Register for updates!
Back to Crescendo 1962 July



Pages 2-3 of Crescendo, July 1962, Vol. 1, No. 1, featuring an article on Nelson Riddle giving British musicians some tips on playing his scores.

Image Details

Catalogue Reference Number
Creator Tony Brown [ed]
Date Made 1962
Item Format Journal
Title or Caption The Nelson Touch.

This text has been generated by computer from the image and may contain typographical and/or grammatical errors.

Crescendo looks in as Nelson Riddle takes a British band through the scores
^TELSON RIDDLE, doyen of vocal accompanists of the swinging school, props one leg over the high stool and gazes at his British band appraisingly.
“The problem is,” he says conversationally, “to get the right feel to it. It should be boo-be ba-boo-ba . . .”
Nelson is no great shakes as a singer, but the message gets across. He has the feel. He’s faced some pretty highly-paid musicians in his time, men of cast-iron lips and great technical fluency.
The onlooker feels that this thought might shake the assurance of British musicians taking their first look at the Riddle scores. Apparently not.
“You do the best you can,” explains Duncan Campbell who has just blown a solo passage, clinkerless. “He’s just told us that he gets a good performance in the studios. When he goes around America, it’s different.”
That figures. And the musicians here, including a largish contingent from the Ted Heath orchestra, are competent enough.
The arrangements are varied. Some have a wide range of dynamics—soft legato strings against punchy riffs from brass and saxes. Others ride along gently throughout, according to the style of the vocalist and nature of the song.
Riddle’s conducting personality is unspectacular—but commanding. No son of raving. A soft handclap effectively cuts the band.
“The trumpet got a wrong note on the third beat of bar 39. Ba-ba be ba-ba. It should be A concert. What did I do with my pen ?”
There is a hasty shuffling around to help and a musician proffers his own. Riddle scratches his back and lights a cigarette.
“Let’s try this. I’ve run all these things together and I have to think about the tempo.” He peers at the score before him. “I’ll give you a downbeat on this medley ...”
“I’ve Got The World On A String”— warm, smooth strings. Then saxes and brass hit it.
Riddle doesn’t seem to be paying close heed until four languid handclaps punctuate the proceedings. Underneath it all, one senses that he is not only a
thorough musician, but also worldly-wise and tough. He wastes neither words nor time. He doesn’t miss a trick.
The band blows again. This time it’s a wave of the hand and a headshake. He ambles across to the saxes. “Instead of a dotted quarter and an eighth, let’s make that two quarter notes. Once more. Let’s see if we can make these three bars sound like something now.”
He doesn’t smile, but flat humour intrudes as an afterthought. “If I can’t do it, maybe you can ...”
There is a trombone solo, out of tempo, against fiddles. The trombonist fluffs a couple. That can happen to the best of them.
Riddle fingers his lip. “You’re in trouble breathing, aren’t you ?”
The trombonist wipes his lips and puffs out his cheeks as a gesture of assent. The phrases are long.
They take it again.
Again Riddle cuts them, bee-ba-ing his interpretation of the written part. “The trumpets should be open at some place there. I think bars one to five. The trumpets should open up.”
He glances at his watch briefly. This is merely the morning run-through with the band. Later a vocalist must be rehearsed.
Then two shows in the evening. Already it is apparent that the Riddle musicians have taken on a day’s work.
“If you could bring those figures up.” He bends an ear to an individual query. “A natural, yes.”
He observes that bar 125 should sound this way—and then a rim shot on the drum. “Does everyone understand ? Two beats rest, four eighth notes. What would be nice there is a mute of some sort. Maybe a Harmon. I’ll give you time to ram one home.”
“Love And Marriage” crops up in the medley. A rather comic arrangement. Two flutes, two clarinets against a baritone figure. And there’s a ribald how’s-your-father phrase tagged on the
end. Arranger’s musical comment on the theme ?
Something is wrong with bar 69. “I’ve got B flats,” explains a musician.
“Try B natural,” says Riddle. “This should all be in tempo, 'The Young At Heart’, I believe.” He gives the downbeat again.
And again four gentle claps halt proceedings. “Don’t play arco, play pizzicato all through it.” Bassist Johnny Haw'ksworth puts down his bow.
“We won’t play it that fast. The guys have got to get in there.” He looks at drummer Kenny Clare. “I gave you the wrong tempo ...”
And so on through “All The Way” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” The medley ends.
“One long breath,” says Riddle, “and we’ll start the thing from the beginning and see if we can get through it.”
He tells Kenny Clare to “take off” as they approach the swinging “Under My Skin.”
It’s been a pretty long blow on unfamiliar stuff. One musician peters out on his solo eventually and creeps in again blowing an octave down. Not a particularly tough passage, middle to upper register. Another time, he’d probably have romped through it. So they aren’t nervous. How would you feel knowing that someone like Frank Rossolino had last tackled the solo ?
He looks red and a trifle brought down. “My chops have gone,” he explains to Riddle. “Coming right at the end of the morning and that.”
Riddle seems unruffled. He addresses the band at large. “That’s pretty close though, I must tell you. It fits together pretty well.”
“Where’s Vic ? Is this the break now ?” Vic Lewis has been keeping tabs on the time and figures that lunch wouldn’t come amiss. The musicians leave the theatre in groups in search of a meal.
Was Riddle giving them pep talk ? Would it be alright “on the night ?” There’s prestige in playing for Nelson Riddle. It can also be a headache.
page two
“British musicians ? I admire their musicianship and discipline.”
Eleven years ago, Nelson Riddle was out of a job and worked at freelance arranging for bread and butter. Then he scored “Mona Lisa” for Nat Cole and was signed by Nat and Capitol records.
Since, he has been arranger conductor on Sinatra, Garland, Lee, Clooney, Fitzgerald and Dean Martin sessions and has made albums under his own name.
Son of a New Jersey farmer, he took piano lessons from the age of eight and took up trombone at high school. At nineteen he joined Jerry Wald’s touring band, then moved to Charlie Spivak and started arranging for him.
Later he joined Tommy Dorsey, staying for a year until army service intervened. On demob, he settled in California and studied music on a re-settlement grant, then became staff arranger for NBC for three years. Staff cuts made him redundant in 1950.
It was Riddle who thought up the anvil beat on Ella Mae Morse’s “Blacksmith Blues”, an on-the-job improvisation. He added the sound of a glass ash tray being struck by a metal drum accessory for the anvil beat—and it sold over two million.
A CELEBRATED British jazz trum-pet player had been under treatment from a psychiatrist. Came the happy day. “You are now completely cured,” beamed the nut doctor. “You can w'alk straight out of here and play just like Eddie Calvert.”
Girls in Ivy Benson’s band were taking tuition off a Ken Mackintosh sax player during an Isle of Man season. But they would keep asking the sax man to test their reeds and mouthpieces.
“You try,” says he bitterly, “telling your wife that the lipstick came from the reed on a mouthpiece on a saxophone belonging to a girl saxophone player. You never get the chance of finishing.”
Equally true tale of the pianist coming home late from a gig. He’s stopped by two plain-clothes policemen. They accuse him of being out on a ‘job.’ He expostulates. “Don’t try to kid us,” they say. “we’ve seen the cosh on the back seat of your car.”
It took him a long time to explain that the ‘cosh’ was the tuning key he habitually carried. It is a useful weapon at that.
“I’m not sharp .Just a little bright.” “It looks like a natural in this light.” “But I played it long.”
“I can’t seem to leave the stand for a minute without everything going to pieces.”
“Sorry. Took me half an hour to find a parking meter.”
“No, dear. I think it should be a male vocal.”
“Don’t watch them, watch me.”
There are frustrations north of the Border. The hip musician has to survive in the face of folk lore and Scottish country dancing, with bags of unison fiddles and accordions.
“When Swing beats Fling, highland variety, I’d like to be in on the act,” writes our Scottish correspondent, Pete Grant.
“But it’s coming. Local top pop is ‘The Bilk Is My Delight’.”
page three