Nelson RiddleHad he not died way too young…

…(in 1985 at age 64), Nelson Riddle would be celebrating his 92nd birthday today.

There are many, fabulous arrangers and conductors strewn throughout the pages of the Great American Songbook … Marty Paich, Paul Weston, Billy May, André Previn — far too many to do justice to the trade here. Though they all brought beautiful music to life in their unique styles, there are few that can truly be tagged with the over used and oft misplaced tag of “iconic”.

Mr. Riddle can carry that moniker without reproach. For me, Nelson’s charts (especially his string charts) and style were fundamental to the music that underwrote the “vocal artist era” from the mid ’50’s through the early ’70’s.

Riddle’s “sound” is unique…

…distinctive without being heavy handed and dexterous without ever losing that NR style. Whereas some of the great arrangers tend toward the music of a particular era or style, NR’s charts equally underpin turn-of-the-century classics and ’60’s Broadway hits. Though stylistically different, today’s Charlie Calello displays a similar ability to imagine songs of different eras and deliver uniquely styled, high quality renditions.Linda Ronstadt w Nelson Riddle

I first became familiar with Nelson Riddle from the three standards revival LPs he did with Linda Ronstadt in the early ’80’s. As I mentioned in my American Song Book Revival series (April 2012), I think these Grammy winning Riddle/Ronstadt albums represent the genesis point for the resurgence of vocal standards music … the wave that Bublé, Krall are riding high on today.

NelsonRiddle and Frank Sinatra

NelsonRiddle and Frank Sinatra

From that first NR awareness moment, I found myself listening for Mr. Riddle’s handiwork as I traveled back through the sweet spot of the classic vocal standards era (~’55 thru ’67). Riddle delivered a massive volume of quality material, but the bravura release that stands apart in NR’s oeuvre for me has to be the 1963 Reprise release — Concert Sinatra.

Nelson Riddle commands a 96 piece orchestra to such great effect that you nearly forget that the centerpiece for the album is Frank Sinatra in his prime, plying a select track list of Broadway numbers; Concert Sinatra is truly a top 1%er and should not be missed (though feel free to miss the two tracks — “America” and “California” — that were incongruously added on to the end in the 2012 re-release)

Today, for Nelson’s birthday, listen to my favorite track from this LP (and one of my all time favorite songs period), or scout about and lay in some of Nelson Riddle’s finest for the evening … Happy birthday NR!

“I Will Love Being Loved by You” — Frank Sinatra and Nelson Riddle