“Simply Sammy” Celebrates Nestico Legacy
12 Apr 2013
Fifty years ago he joined the U.S. Marine Band, and this week legendary composer and arranger Sammy Nestico will return to Washington, D.C., for a concert celebrating his legacy as part of the Marine Band’s Living History concert series.

At 2 p.m., Sunday, April 14, “The President’s Own” will present “Simply Sammy,” a concert featuring the music of the GRAMMY award-winner Sammy Nestico, also the former chief arranger for the Marine Band and arranger for such acclaimed artists as Count Basie and Quincy Jones. The program will include music Nestico composed or arranged while he was a member of the Marine Band from 1963-68 and feature works for concert band, orchestra, and dance band.

“I’ve been wanting to do a Nestico concert for a number of years and thought this year would be perfect since we’re celebrating our 215th anniversary,” Marine Band Director Colonel Michael J. Colburn said. “We’ve been highlighting various time periods and elements of Marine Band history, so I’m thrilled to revisit the ‘Nestico-era’ as part of our 2013 showcase series.”

Throughout the performance, each selection will be introduced by a video clip of Nestico offering colorful background information on the piece accompanied by his infectious smile and belly laugh. He’ll share anecdotes about the 1940s swing era and his favorite memories as Marine Band arranger during the John F. Kennedy administration.

Program highlights include a Stephen Foster Medley; the love theme from Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade; Victor Herbert selections; a medley of Henry Mancini’s popular hits; and Jimmy Dorsey’s fast-paced “Oodles of Noodles,” featuring saxophone soloist Gunnery Sgt. Steven Longoria, an arrangement which he treated “like an old friend with a new suit of clothes.” The concert will conclude with one of his timeless arrangements—The Marines’ Hymn, Apotheosis. The arranger summed up the Apotheosis by saying, “It’s not only bold but it’s also sad. It’s glorious. It’s beautiful.”

Nestico wrote the arrangement at the request of then-Assistant Director Captain Dale Harpham for the Marine Corps’ Birthday. A Marine brass ensemble premièred the piece at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., causing even the grisliest Marines to swell with emotion. On its première, Nestico said there was “not a dry eye in the house … because I give it my heart, a Marine’s heart.”

“I didn’t want to be John Philip Sousa, I want to be Sammy. So always in my music I want to make it sound like the Marine Band but there’s always a little bit of Sammy in there too. You put your own personality—your heart is in there. … That’s the whole idea of being an arranger.”

By virtue of his highly successful arrangements and compositions, the name Sammy Nestico is familiar to concert band and jazz musicians around the world. And although his career with “The President’s Own” lasted only five years, the legacy of his talent continues to grow. Nestico has collaborated and arranged for songwriters such as Johnny Mercer, Barbra Streisand, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and Phil Collins; he has orchestrated for major film studios such as Warner Brothers, Paramount, MGM, and Columbia; he has written for the Count Basie Orchestra, Glenn Miller Orchestra and other bands in Hollywood; and he has more than 50 television credits, including Gomer Pyle, Hawaii Five-O, and Charlie’s Angels. Based on his experience with the Marine Band, Universal studios hired him to compose marches. Twentieth Century Fox hired him to write for the TV show M.A.S.H.; if “Hawkeye” or “Radar” turned on the radio, viewers heard Nestico’s big band arrangements in the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, stationed in Uijeongbu, South Korea. But Nestico is most proud of his 600 works published in the education field and played in schools.

“Sammy Nestico is one of the most talented and successful composers and arrangers in the field of band, orchestra, and dance band music, and we are very fortunate to have had him as a member of the U.S. Marine Band back in the 1960s,” said Marine Band Historian Master Gunnery Sgt. Michael Ressler. “In the years he was with us he created some of the most interesting, imaginative, and well-crafted arrangements in our repertoire. It will be a great celebration of one of the most talented musicians who ever wore our uniform.”

Even after more than four decades away from the nation’s capital, Sammy Nestico still has a special place in his heart for “The President’s Own.” “The Marine Band is very, very important to me,” he said. “I walked a little taller when I was in the Marine Band. I’ve always been very proud to say I was a member.”

“Simply Sammy” is free and open to the public and will take place at the Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall and Arts Center at Northern Virginia Community College located at 3001 North Beauregard Street, Alexandria, Va. Parking is available in the adjacent garage for a $6 fee. Prior to the concert, enjoy a string quintet pre-concert performance in the lobby. Following the performance, Nestico will greet patrons in the lobby.