Viola in January 2007
|Birth name||Alfred Viola|
June 16, 1919|
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
|Died||February 21, 2007
Studio City, Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Associated acts||Frank Sinatra, Frankie Ortega, Carl Frederick Tandberg, Bobby Troup, Ray Anthony, Harry James, Buddy Collette, Stan Kenton, Gerald Wilson, Terry Gibbs|
Viola grew up in an Italian family in Brooklyn, and learned to play the guitar and mandolin as a teenager. He enlisted in the Army during World War II from 1942 to 1945 and played in an Army jazz band. After he was discharged in 1946, he and Page Cavanaugh, whom he had met while serving in the Army, along with joined bassist Lloyd Pratt, formed a trio. The ensemble appeared in several films, including the Doris Day vehicle Romance on the High Seas, and played a few dates in 1946 and 1947 with Frank Sinatra. Viola continued to work with Sinatra regularly, accompanying him on several hundred studio recordings and concert dates between 1956 and 1980.
Viola was a highly regarded session musician in Los Angeles, performing in films, on television and in commercial spots. His mandolin playing can be heard on the soundtrack of The Godfather; other credits include West Side Story and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. He continued playing jazz as well, with Bobby Troup, Ray Anthony, Harry James, Buddy Collette, Stan Kenton, Gerald Wilson and Terry Gibbs. He also worked as a session musician on over 500 albums, including releases by Jimmy Witherspoon, Helen Humes, June Christy, Natalie Cole, Neil Diamond, Ella Fitzgerald, Marvin Gaye, Steve Lawrence, Julie London, Anita O'Day, Nelson Riddle, Linda Ronstadt and Joe Williams.
Viola and Cavanaugh reunited in the 1980s with Phil Mallory, and continued to play regularly in the Los Angeles area until the late 1990s. In 2005, he collaborated with Judy Chamberlain on a "Jazz Salute to Frank Sinatra" in Hollywood.
Viola died of cancer in 2007, aged 87. In his New York Times obituary, Chamberlain is quoted as saying, "he was a chameleon and could play in any style — that was his great talent." She added, "he was a flawless player. You could barely see his hands move, he was so smooth and quick with his fingers."
- Solo Guitar (Mode, 1957)
- Guitar Lament (World Pacific, 1961)
- Guitars (Liberty)
- Guitars Volume 2 (Liberty)
- Imagination (Liberty)
- Alone Again (Legend, 1973)
- Salutations For Frank Sinatra (Legend, 1974)
- Prelude To A Kiss (PBR, 1980)
- Mellow As A Cello (Starline, 1994)
- The Memory Of All That: The Chairman's Board Salutes Sinatra (Avanti, 1998)
- Stringin'The Blues (Jazzology, recorded at the jazz festival in Ascona 2002)
- "Al Viola, Guitarist Who Worked With Frank Sinatra for 25 Years, Dies at 87.". Associated Press in The New York Times. February 25, 2007. Retrieved 2008-02-24. "Al Viola, a guitarist who worked with Frank Sinatra for 25 years and also played the mandolin on the 'Godfather' soundtrack, died on Wednesday at his home in Studio City. He was 87."