by Karen Morris
World-renowned arranger, composer and bandleader, Nelson Riddle, was born on June 1, 1921, and sadly passed away thirty seven years ago, on October 6, 1985, but his music is as popular and beloved today as ever.
Nelson was a gifted youngster, with a passion to pursue music, playing his trombone and exploring his talent for arranging during his formative years.
His extraordinary artistry developed over five decades, from the 1940’s through the 1980’s, revealing Nelson’s instrumental musical genius, as he and his orchestrations became in great demand, having an impact on American culture, as well as internationally.
Nelson Riddle arranged and recorded over 100+ albums, masterfully conducting The Nelson Riddle Orchestra, often referred to as the “World’s Most Recorded Orchestra,” accompanying the top iconic vocalists of the 20th century, including Frank Sinatra, Nat “King” Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Rosemary Clooney, Peggy Lee, Doris Day, Judy Garland, Dean Martin, Barbra Streisand, Linda Ronstadt and many more.
An array of splendid albums and single hits were released during Nelson’s illustrious career: Swing Easy, Unforgettable, In The Wee Small Hours, Songs for Swingin’ Lovers, C’mon, Get Happy!, Only The Lonely, Cross Country Suite, Ella Swings Gently with Nelson, just to name a few.
Many recall Nelson’s beautiful arrangements of Mona Lisa and Too Young with Nat King Cole, and his outstanding work with Ella Fitzgerald on The Gershwin Songbook. But it is his collaboration with Frank Sinatra which was exceptionally noteworthy, as he was credited for reviving Sinatra’s career with the Capitol recording of I’ve Got the World on a String.
And soon after Nelson and Frank combined forces on one of the most exciting and sensational tunes of the era, I’ve Got You Under My Skin, and it was pure magic. Quoting Frank Sinatra, “In the 1950’s, Nelson Riddle and I wanted to record groups of songs that set a mood. We recorded wonderful, soulful, tender albums; as well as hot swinging ones.”
Charles “Chuck” Granata, producer, music historian and author of the award-winning book Sessions with Sinatra: Frank Sinatra and the Art of Recording, shares his professional insights in this quote, “The recordings Frank Sinatra made with Nelson Riddle are unequaled for their extraordinary musicality. With Nelson, Sinatra pushed himself to unprecedented vocal heights and created a jazz-pop vocal style that became a model of its kind. Nelson’s extensive skills, techniques and limitless imagination allowed him to write breathtaking backings for Sinatra, with pure jazz, swing, classical and even light-rock motifs. Nelson was, inarguably, the finest musical partner Frank Sinatra ever met in a recording studio.”
Awards followed for Nelson, winning three Grammy’s, two for his albums What’s New and Lush Life featuring Linda Ronstadt, and one for Cross Country Suite, presented as part of the very 1st Grammy Award Ceremony in 1959.
Film scoring and TV Themes became another creative outlet for Nelson, leading him to win an Oscar for best original song score for the 1974 film The Great Gatsby. More of his movie scores include Ocean’s 11, Pal Joey, High Society, Can-Can, Robin and The Seven Hoods, and On A Clear Day You Can See Forever, as well as distinctive TV show themes, Route 66, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Naked City, The Bob Newhart Show, and Batman!.
A quote by broadcaster and scholar of the Great American Songbook, Jonathan Schwartz, sums up so much about Nelson Riddle.
“The scope of his talent dwarfs all other arrangers. His obvious pleasure in delegating authority-to the oboe, flute, bass trombone, muted trumpet, organ, bassoon, vibraphone-while still remaining in full control of his administration; his overseeing without overstating the strings; his own private melodies that whisper respectfully under the Gershwin or Kern or Rodgers on the table; his out and out passion that informs every bar of every arrangement. All these things are actively combined in the immense body of work that stands as one of the great achievements in American arts.”
Nelson Riddle’s well-deserved place in music history lives on, with a heritage which has been carefully preserved by the Riddle family. Nelson’s daughter, Rosemary Riddle Acerra, has gracefully protected the integrity of the estate, ensuring that the memory and music of Nelson is remembered authentically.
Also keeping the family musical legacy alive in story and song is Christopher Riddle, Nelson’s son, a consummate professional and the acclaimed conductor/music director of The Nelson Riddle Orchestra for the past 37 years, who continues to lead the band since his father’s passing in 1985.
In 2021, Nelson Riddle would have turned 100, and to celebrate his lifetime of accomplishments, Christopher Riddle is poised to direct Nelson’s exemplary arrangements in a commemorative musical production, Happy Birthday Nelson Riddle: 101 Years of Song, saluting Nelson’s birthday and centennial moments. Melodies such as All the Way, My Kind of Town, Lady is a Tramp, Too Marvelous for Words and others will be included in the vast show repertoire.
In addition, a new show, Riddle/Sinatra, has been developed to pay tribute to the marvelous collaboration of Nelson Riddle and Frank Sinatra, showcasing their stellar musical contributions during their years together at Capitol and Reprise Records. The program will spotlight a variety of favorite songs such as, September In The Rain, All The Way, I’ve Got The World On A String, Summer Wind, Nancy, and I’ve Got You Under My Skin.
Both memorable programs will feature The Nelson Riddle Orchestra, joined by a talented jazz vocalist, Bryan Anthony. Mr. Anthony, is a seasoned performer who has toured with the orchestra in the U.S. and abroad.
Nelson Riddle’s music spans generations and will be remembered, respected and enjoyed for years to come, as he remains a prominent influencer in the music and recording industry in this century and beyond.
Thank you, Nelson Riddle!
For booking, contact Karen Morris, Sand Castle Communications, email@example.com
Thanks to Karen and the team at Sand Castle Communications. Photo of Nelson Riddle, courtesy of The Riddle Family