Book Review: Nelson Riddle: Music with a Heartbeat by Geoffrey Littlefield with Christopher Riddle

NELSON RIDDLE was possibly the greatest; one of the most successful arrangers in the history of American popular music. He worked with global icons such as Peggy Lee, Judy Garland and many more. And in a time of segregation and deep racial tensions in the US, he collaborated with leading black artists such as Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald, forming close, personal friendships with both. He also wrote successful TV themes and Oscar-winning film scores.

A complex and often forlorn genius, he will forever be remembered for his immortal work with FRANK SINATRA, but like fine wines his later vintage was just as palatable, if somewhat of a surprise.


My Review

This biography of Nelson Riddle is pretty interesting. I had never heard of him, but I’m not one to pay attention to who composed what. The information about Frank Sinatra and the relationship he had with Nelson Riddle was particularly interesting.

A lot of the details in this biography are given by Nelson Riddle’s son Christopher and some by other siblings. Christopher was also a composer and has been the leader of the Nelson Riddle Orchestra for over 30 years, so he knows a lot about what happened behind the scenes as he got older.

One tidbit I never knew is that the Rat Pack that was so famous with fans wasn’t the original Rat Pack! Frank Sinatra was the only member of the original Rat Pack, and he didn’t like the “new” group being called that.

Nelson Riddle worked with Frank Sinatra for over 25 years but he also worked with Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole and Linda Ronstadt among many others. He was obviously an amazing composer.

I’m sure anyone interested in 40s and 50s music and/or 50s and 60s Hollywood would appreciate the information in this book.

About the Author

Geoffrey Littlefield is a baby boomer born in London, England, whose lifelong passions include football, films 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.

Geoffrey eventually moved into professional music management and record production, and his written works include an exclusive interview with singer Vic Damone, who was described by Frank Sinatra “as having the best pipes in the business”.

2021 sees the centennial of the birth of iconic US arranger Nelson Riddle. Geoffrey has penned the authorised biography NELSON RIDDLE: Music With a Heartbeat, published on 26th February 2021.

Geoffrey has been the subject of several radio and television interviews about the Great American Songbook, both in the U.K. and U.S. He continues to write, produce and direct. He has two movie screenplays in development and a documentary set for release later in 2021.