Don Raffell

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Don Raffell
Charlie Spivak saxophone section with Don Raffell.jpg
Don Raffell on far right (tenor)
in the Charlie Spivak sax section, 1941
Background information
Birth name Donald Howard Raffell
Born (1919-04-26)April 26, 1919
Origin United States
Washington, D.C.
Died March 24, 2003(2003-03-24) (aged 83) Sherman Oaks, CA
Genres Bop
Cool jazz
Big band
West Coast jazz
Occupation(s) Multireedist, Educator
Instruments Saxophones
Associated acts The Tonight Show Band
Nelson Riddle
Artie Shaw
Gerald Wilson
Lennon Sisters
Charlie Spivak
Time-Life Records

Don Raffell (née Donald Howard Raffell; Apr 26, 1919, Washington D.C. - d. Mar 24, 2003, Sherman Oaks, California) was an American saxophonist, woodwind doubler (Multireedist), studio musician and educator. Raffell recorded on hundreds of records, movies, and T.V shows dating from the 1940s all the way through the 1990s. His career as a studio musician was long and stylistically diverse having started in the big band era and playing all the way up through rock n' roll and other modern pop era acts. He had a long time close professional association with arranger and conductor Nelson Riddle.[1]

Early life[edit]

Don Raffell was born and raised in a musical family in Washington D.C. where both he and his brother took up musical instruments. He learned the clarinet and then moved onto the saxophone and flute, he learned to play trumpet and flugelhorn also. Early on his greatest influence on the saxophone was Lester Young and then later Stan Getz.

Professional career[edit]

Raffell got his first start with the Charlie Spivak[2] orchestra in 1940 where he would meet long-time friend and professional colleague, trombonist and arranger Nelson Riddle.[1][3] During the 1940s and early 1950s Raffell would tour and record extensively with Spivak and then later with the Artie Shaw Orchestra with whom he recorded on several of the bands famous RCA recordings. He would move to Los Angeles in the mid-1940s after the Spivak band had made an appearance on the 1944 Betty Grable movie Pin Up Girl.[4] Raffell also toured and recorded with numerous other big bands/acts of the time to include Benny Goodman, Sonny Burke, Johnny Burke, Charlie Barnet, Louis Armstrong, Ray Conniff, and Mel Torme. His tenure with the Burke Orchestra was the one of the most positive for him of any of the touring bands from that era.[5] Raffell eventually settled in the city of Sherman Oaks in Los Angeles County near the studio music scene of Burbank and Hollywood.

Studio work and Nelson Riddle[edit]

Raffell moved away from touring big bands and started to work as both a reed doubler and arranger for Skitch Henderson and Les Brown in the late 1950s on The Steve Allen Show after production had moved to Los Angeles from New York in 1956. He eventually became one of the main woodwind doublers on numerous sessions for Nelson Riddle and is in the reed/saxophone section on many recordings for Capitol Records with Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra,[6][7] Dean Martin, Nat King Cole, Judy Garland, Peggy Lee, Johnny Mathis, Rosemary Clooney and Keely Smith among many others. His close association with Nelson Riddle also lead him to work on T.V. shows such as the 1960s Batman T.V. series and the ABC Lennon Sisters variety hour (1969–1970), among others. Though long-time friends with Riddle, Raffell had a falling out with the arranger during studio sessions in the 1960s due to both musicians' strong personalities.[8] Raffell played in the sax section for the Johnny Carson Tonight Show Band when it moved to NBC's Burbank studios in the late 1960s; Raffell held the tenor sax chair for a number of years eventually taken over by reedman Ernie Watts.

Style and approach on saxophone[edit]

As a jazz saxophonist Raffell's natural style was patterned after Lester Young and Stan Getz; his solos on records of Sammy Davis Jr. and Anita O'Day show this side of his playing. Raffell is also heard on early R&B, pop, rock n' roll records of groups like The Platters where he achieves sounds more like Earl Bostic with growls and scoops (barwalking saxophone) which is a complete switch from Young and Getz. Raffell's versatily as a soloist was impressive and wide ranging. He is probably most well known for his recording for Time-Life Records where he impersonates Stan Getz. He also recorded and performed with jazz artists Gerald Wilson, Mel Torme and Nancy Wilson throughout the 1960s and Singers Unlimited during the 1970s; Raffell is on numerous Grammy nominated, winning recordings.

As educator[edit]

Throughout Raffell's music career he kept a private music studio at his home in Sherman Oaks; he was well known in Los Angeles as one of the main woodwind and jazz artists to study with. The list of students who studied with him is long and are prominent in the music industry. Those names include Roger Ingram, Saul Miller (Jr), Ron Catalano, Colin Mason, Stan Yamaguchi, Luis Bonilla, Jack Cooper, Don Roberts, Rob Payne, Jim Youngstrom, and numerous others living around the country.

Partial discography[edit]

As sideman[edit]


  1. ^ a b Nelson Riddle. Arranged By Nelson Riddle Warner Bros Pubns. 1985. page 196. ISBN 0-89724-954-2
  2. ^ Popa, Christopher. Big Band Library: Charlie Spivak "Stardreams". January, 2005
  3. ^ Peter J. Levinson: September in the Rain: The Life of Nelson Riddle Taylor Trade Publishing. 2005. Page 34. ISBN 1-58979-163-0
  4. ^ "Levinson" Page 58.
  5. ^ "Levinson" Page 34.
  6. ^ Anthony Summers, Robbyn Swan. Sinatra: The Life, Vintage Publishing. 2006. page 184, ISBN 0-375-71370-0
  7. ^ "Levinson" Page 136.
  8. ^ "Levinson" Page 220.

External links[edit]

More complete list of discography for Don Raffell at Allmusic guide