Los Angeles Daily News
By Doug McIntyre
September 18, 2014
Johnny Rotella never missed this column, but this column will miss Johnny Rotella. Johnny died Thursday just days shy of his 94th birthday.
Ninety-four years is a lot of living, yet in Johnny’s case, it wasn’t quite enough. Until the last week of his life, Rotella enjoyed remarkable health. He was a fixture at jazz clubs and civic events. How can he be gone when there’s still so much music to play, music to write, music to hear?
How can Johnny Rotella be gone when his friend Phil Poulos was saving a chair for him Friday at the monthly Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters’ luncheon?
How can Johnny Rotella be dead when he still found so much joy in life?
Born into a musical family in Jersey City, Johnny Rotella had one passion: music.
That is, until he met and married his second passion, Ann Graziano, who remains Mrs. Johnny Rotella 67 years later.
After serving with the 389th Army Service Forces Band during World War II, Rotella hooked on with the Raymond Scott Orchestra, launching a prolific musical career that continued to his last breath. He quickly moved on to the superstar bands, Tommy Dorsey’s and Benny Goodman’s as well. Goodman brought Johnny west and he decided to make L.A. his home. That was one lucky day for Los Angeles.
A triple-threat instrumentalist, Rotella, a longtime Van Nuys resident, was a master of the saxophone, clarinet and flute, playing with and recording for music icons from Frank Sinatra to Frank Zappa.
“My father loved good music, period,” says Bill Rotella, Johnny’s son and a professional musician himself.
In addition to his work as a studio musician, playing on the soundtracks to countless movies and hit TV shows such as “The Sonny and Cher Show” and “The Andy Williams Show,” Rotella wrote more than 200 songs including compositions with giants like Abbey Lincoln, Johnny Mercer and Sammy Cahn, with whom Rotella wrote his signature song, “Nothing But the Best,” recorded by Sinatra in the 1960s.
But “Nothing But the Best” was more than a song title and the title track to a Sinatra compilation CD issued in 2008; it was Rotella’s personal mantra, his salutation to everyone he met, friend and stranger alike.
He meant it.
As his beloved Ann vanished into the fog of Alz- heimer’s disease, Johnny’s devotion deepened into something far greater than that of kindly caregiver. His love became an inspiration for everyone who was lucky enough to witness it.
Of the hundreds of songs he wrote, none is more personal than the simple ballad for piano and voice he wrote just two weeks ago.
“Every Time I See You” was performed by Johnny for an audience of one at Ann’s bedside.
Music is often the last thread connecting an Alz-heimer’s sufferer with this world. In Johnny and Ann’s story, music was also the first connection.
By his 91st year, Johnny had begun to slow down a bit. But with Johnny, “slow” was a relative term. Bill Rotella had moved back home to keep an eye on his dad but came home one night to discover Johnny’s car gone from the driveway.
Around midnight Johnny walked through the door in a suit sharp enough to slice tomatoes.
“Where have you been?” Bill asked his dad, their roles reversed.
“Freda Payne was at Catalina’s. I know some of the boys in the band. I thought I’d say hello.”
At 10:30 a.m. on Sept. 24, the boys in the band will say goodbye to Johnny Rotella at St. Charles Borromeo in Toluca Lake.
Nothing but the best, Johnny.
Born: 9/?/1920, Jersey City, New Jersey, U.S.A.
Died: 9/11/2014, Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.
Johnny Rotella’s western – songwriter:
Sergeants 3 – 1962 [song "And the Night Wind Sang"]