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ARCHIVES: Nelson Riddle, rare and jazzy

(Nelson Riddle Appreciation Society “Nelson’s Notes” ARCHIVES, May 2009)

Howard Reich: My Kind of Jazz

April 7, 2009

To this day, the mere mention of Nelson Riddle’s name evokes luscious orchestral backdrops to classic albums by Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Nat “King” Cole.

Remember the thrilling brass cries that launch Sinatra’s recording of “I’ve Got the World on a String“? The luxuriant bed of strings that cushions “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning“? The snarling horns and unstoppable crescendo of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin“?

It all was the genius of Riddle.

But Riddle could do more than just arrange other people’s music, as he proved with “Cross Country Suite,” a 1-movement work that will receive a rare performance this weekend by Jeff Lindberg’s Chicago Jazz Orchestra. From the bluesy phrases of the “Gulf Coast” to the Jazz Age rhythms of “The Great Lakes,” the suite offers a time-capsule view of America in 1958, when the original recording was released.

“The piece tells us that besides all the accomplishments Riddle had as an arranger, he also had his own voice as a composer, though he didn’t have the time, perhaps, to express it,” says CJO conductor Lindberg.
Lindberg and the CJO made history reviving the piece in 2007, with the recording’s original clarinetist— Buddy DeFranco —returning to play the complex solo part. This time, Victor Goines will be soloist in an opus that won Riddle his first Grammy Award.

Which makes you wonder what else Riddle might have created if he hadn’t dedicated most of his career to the little-noticed art of arranging. Might “Cross Country Suite” have marked the beginning of a new phase of Riddle’s work?

“Unless we find some other major pieces,” says Lindberg, “it’s more like the end.”

Victor Goines rehearsing with the Chicago Jazz Orchestra

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