He was born in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S. His sister was a concert pianist, his father an expert violinist. He started on violin at age seven, then he changed to bassoon. At thirteen, he began alto saxophone and clarinet, about this time he began composing. In 1946, after graduation from Roosevelt High School, he started studying music at Los Angeles City College, later earning a music education degree from Los Angeles State College in 1951 as part of the school's first full graduating class. He started his professional career arranging for and playing alto saxophone with Phil Carreón and His Orchestra in the Los Angeles area. He went out on the road with the Stan Kenton orchestra for six months but was drafted into the army in 1952. Discharged in 1954, he rejoined Kenton for five years. He wrote extensively for the Kenton band and had the longest and most recorded tenure of any of the leadalto players. He left the Kenton orchestra in 1959 to pursue music composition in the studios. He arranged music for the King Sisters, Mel Tormé, Dean Martin, and Carol Burnett.