Joe Harnell, 80; Pianist, Conductor, Composer, Arranger

From a Times Staff Writer

Joe Harnell, a Grammy Award-winning pianist, arranger and conductor, died Thursday of heart failure at Sherman Oaks Hospital in Sherman Oaks, according to his publicist. He was 80.

Born in the Bronx, N.Y., Harnell began studying piano when he was 6 and started his professional career as a jazz pianist at 14. He graduated from the University of Miami with a degree in music.

He enlisted in the Army Air Forces during World War II, touring with the Glenn Miller Air Force band. After his discharge at the end of the war, he studied composition with Aaron Copland and worked as a music director or accompanist for a number of leading singers. Harnell worked with Peggy Lee in concerts and on several of her albums in the late 1950s and early ‘60s.


He conducted the orchestra on her albums “Anything Goes: Cole Porter” and “Peggy Lee and the George Shearing Quintet,” and played piano on Lee’s “Things Are Swingin’ ” album. He also worked with Lena Horne, Pearl Bailey and Frank Sinatra.

In the early 1960s, Harnell took advantage of the bossa nova music craze and arranged “Fly Me To the Moon Bossa Nova,” which became a hit. The song -- based on the Bart Howard-penned “Fly Me To the Moon,” which would later be a hit for Tony Bennett -- won Harnell a Grammy Award in 1962 for best performance by an orchestra for dancing.

From 1967 to 1973, Harnell served as music director for Mike Douglas on his afternoon television talk and variety show.

Harnell moved to California and found work scoring for films and television shows, including “Santa Barbara,” “The Incredible Hulk,” “The Bionic Woman,” “Alien Nation” and “V.” He received three Emmy nominations for best dramatic score.

He recorded numerous albums under his own name, including “Bossa Nova Now” for Columbia and “Fly Me to the Moon” and “Hud and Other Movie Themes” for Kapp.

In 2001, he published “Counterpoint: The Journey of a Music Man,” written with Ira Skutch.

For many years, Harnell taught and guest-lectured on film scoring at the USC Thornton School of Music.

He is survived by his wife, Alice; sons Joel, Jess and Jason; stepsons Derek and Robin; a brother, Stewart; and four grandchildren.

The family suggests that donations in his name be made to the USC Thornton School of Music.