Brush with Art: The personal side of Sammy Nestico

Brush with Art: The personal side of Sammy Nestico
The Coastal Communities Concert Band celebrates Sammy Nestico’s first 90 years. Courtesy photo

In celebration of its 31st anniversary, the Coastal Communities Concert Band presents “Sammy Nestico: The First 90 Years” concerts Feb. 8 and Feb. 9 in Carlsbad.

Sammy Nestico, whose stellar music career made him a natural choice to be honored with a concert of his music, will be joined by Camp Pendleton’s First Marine Division Band on this festive occasion.

Kate Takahashi of the CCC Band shares insights into the personal side of the music luminary Sammy Nestico, “This man is as kind as he is talented. No ego, and he is a great in the jazz world. The kindness, easy laughter, and big heart he possesses are rarities in any person, let alone someone of his stature in the music world. He has the most prolific career of anyone I have ever heard of in music.”

The son of Italian immigrants, Nestico was born in Pittsburgh in 1924. While growing up in the 1930s, he was a fan of the big swing bands, particularly Tommy Dorsey. He remembers as a young boy receiving an allowance of ten cents each weekday to buy lunch. He discovered that if he didn’t eat lunch, every two weeks he could save a whole dollar, which he applied towards the purchase of used records.

In the eighth grade Nestico began teaching himself to play a school-supplied trombone by listening to his scratched Tommy Dorsey record collection. By the tenth grade he was performing in local nightclubs, and by age 17 was playing trombone in the studio band at ABC radio station WCAE in Pittsburgh. There he became a staff musical arranger with skills he acquired through trial and error. In 1946 he joined the Charlie Barnet band as a trombonist and toured with fellow Pittsburgher Billy May.

After earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Music Education from Duquesne University, Nestico joined the United States Air Force Band in Washington, D.C. He served as staff arranger and subsequently became the leader of the “Airmen of Note.” He later enlisted with the United States Marine Band, serving as chief arranger and director of the White House Orchestra during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.

Relocating to Hollywood, Nestico became the composer/arranger for the Count Basie Orchestra from 1970 to 1984. During these years he directed the recording of 10 of Count Basie’s original music albums, four of which won Grammy awards. During the same period, Nestico was hired as arranger/orchestrator for Capitol Records, for which he co-wrote the equivalent of 63 albums.

Nestico collaborated in songwriting with such notable artists as Steve Allen, Stan Freberg, Bobby Troupe and Johnny Mercer, and orchestrated for major film studios including 20th Century Fox, Universal, Paramount, Warner Brothers, MGM and Columbia. He arranged and/or conducted albums for recording artists Phil Collins, Barbra Streisand, Natalie Cole, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Sarah Vaughan, Toni Tennille, Patti Austin, Nancy Wilson, Pia Zadora, Paul Anka, Pat Boone, Ronnie Milsap, Daniel Rodriguez and many others. Along with fellow composer/arranger Quincy Jones, Nestico released an album titled “Basie & Beyond” in 2000.

Although his television credits are far too numerous to mention here, they include notables such as The Tonight Show, Mission: Impossible, M.A.S.H., The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Hawaii Five-O and Charlie’s Angels.

While proud of his 600 works published for use in schools, Nestico confesses that his favorite memory is playing the solo in “A Dream Come True” with his idol Tommy Dorsey, who through his records, had unwittingly taught young Sammy Nestico to play music so long ago.

With his “What can I do to this tune to give it a new suit of clothes?” approach to musical arrangement, Nestico enjoys reflecting on his life: “If there is anything I’ve learned over the past six decades, it is not to take myself too seriously.”

He continues, “I’ve worked very hard, but must admit I have been blessed with solid faith in my art and a wonderful body of creative associates. Although my music starts out being notes on paper, it is the musicians who bring it to life and give it real meaning. That’s where the magic is.”

Don’t miss Sammy Nestico: The First 90 Years. Concerts will be held at the Carlsbad Community Church, 3175 Harding St., Carlsbad, Feb. 8, at 7 p.m. and Feb. 9 at 2 p.m.

Tickets can be purchased at cccband.com.

 

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