Tony Mottola

Guitarist and composer who became a regular accompanist for Frank Sinatra

Anthony Mottola, guitarist: born Kearny, New Jersey 18 April 1918; married (one son, three daughters); died Denville, New Jersey 9 August 2004.

Frank Sinatra made just one record with only a guitar for accompaniment. The song was "It's Sunday" and the guitar belonged to Tony Mottola.

Sinatra had rejected the original arrangement by Don Costa, saying, "You're missing the whole point. I want this to be a very intimate thing. Let me do it with Tony to show you." The 1983 recording of this tender love song for an ageing couple is enhanced by Mottola's sympathetic playing.

He had first played with Frank Sinatra on CBS radio in the 1940s, making a series of recordings with him soon afterwards. Then, in 1980, when Sinatra's regular guitarist, Al Viola, left, Sinatra asked Mottola to join him.

By now Mottola had been playing for 40 years and, on the whole, disliked touring, but he was persuaded when Sinatra said that his wife, Mitzi, could travel with him. Sinatra appreciated that his vocal range had narrowed and he chose songs that reflected this. He and Mottola would perform a duet each night, usually of "September Song" or "As Time Goes By", and Mottola was also given his own solo spot in the show.

Mottola played a season at Carnegie Hall with Sinatra in 1988 and they performed together for President Ronald Reagan at the White House. In 1983, the guitarist recorded a tribute album to Sinatra entitled All The Way.

Tony Mottola was born in Kearny, New Jersey in 1918, some three years after Sinatra. At first he wanted to play the saxophone but his parents would not allow him to travel to lessons on his own and he had to settle for a guitar where his father helped him with the chords.

His talent was quickly recognised and he was playing regularly on local radio from the age of 14. In 1936 he joined George Hall and his Orchestra and his first record was with the orchestra accompanying Dolly Dawn on "Shine". By the time he was 20, Mottola was a guitarist with the CBS radio network. He graduated to working on the highly popular Your Hit Parade, and then a spin-off, Broadway Bandbox, both of which featured Frank Sinatra.

Following the success of the Nat "King" Cole Trio, Mottola formed his own trio and, in 1947, accompanied Sinatra in a series of intimate recordings. The songs include "S'posin'" and "We Just Couldn't Say Goodbye" but Mottola commented, "I'm sure Frank didn't pick them all. Why else would he sing a dumb song like 'My Cousin Louella?' "

The noted guitarist Carl Kress appreciated Mottola's talent, and they recorded acoustic duets together: their "Jazz In G" (1945) is still widely acclaimed. Mottola also worked with Al Caiola in a small group that showed their love of Django Reinhardt's innovative playing. The two guitarists provided the accompaniment for Open Fire, Two Guitars (1958), which proved to be a million-selling album for Johnny Mathis.

In 1951 Mottola became the musical director for the CBS drama series Danger, which was directed initially by Yul Brynner and then Sidney Lumet, and showcased such young, unknown actors as James Dean, Sal Mineo and Rod Steiger. The theme music featured a single, repeated note interrupted by a dramatic chord. To the public, it was "the Danger chord": within the industry, it was "the Tony Mottola chord". Mottola only had three days to write the music for each episode, which would be played live. In one episode Mottola also played an on-screen bandleader, but he enjoyed the frenzied pace and stayed with the show for six years. In 1988 he scored one of Lumet's films, Running On Empty, starring River Phoenix.

After Danger, Mottola joined Skitch Henderson's Orchestra which provided the accompaniment for the numerous guest stars with Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show, a job which stretched from 1958 to 1972. He also worked on The Perry Como Show (where he was strongly featured in the weekly segment "Sing to Me, Mr C"), The Sid Caesar Comedy Hour and Sing Along With Mitch. He won an Emmy for his score for Two Childhoods, a TV documentary about the politician Hubert Humphrey and the writer James Baldwin.

During the Fifties and Sixties, Mottola was rarely out of recording and television studios. He was an integral part of Ray Conniff's Orchestra and Chorus, which made several million-selling albums. The orchestra leader, Enoch Light, had his own labels, Command and Project 3, and he released several easy listening albums with his Light Brigade, again with Mottola. He also played rock'n'roll and was part of the so-called Wrecking Crew which provided the accompaniment on numerous hit records, notably for the producer Phil Spector.

Mottola released several solo albums. His Mr Big (1959) is an early experiment in stereo; he came to terms with the new music in Tony Mottola Joins the Guitar Underground (1967).

Mottola retired in 1989 but he continued to practise every day. The guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli said of him, "His sound was very warm, tender and expressive. He never hit a bad note in his life."

Spencer Leigh

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drink
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas