Back in July I wrote about Cross Country Suite, a 1958 album of Nelson Riddle's compositions featuring the clarinet of Buddy DeFranco. At the time of my posts (here, here and here), there was some confusion over who actually arranged the compositions—Nelson Riddle [pictured] or Bill Jones, one of his ghostwriters.
For those unfamiliar with how the West Coast studios operated in the 1950s, most big-name arrangers were so overwhelmed with projects that they had to farm out work to meet impossible deadlines. To get the scoring done, arrangers had teams of ghostwriters who specialized in mimicking their styles. The arranger would review the work of these ghostwriters before submitting the work, and the practice was accepted and encouraged by record companies, TV networks and movie studios. All of the major arrangers—from Nelson Riddle and Billy May to Gordon Jenkins and Quincy Jones—employed ghostwriters. So did Renaissance painters, and most major architects continue this practice today.
The controversy over who did what started on Cross Country Suite began when I found a reference online at the University of Arizona's Nelson Riddle Library citing Bill Jones as the "arranger." Puzzled, I checked in with Rosemary Acerra, Nelson's daughter. I also called clarinetist Buddy DeFranco. Both said Nelson was most likely the arranger given the project, with Bill Jones serving as a minor fine-tuner. So I credited Nelson with the arrangements.
On Friday, I received the following email from Keith Pawlak, music curator at the University of Arizona:
You mentioned that Nelson Riddle wrote the arrangements for Cross Country Suite. Well, the answer to this is somewhat shaded. To say that he simply arranged the suite is misleading and inaccurate. So here's an explanation of what Nelson wrote given the process he went through on similar works during that time period. He rarely used this method for pop arrangements.
First, Nelson composed a basic outline of the suite. This included—but may not have been limited to—a lead sheet that framed the melody and basic harmonies for each movement. Next, I am highly confident, but not 100% sure, that Nelson then wrote an arranger's sketch of each of the movements. This sketch would have included voicings and some instrumentation notes. He then would have given these sketches to Bill Jones to orchestrate the work.
Bill would have then assigned the notes to the individual instruments from Nelson's sketch. Bill would have also filled in any spots that he felt were necessary to the music.
Nelson had three ghostwriters who he worked with in the 1950s and 1960s. These men were Gil Grau, Bill Jones and Warren Barker. Gil was used the most and Barker the least.
If you look at the record cover you will see that Nelson is not credited anywhere with arranging the piece, but Bill Jones is credited with the "orchestration." Now some musicians regard the words "arranging" and "orchestration" as identical terminology. In some cases this context is true. However, it is not uncommon for musicians to get help in the completion of their ideas. Especially considering the deadlines that some musicians have to deal with in Hollywood.
Of course, there is a certain area of doubt here since the [original] manuscripts were destroyed long ago. But given my experience working with Nelson's music, I can confidently piece together Nelson's process.
So if you were going to give credit on a re-release, you could definitively state the following.
Cross Country Suite: Composed by (or music by) Nelson Riddle; orchestrations by Bill Jones."
While it's still not crystal clear who did what, credit for the album's orchestrations now rests with Bill Jones.
But the specifics surrounding Jones' role remains foggy. Why would Nelson Riddle hand off a project that clearly was dear to his heart? This wasn't a run-of-the-mill score. It was his baby, his personal love letter to America's majestic landscape. Nelson's
enormous work pressures notwithstanding, this would have been considered a pet project by any stretch of the imagination.
Perhaps Nelson did call in Jones for a light clean up. Or perhaps he used Jones as a beard. Nelson was under contract to Capitol Records at the time and likely would have wanted to avoid a conflict of interest. He also may have been contractually obligated to keep his name off other albums as arranger. Or perhaps the only way Capitol allowed him to take on Cross Country Suite for Dot Records was by having Jones' name listed on the release as the "orchestrator" rather than his own.
While Keith Pawlak's explanation above certainly has merit, the word "arranger" used in the University of Arizona's own listing should be changed to "orchestrator." There also should be an asterisk next to the word explaining what "orchestrator" means in this context. Calling Jones the "arranger" is a tad unfair, somewhat marginalizing Nelson's role and leaving readers and researchers baffled and confused.
Clearly this tale's conclusion remains a work in progress. I'll continue to report out the facts and let you know the outcome as the story unfolds. A big thanks to Keith Pawlak for taking time out to clarify my earlier posts and to Rosemary Acerra for putting the matter in perspective. To be continued...
JazzWax tracks: Cross Country Suite was recorded over three days in the summer of 1958. The following year it was awarded a 1958 Grammy. The album features Buddy DeFranco soloing on 12 different impressionistic tributes to the American landscape. The album recently was re-issued on CD by the Nelson Riddle estate and can be purchased here. Click on "1 used & new available from $15" to order directly from the Nelson Riddle estate, which assures me there are hundreds in stock, not just one.