Accomplished instrumentalist and songwriter Johnny Rotella died peacefully in his sleep at the age of 93. He was a highly sought-after session musician who wrote the Frank Sinatra hit “Nothing But the Best.” He also recorded with Neil Diamond, Frank Zappa, Steely Dan, and countless others throughout his career.
Rotella was a master of clarinet, saxophone, and flute, and performed with big name artists in thousands of studio sessions for TV and film projects. He played with both Tommy Dorsey’s and Benny Goodman’s big bands, as well as the Billy Vaughn Orchestra. He also worked with many eminent composers and arrangers of the time, including Jimmie Haskell, Earle Hagen, and Buddy Baker.
Born in Jersey City, New Jersey, Rotella began his career early. In his teens, he was already playing clarinet and saxophone with multiple bands in the area. He went on to serve in World War II as part of the 389th Army Service Forces Band. During visits to New York City, he took time to study with some of the finest instructors, including Simeon Bellison on clarinet, Joe Allard on saxophone and Victor Goldring on flute. After serving, he helped establish the Musician’s Guild in the 1960s, which is still functioning today under the name, Musicians Secondary Markets Fund.
Rotella became a regular performer in the band for the 1970s show, The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour. The talented musician also played in the orchestra for numerous Broadway shows and Los Angeles theatre productions. In his songwriting work, he collaborated with big name lyricists such as Johnny Mercer, Sammy Cahn, Ray Gilbert, Sidney Clare, Abbey Lincoln, Franz Steininger and Jerry Gladstone. His work can be heard in several films, including Jersey Boys, Hope Springs, and That’s My Boy. He also contributed to the soundtracks of I Spy and the first two Godfather films. Rotella’s pieces were recorded by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Doris Day, and Tony Bennett, among others. Rotella is survived by his wife, Ann Rotella, five children, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Funeral services will be held at 10:30 a.m. on Sept. 24 at Saint Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in North Hollywood, California.