Nelson Riddle Biography Page

by Patrick McAndrews:

Nelson Riddle
Born June 1, 1921 in Oradell, NJ
Died October 6, 1985 in Los Angeles, CA

In the 1940's, as a young man Nelson Riddle started out as a trombonist and began arranging for the orchestras of Charlie Spivak, Tommy Dorsey and Jerry Wald and he later became a staff arranger for NBC radio. As his reputation grew, he became more in demand during the early '50s. Riddle was the arranger and conductor for Judy Garland, Nat King Cole, Jimmy Wakely, Betty Hutton, Ella Mae Morse among many others. It was through his work with Frank Sinatra, beginning in 1953, that he was recognized as Hollywood's top arranger. Riddle could piece together a song like a jigsaw puzzle, using top-notch jazz musicians to perfectly accompany Sinatra's voice. His keen understanding of how to use the various instruments helped the singer's lyrics without stepping on them. His instrumental breaks between lyrics became his trademark, with careful and intelligent use of horns and strings and knowing when to highlight an instrument and for just how long. His introductions, instrumental breaks and endings often became records within records, giving his recordings a unique polish.

As a solo artist, The Nelson Riddle Orchestra enjoyed some success during the '50s, with a #1 pop hit, "Lisbon Antigua" in 1955 and a Grammy award in 1958 for "Cross Country Suite". As well as top charted hits with Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson, Rosemary Clooney and Johnny Mathis. At the same time The Riddle Orchestra was in demand in Hollywood, arranging, composing, and conducting movie soundtracks as well. Among his soundtracks were "The St. Louis Blues" and "Pajama Game" along with television theme music. TV themes for "Route 66", "The Untouchables" and "Batman" ended up being The Nelson Riddle Orchestra's most recognizable instrumental recordings. In the 1970's, he was the musical director for Julie Andrews' variety show before cutting back his workload due to health problems. In the 1980's he made a comeback, arranging and conducting for Linda Ronstadt's Grammy-winning albums. His last work was an arrangement for opera singer Kiri Te Kanawa in 1985.

A partial list of Nelson Riddle Songs with Frank Sinatra on vocals

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