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Nelson Riddle Nelson Riddle

Nelson Riddle - arranger (1921 - 1985)

Nelson Riddle was one of the greatest arrangers in the history of American popular music. He worked with many of the major pop vocalists of his day, but it was his immortal work with Frank Sinatra, particularly on the singer’s justly revered Capitol concept albums, that cemented his enduring legacy. He was a master of mood and subtlety, and an expert at drawing out a song’s emotional subtext. He was highly versatile in terms of style, mood and tempo, and packed his charts full of rhythmic and melodic variations and rich tonal colors that blended seamlessly behind the lead vocal line. He often wrote specifically for individual vocalists, keeping their strengths and limitations in mind and pushing them to deliver emotionally resonant performances. This is evidenced certainly in his work with Sinatra in the following quote from Charles Granata’s book “Sessions with Sinatra,”: “It quickly became apparent that Riddle, of all the arrangers the singer had worked with, complemented Sinatra’s talents better than anyone else.”

Born June 1, 1921 in Oradell, NJ, Nelson Smock Riddle studied piano as a child, later switching to trombone at the age of 14. After getting out of the service, he spent 1944-1945 as a trombonist with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, also writing a couple of arrangements (“Laura”, “I Should Care”). By the end of 1946, with the help of good friend, Bob Bain, he secured a job arranging for Bob Crosby in Los Angeles. He then became a staff arranger at NBC Radio in 1947, and continued to study arranging and conducting with Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Victor Young.

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