(Nelson Riddle Appreciation Society “Nelson’s Notes” ARCHIVES, May 2009)
By Vernise Elaine Pelzel
A segment of the 1956-57, color-barrier-busting Nat King Cole Show has been posted on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mSX9hJjRtao), providing a rare glimpse into the process behind music making. As Nat introduces Nelson – “one of today’s leading arrangers is our own Nelson Riddle” – the band plays in the background. The camera pans to reveal Vern Yocum, Nelson’s Copyist and Librarian, along with Vern’s helpers from Yocum’s Music Service in Hollywood – Dick Guyette, Priscilla Nemoy, and Gus Donahue – hand-scribing what is to become part of Nelson’s momentous mountain of music. As if you have time-traveled, you’ll be treated to Nelson conducting his zippy toe-tapper, “Diga Diga Doo,” from the album C’mon…Get Happy! You’ll see many greats from the era, including trumpet soloist Jimmy Salco, Juan Tizol on valve trombone, Buddy Collette soloing on tenor sax, Joe Comfort on bass, Lee Young on drums, and Jack Costanzo featured on bongos in this lesser-known number. Then, against Nelson’s image, musical arrangements begin to scroll. Nice!
In his gentlemanly, romantic style, Nat “King” Cole, the first African American star to be given his own network show, reveals his reverence for music and respect for all who contribute by exhibiting the calligraphers at work behind the scenes. It was important to him to help viewers understand how music is made. I had the pleasure of meeting Nat while spending a day at the Hollywood Bowl enjoying an all-day rehearsal. He was both regal and humble at the same time. Needless to say, the appearance of this clip on the Internet is a great joy to my family because this is the only time Vern Yocum, my father, was recognized publicly for his work. Copyists were thought by many to be little more than secretaries, and in many cases, this was true. In Vern’s case, it wasn’t. Yet he is seldom mentioned, and his work is known mainly to arrangers and musicians. Those still with us still appreciate his charts. So, this gem of a clip is tremendously appreciated by those of us who witnessed Vern’s 30-plus-year relationship with Nels as Copyist and Librarian, as well as the illustrator of Arranged by Nelson Riddle. Keith Pawlak, curator of the Nelson Riddle Library, has created the Vern Yocum Library at the University of Arizona: http://web.cfa.arizona.edu/vernyocum/.