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Although best remembered for the bold, evocative film scores he composed for tough-guy filmmakers Sam Peckinpah and Clint Eastwood, Jerry Fielding was also a premier arranger of the swing era, later headlining a series of space age pop LPs as well. Born Joshua Feldman in Pittsburgh on June 17, 1922, Fielding was a child prodigy who claimed among his earliest influences Bernard Herrmann's pioneering scores for the radio dramas of Orson Welles. A pupil of theatrical conductor Max Atkins, he was regularly writing arrangements for theatrical pit bands while still in high school, and at 18 was hired by guitar great Alvino Rey. When Rey relocated his musical enterprise from New York City to Los Angeles, he brought Fielding with him and by the mid-'40s he was an in-demand freelance arranger, writing charts for swing icons including Tommy Dorsey, Kay Kyser, and Charlie Barnet. Fielding also wrote extensively for radio, including programs hosted by Hoagy Carmichael, Kate Smith, and the Andrews Sisters, and was eventually named musical director of The Jack Paar Show. By 1952 Fielding helmed his own jazz orchestra, which was the house band on Groucho Marx's popular television game show You Bet Your Life, but as a self-confessed "loudmouthed crusader" who received death threats for hiring African-American musicians, it was inevitable that he would run afoul of Sen. Joseph McCarthy's anti-Communist witch hunts. Called to testify in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee, Fielding took the Fifth Amendment, and his Hollywood career crumbled.
Fielding sought refuge in Las Vegas, where he served as musical director for acts including Abbott & Costello and Debbie Reynolds. He also signed a record contract with Decca, cutting a series of jazz-inspired discs including Sweet with a Beat, Swingin' in Hi-Fi, and Fielding's Formula. The emergence of stereo technology galvanized Fielding's efforts, and later LPs including Magnificence in Brass and Near East Brass remain favorites of exotica collectors. With McCarthy's reign of terror finally at an end, Fielding returned to Hollywood in 1962, and at the recommendation of blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo he was hired to write his first feature score for Otto Preminger's political thriller Advise and Consent. A score rich in atmosphere and melancholy — two emerging signatures of Fielding's work — it was followed by a series of lighthearted television efforts including themes for the series Hogan's Heroes and Run Buddy Run. In 1966, he teamed with two-fisted filmmaker Sam Peckinpah for the telefilm Noon Wine, inaugurating an often contentious creative partnership that won Fielding Academy Award nominations for 1969's The Wild Bunch and 1971's Straw Dogs. Fielding also scored several films for Clint Eastwood, earning a third Oscar nomination for his work on 1976's The Outlaw Josey Wales. While in Canada scoring the feature Below the Belt, Fielding suffered a fatal heart attack on February 17, 1980. He was just 57 years old.