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02 Mar

Frank DeVol

By  Robert Walton
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Frank DeVol
A tribute by Robert Walton

It’s amazing the number of people in the entertainment business who have a “De” before their surname. There’s Buddy DeFranco, Gloria DeHaven, Reginald DeKoven, Eddie DeLange, Vaughn DeLeath, Milton DeLugg, Gene DePaul, Peter DeRose, Buddy DeSylva and our star arranger for this article, Frank DeVol.

Frank Devol’s main claim to fame was his 1948 orchestral introduction to Nature Boy for Nat “King” Cole. This now legendary Delian dissonance marked a very important moment in popular music history. It was the time the musical baton was symbolically passed on to “arranger-in-waiting” for the stars, Nelson Riddle, anticipating all those beautiful singles Cole recorded. And later this led to Frank Sinatra finally joining forces with Riddle. In fact it was during Axel Stordahl’s reign as Sinatra’s orchestrator that DeVol came up with that revolutionary chart for Cole. Frank DeVol was also brilliant at writing instrumentals.....with a difference. These jazz-based arrangements never do quite what you think. Listen to his “Portraits” album on Jasmine (JASCD 538) and you’ll see what I mean. His string writing has always been special and top priority.

But this versatile musician was also known as Frank Denny De Vol a performer specializing in deadpan characters. He starred in the 1961 film “Parent Trap”. This was highly unusual because arrangers aren’t normally known for their ability to act. They tend to concentrate on the creative process. The last thing they want to do is show off. For them things come alive later in the studio when the players emerge from the woodwork!

Occasionally he sang. Remember the duet with Margaret Whiting in I Said My Pajamas (And Put On My Prayers) which charted in 1950? Other vocalists he arranged and conducted for were The Four Lads, Jo Stafford, Bing Crosby, Mel Tormé, Dinah Shore, Jack Smith, Gordon MacRae, Doris Day, Vic Damone, Dean Martin, Jimmy Wakely and Ella Fitzgerald. After DeVol’s wife died in 1989 he married Jimmy Dorsey singer Helen O’Connell. Talking of big bands, DeVol arranged and played lead alto sax for Horace Heidt and arranged for Alvino Rey.

On the film front Frank scored more than 50 movies including “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”, “Pillow Talk”, ‘Hush Sweet Charlotte”, “Cat Ballou”, Flight of the Phoenix”, “Send Me No Flowers”, “Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo” and “Frisco Kid”.

It all started when the young Frank DeVol played violin in his father’s orchestra. Little did he know then that this modest beginning on a bowed 4 string instrument would lead him to becoming one of the world’s great arrangers.

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