Nelson Riddle was born on June 1st 1921 in Oradell, New Jersey, the son of a musician father. He originally took up the piano but switched to the trombone, his father's instrument when he was fourteen. In the 1940s he played trombone and wrote arrangements for Big Bands including Alvino Rey, Charlie Spivak, Bob Crosby, and Tommy Dorsey. He discovered he was a better arranger than trombone player and was soon working as a staff arranger/composer at NBC.
While working at NBC, mostly scoring radio dramas, he soon got an opportunity via his friend Les Baxter, to arrange backgrounds for Nat 'King' Cole at Capitol Records, which led to a long and fruitful collaboration. (Their first hit together was "Mona Lisa" in 1950, conducted by Les Baxter.) He found another vocal client who joined the Capitol roster in 1953, Frank Sinatra. The collaboration started out when Nelson substituted for arranger Billy May. In fact Sinatra was told that Riddle was 'just conducting Billy May's arrangements', but Sinatra soon discovered the truth, and warmed up to the Riddle style. For his swing arrangements for Sinatra, he pioneered a technique of using a simple catchy rhythmic counter, melodies. He also worked this concept into the introduction and coda to the song. This may have been a way of fooling the 'powers that be' that Billy May had done these arrangements. But in synthesising this idea with his own style, he created a more contemporary 'new sound' for Sinatra, which helped keep his career evolving, following Sinatra's Big Band and radio crooner days with arranger Axel Storhdal. He also shared a technique used by David Rose and others of using polyharmonies in the background arrangements, that is a fusion of two chordal paths simultaneously which may suggest an extension of one of them.
Much of Nelson Riddle's skill can be seen in his vocal background arrangements. Of interest to Ella Fitzgerald fans are the records, Ella Swings Gently and Ella Swings Brightly with Nelson. His instrumental recordings evolved into a more jazzy style, often featuring a bass guitar or bass trombone playing melody. He also scored TV series including "Route 66", "The Untouchables", and "Naked City". Nelson died on October 5th 1985.
David Jackson Shields is referenced.
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