The Big Band Arranging Style of Sammy Nestico

If you grew up watching television during the 1960s and 1970s you have undoubtedly heard the arranging style of Sammy Nestico.  His musical arrangements can still be heard on reruns of popular shows during the variety show era of television.   Sammy has arranged music for all types of groups, but it is the big band that he may be remembered most for more than any other type of music.

Raised in Pittsburgh, PA, Sammy Nestico got his first taste of music playing trombone in the David B Oliver high school band.  He became an avid practicer, so much so that his mother did the opposite of what most mothers tell their children – to “stop practicing and go outside and play!”

Soon after his adoption of the trombone as his musical instrument of choice, Sammy began arranging music for a small band at the high school.  These early years would help shape a unique style –  one that has become one of the most recognized styles in big band arranging circles.

Sammy’s arranging style is a combination of simplicity and economy. Melody is of prime importance in every arrangement.  The importance of melody combined with an uncanny sense of “balance” between sections make Sammy’s big band arrangements not only fun to listen to, but to perform as well.  His sense of harmony is not overly complex, and always fits with the character of each and every big band composition or arrangement.

In 1946, Sammy auditioned for trombonist and staff arranger with the newly formed group, the United States Airmen of Note.  As the first arranger for the highly skilled ensemble, Sammy honed his writing style by churning out dozens and dozens of big band arrangements for the group. 

During the 1960s, Sammy collaborated in recordings with the Count Basie Band.  These recording sessions produced some of the most swinging and most performed big band charts of all time.  Charts such as “Basie Straight Ahead” and “The Queen Bee” continue to be played by high school and college big bands all over the world.  Sammy has even written that working with Bill “Count” Basie was the musical and personal highlight of his careeer.

Sammy Nestico continues to compose and arrange big band music to this day.  He will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the quintessential big band arrangers of the 20th century.  For more information on the musical arranging style of Sammy Nestico, refer to his own comprehensive book on arranging, The Complete Arranger