Irwin Bazelon, a composer whose angular, rhythmically complex and sometimes jazz-tinged works evoke the tension, energy and restless drama of contemporary urban life, died on Wednesday at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan. He was 73 and had homes in Manhattan and Sagaponack, L.I.
The cause was complications after heart surgery, said Bette Snapp, his press representative.
Mr. Bazelon had an unusually varied career. In the late 1940's, his principal interest was jazz, and his first professional job was as a composer and pianist for a dance band in Chicago. A concert by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra inspired him to study symphonic music, but before his own serious works found their way to the concert stage, Mr. Bazelon spent 20 years writing music for documentary films and cartoons. He also composed commercial jingles and the theme used by NBC News during the 1960's. But from the mid-1970's, he devoted himself almost exclusively to symphonic scores and chamber works.
Irwin Allen Bazelon was born in Evanston, Ill., on June 4, 1922. He studied composition at DePaul University, and after earning bachelor's and master's degrees there, he worked with Paul Hindemith at Yale University and with Darius Milhaud at Mills College in Oakland, Calif. He moved to New York City in 1948, and worked as a railroad reservations clerk for six years before finding a composing job with United Productions of America, an animation studio.
He also began writing music for documentaries and television dramas, and for productions of the American Shakespeare Theater in Stratford, Conn. When he decided to give up soundtrack composition after two decades, he wrote a valedictory of sorts, "Knowing the Score: Notes on Film Music" (1975), a frank book in which he discussed both the artistry and drawbacks of the craft. Still, Mr. Bazelon's soundtrack work bought him the freedom to write his more serious works. As he put it in a 1994 interview, the eight seconds of music he composed for NBC News "was enough to subsidize three symphonies."
All told, he completed nine symphonies and was at work on his 10th, a large orchestral and choral piece inspired by the writings of Hart Crane. Mr. Bazelon's works are distinguished for their coloration -- he was particularly partial to brass and percussion -- and for their use of elaborate, propulsive rhythms.
An eclectic, Mr. Bazelon used (and often intertwined) both 12-tone techniques and jazz moves, and often drew on seemingly conflicting images, as in his "Quiet Piece for a Violent Time."
He also brought nonmusical enthusiasms into his work. A horse-racing enthusiast, he captured that passion in the compositions "Sunday Silence," named for a racehorse, and "Churchill Downs," the site of the Kentucky Derby.
He is survived by his wife, Cecile Gray Bazelon, and a brother, Edward Bazelon of Chicago.