Election Section

Ralph Burns, music arranger, dead at 79

The Associated Press
Thursday November 22, 2001

LOS ANGELES — Ralph Burns, who won Academy Awards, an Emmy and a Tony as a music arranger after making a name for himself in jazz as a piano player in the Woody Herman band, died Wednesday. He was 79. 

Burns collected his first Academy Award for adapting the musical score for the 1972 movie “Cabaret” the first film he worked on. He won another for adapting the musical score for “All That Jazz,” an Emmy for television’s “Baryshnikov on Broadway” and a Tony in 1999 for the Broadway musical “Fosse.” 

Other film credits included “Lenny,” “In The Mood,” “Urban Cowboy,” “Annie,” “My Favorite Year” and “The Muppets Take Manhattan.” 

He also collaborated with Jule Styne on “Funny Girl” and Richard Rodgers on “No Strings.” 

The Massachusetts native, who took up piano as a child, was playing in dance bands in Boston when he was 12, graduating to jazz orchestras by his teens. 

He studied briefly at the New England Conservatory of Music, but said he learned orchestration by listening to the recordings of jazz greats Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington and Count Basie and transcribing their works note by note. 

He worked with Herman band’s for 15 years as both a writer and piano player, composing some of the group’s biggest hits. Among them were “Apple Honey,” “Bijou” and the three-part “Summer Sequence.” 

“Early Autumn,” written later as a fourth movement for “Summer Sequence,” became a hit with singers after Johnny Mercer supplied words for it. 

Later, Burns worked in the studio with such popular singers as Tony Bennett, Johnny Mathis, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin and Natalie Cole. 

He also continued to work on music for the stage, orchestrating a production of “Thoroughly Modern Millie” for the La Jolla Playhouse just last year.