Phil Moore

April is, among other things, jazz month. As it is quickly slipping away, I figured I’d best slide one more music post in before April exits into the upcoming  summer madness. Here it is.


You didn’t know him. Neither did I. He was one of a legion of several hundred of us of who no one had ever heard of. And that part of it is a little strange to me, because without us, without our special abilities, no one would have ever known of Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Bing Crosby, Tony Bennett… at least not on the scale we do. For it’s probable that no one would have heard them on records or later, television, were it not for the beautiful background music that accompanied them throughout their illustrious careers… on countless records, in the Vegas shows and TV specials. Imagine Tony or Frank without their big bands and sweet orchestras backing them. A simple piano and guitar just wouldn’t have cut it.

No, the public image of those singing stars would have been damn near impossible without those deep and beautiful arrangements that brought their talents to the public with “bigger than life” emotions and beauty. That’s right… those “arrangements.”

What is an “arrangement,” and what does an “arranger” do? Right there is the reason for all this… because I was an arranger, and I want you to know what it involved, and that it was important. I figure if you’ve read this far, you might wander along with me a little further.

For our purposes, “ A musical arrangement reinterprets and reorganizes a piece of music to achieve a unique version of the original piece – It’s very much about the decision-making process of how to incorporate different musical elements to produce a unique outcome. 

These musical elements include the rhythm, harmony, melody, and instrumentation of the song. A new musical arrangement can make a familiar song can suddenly feel fresh, new, and exciting. This can elicit different emotions like nostalgia and a fond familiarity.

Okay, that’s the official version of what an arranger does. Here’s mine… an arranger picks the tempo of the song, and what key it will be played in. He/she decides which instruments should play the arrangement, then thinks of how the song should sound, what emotion/visualization the song should bring to the listener, then writes out the parts of all the instruments, all the parts that work to make the whole song happen, usually beautifully. The process is especially complicated when the arrangement is for a singer. 

Just so you know, a lot of singers don’t need an arranger. They sing beautifully with just a guitar, a piano, or several simple instruments that can easily be played off the cuff. But singers like Frank Sinatra, for instance, always had a big band, and often a nearly-full orchestra for his recordings. And who was his favorite arrangers for all those recordings? Why, Nelson Riddle, of course! Bet you never heard of him, either. Well, maybe you did, if you’re over 60.

The only arrangers who became household names were those few who started their own band or orchestra, and recorded enough to become known… but as a band leader, never as an arranger. Names you will surely know are Henry Mancini, Burt Bacharach, Oliver Nelson, Quincy Jones, Dave Grusin, Glenn Miller, and a woman, Mary Lou Williams!


Let’s say you had a kid in a high school band, who played trumpet, clarinet, whatever. There’s every chance they played several Sammy Nestico arrangements. That’s right, the arranger who did hundreds of semi-jazz arrangements for high schools across the country. Sammy was the reason those notes hit the page, that the high school band sounded as good as they did… sometimes. I played trumpet in the Ennis, Montana high school band for 4 years,… this is Montana now, a small class C high school, and we played several Sam Nestico songs and arrangements. Sammy even wrote a popular book, “The Complete Arranger.”

Phil Moore

Okay, I’ve beaten “what an arranger is” to death. Now let’s get down to it… Phil Moore is the person I referred to the top, the person who none of us had ever heard of. But who the hell is Phil Moore, anyway? Wikipedia says, “Phil Moore (February 20, 1918 – May 13, 1987) was an American jazz pianist, arranger, and bandleader.”

In 1937 He married Neva Mary Peoples; a pianist, actress and a vocalist of San Francisco, Ca. He supported Lena Horne, Frank Sinatra, Bobby Short. He arranged big-band music for the Tommy Dorsey and Harry James orchestras.

In 1946, he played the role of a band leader in a short B movie, Stars on Parade. About this time, his relationship with Dorothy Dandridge helped bring her success in a nightclub singing career. Moore served as vocal coach for other performers in Hollywood, including Marilyn Monroe and Ava Gardner.

Now we know who Phil Moore was, let’s find out why I care enough to write all this. And I know, I know… it’s not necessary, or important to know the supporting cast behind our favorite stars. But damn, I do know a lot of them, and they are/were so incredibly talented! So many of them have glorious, wonderful careers without anyone outside their family and fellow workmates knowing who they are or what they accomplished. Just between you and me, I know for a fact that some of the support cast was much more talented and hard-working than the stars they worked their magic for.

I, along with the rest of America, would never have known who Phil Moore was, if I hadn’t been invited to a performance of Diahann Carroll at the Waldorf in New York City in January of ’69. She was billed as the first concert of the opening of the winter season of entertainment at the Waldorf, and it was, socially, a big event in the city.


A fine singer, Jimmy Helms, and I were down in the city for an audition for Columbia records for Jimmy, which I’ve written about previously. Our host for that week was another pianist and arranger, Warren Myers, who got us tickets for dinner and the show that night at the Waldorf. We were there with Warren, his wife and a notable friend of Warren’s, Stephen J. Cannell, who created or co-created several dozen successful TV series from the 1970s to the 1990s, often with his creative partner Frank Lupo. Cannell’s creations include The Rockford Files, The A-Team, Renegade, The Greatest American Hero, 21 Jump Street, and The Commish. He also wrote novels, notably the Shane Scully mystery series. I’ve also written about him before, but you have to admit, my modest name-dropping skills are improving, right?

Anyway, the show was fantastic, a full house and a full orchestra backing Diahann. After the show, we were standing in the mezzanine overlooking the lobby, I saw Phil Moore strolling through the crowd that had streamed out into the big main room. I recognized him as the conductor of the orchestra, and at the time had no idea he had also arranged all the music pieces for Diahann. I found his name, and a small picture of him in the program I’d kept. Other than that, I would never have known who he was, or what a great career he’d already had.

Even so, I watched him with respect, having just been thrilled by the music of the whole evening. He moved through the crowd and disappeared without a single person shaking his hand or even acknowledging him. I remember thinking that was odd, even sad, that no one bothered to congratulate the conductor of an outstanding show. I would have loved to meet him, to tell him how well the show went, how wonderful the music was.

That evening nagged at the back of my brain from time to time in the coming years. I finally figured out that all of us pianists, arrangers and conductors were merely the support system for the big names. No one outside the music and drama community knew who any of us were. It has been, however, some consolation for me to know that the stars damn sure knew who we were, and knew we were important to them and knew many of us on a first name basis. It always felt good to be recognized by them, and every so often we might even be invited to one of their parties, or other social occasions.

I never got to meet Phil. However, we were introduced to Diahann later that evening. She was gracious and I was truly impressed. But hell, I was still a kid from Montana at that point. Everything impressed me. Hmm, still does, now that I think about it.

Steve Hlulse

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