy,” Rod Serling’s “Night Gallery” and “Fantasy Island,” as well as the theme songs of “Run for Your Life” (1965-68), starring Ben Gazzara; “The Thin Man” (1957-59), with Peter Lawford and Phyllis Kirk as Dashiell Hammett’s husband-wife team of socialite detectives; and “Thriller” (1960-62), a suspense show with Boris Karloff as host.
“When you’re scoring, especially television, you don’t have much time,” Mr. Rugolo told the Los Angeles Times in 1993. “You look at the picture on Friday and have to have the score finished on Monday or Tuesday. I did that for 20 straight years, sometimes two or three shows a week.”
Pietro Rugolo was born Dec. 25, 1915, in San Piero Patti, on the Italian island of Sicily, and came with his family to California when he was 5. He grew up in a musically gifted family in Santa Rosa, Calif., and developed an early interest in arranging — creating the instrumentation and harmonies for a piece of music.