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Trombonist/composer/arranger Sammy Nestico

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Sammy Nestico

A giant in the world of big band music, Sammy Nestico lived a life filled with swing and beyond – and he worked with the biggest stars of the earlier era like Sarah Vaughan to modern rockers like Phil Collins. Paige Hansen has a remembrance.

Sammy Nestico was the child of a railroad worker father and homemaker mother in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Sparked by the trombone when he was 13 years old, his big band career lit up quickly and burned brightly for most of his life.

By the time he was 15, Nestico was arranging music for the school orchestra, and by 17, he was arranging music for the house orchestra at a Pittsburgh radio station.

Nestico went on to work with the great big bands of Tommy Dorsey, Woody Herman and Gene Krupa — and his crowning career glory: arranging for the Count Basie Orchestra.

Some prolific artists are moody and introspective, but not so for the ebullient and joyous Nestico. He says he woke up with music in his head.

And his biggest pleasure was getting to see and hear his compositions played by others.

Nestico was most proud of the more than 600 published titles that are still played in schools across America and throughout the world.

Nestico was a behind-the-scenes guy, directing 10 albums of original music that earned him four Grammys.

He was also composer and arranger for the Capitol Records label and created music for movies and television.

He arranged and conducted albums for artists like Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan and Phil Collins.

Nestico was a member of the U.S. Air Force Band in Washington, D.C., for 15 years. He led the famed Airmen of Note. Later, he enlisted with the U.S. Marine Band and served as chief arranger and director of the White House Orchestra.

One of his proudest moments was crafting a piece heard by then-President John Kennedy after the president had visited his ancestor’s birthplace in Ireland. Nestico was inspired to record “The Boys of Wexford” – and the president even asked for a copy to be played aboard Air Force One.

Sammy Nestico passed away in January, just a few weeks shy of his 97th birthday this year.