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Sunday, March 21, 2021


New book explores the genius and enigma of Nelson Riddle

Nelson Riddle, arguably the greatest, most successful and prolific composer and arranger in the history of American popular music, was something of an enigma. Author Geoff Littlefield takes a deep dive into that story with the help of the late composer’s musician son, Christopher, in a revealing new biography, Nelson Riddle: Music with a Heartbeat.

Seeing Riddle as a complex and forlorn genius, Littlefield traces Riddle’s life from the small town of Oradell, New Jersey, through a career that saw him hailed as the veritable king of what came to be known as the Great American Songbook — the canon of the most important and influential American popular songs and jazz standards from the early 20th century.

Riddle collaborated with all the biggest musical stars of his time, including Dean Martin, Peggy Lee, Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald. But it was his work with Frank Sinatra that made him a household name the world over. By the time his career was winding down, Riddle was working with new names on the scene like Linda Ronstadt, became musical director for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour on CBS, wrote music for the Batman TV show on ABC and turned down an offer from Paul McCartney to collaborate on a song. His shelf included Grammy and Oscar awards.

But Littlefield reveals that, like so many creative souls, Riddle was a complex and troubled figure. His marriage to Doreen, with whom he had seven children, was rocky and constantly under threat from his own numerous affairs.

Along with the Riddle family’s personal photographs of recording sessions and live performances, Nelson Riddle provides insights from interviews with those who knew him well, as Littlefield explores the musical genius behind some of the most popular tunes of the 20th Century.

“I have spent over half of my life studying and enjoying the Great American Songbook, which is aligned with what many call Hollywood’s golden era,” Littlefield said. “Now I am privileged to write about one of the songbook’s chief architects.”

Geoffrey Littlefield is a baby boomer born in London, England, whose lifelong passions include soccer and music. His first magazine article was published when he was just 13 years old, featuring interviews with Chelsea FC and England soccer players. His love of music grew simultaneously, with particular focus on the Great American Songbook. Littlefield eventually moved into professional music management and record production, and his written works include an exclusive interview with singer Vic Damone. He has been the subject of several radio and television interviews about the Great American Songbook, both in the UK and US. He continues to write, produce and direct. He has two movie screenplays in development and a documentary set for release later in 2021.

Follow the author on Instagram at musicheartbeat1; on Twitter at @GeoffreyLittl13; and on Facebook at NelsonRiddleBook.

Nelson Riddle: Music with a Heartbeat is published by Grosvenor House Publishing. ISBN-13: 978-1839754401

(artSMart will review the book shortly)