Tag Archives: Buell Neidlinger

Buell’s Gift Keeps Giving

Very few “06880” readers ever met Buell Neidlinger. But — thanks to his frequent comments on the blog, always providing nuance and back stories to the topic of the day — many of us knew and admired him.

He lived in Westport from 1938 through the ’50s. He had a long and storied career in music, playing bass with Billy Holliday, Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Ray Charles, the Beach Boys, Elton John, Dolly Parton, the Carpenters, the Moody Blues, Barry White, Whitney Houston, Ringo Starr and Bill Monroe.

Ella Otis

When he died suddenly of a heart attack in March, at his longtime Washington state home, the “06880” community mourned.

Mary Cookman Schmerker was especially touched. The 1958 Staples High School graduate first got to know Buell when he responded to an “06880” story about the Saugatuck Congregational Church by asking Mary if longtime organist Ella Otis was her grandmother.

Buell was a member of the children’s choir, and remembered Ella.

“I loved the way she would improvise fab modulation sequences between the hymns,”  he wrote. “Kinda reminded me of the movie music I heard down at the Fine Arts on Saturday afternoons.

“Anyway, I could tell your grandmother loved music from the way she played. That was my first introduction to that feeling in music, and it made me want to be a musician. I was, and still am in music!”

Buell Neidlinger

Buell and Mary exchanged several emails. Once, they spoke briefly by phone.

Buell told Mary that he wished he could revisit his parents’ graves in Evergreen Cemetery. She lives near Houston, but promised Buell she’d take a photo when she got to Westport in the fall. Her mother, brother and grandmother — Ella Otis — are all buried there too.

However, Hurricane Harvey canceled Mary’s trip year.

A couple of weeks ago, she finally made it back to Westport.

“Unfortunately, Buell couldn’t wait for me,” she writes. “He has left us for his eternal home with the Lord.”

But Mary kept her promise. She found his parents’ graves very easily.

(Photo/Mary Schmerker)

Mary wishes she had paced off the distance from Buell’s parents’ graves, to her grandmother’s. They’re very close — just as she felt close to him.

Their paths did not cross in Westport. He was 4 years older. Yet as she read the comments following his death, she learned he grew up in an old house on Clinton Avenue. She lived nearby, on Calumet.

“We would have roamed the same woods, walked the shores of the Saugatuck down to Lees Dam, heard the noise in the summer from Camp Mahackeno, and watched weekend traffic from the bridge over the Merritt Parkway,” she says.

Rereading Buell’s first email, she noted it was sent just over a year ago: June 1, 2017.

“I encourage everyone to ask questions of your elders now while you can,” Mary says. “Share the stories for future generations.

“I am smiling, and thankful to Buell for sharing with me my grandmother’s influence on his life. What a wonderful gesture and gift he has given me, and our children and grandchildren.

“Buell will live on in our hearts. And his music will resonate for a very long time.”

Friday Flashback #83

Buell Neidlinger — longtime “06880” reader and commenter/Westport native/world-renowned musician/all-around good guy — died last week. He was 82 years old.

Three days before his sudden death, he emailed me a suggestion for a Friday Flashback.

He sent a few pages from an old cookbook he’d found. “The New Connecticut Cookbook, Being a Collection of Recipes from Connecticut Kitchens” was compiled by the Woman’s Club of Westport, and illustrated by Connecticut artists. It belonged to his mother.

Buell’s pages did not include a publication date. But — judging from the car in the illustration, which may or may not be parked on a stylized version of Main Street — it was early in the papacy of Pope Pius XII.

Why that example? Because the preface (below), by literary critic/ biographer/historian Van Wyck Brooks — a Westport resident — notes that as Cardinal Pacelli, “the present Pope has been a visitor here.” Pius XII was Pope from 1939 to 1958.

Brooks mentions two other famous visitors to Westport, separated by more than a century: the French gastronome Jean Anthelem Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826), and Luigi Pirandello. The Italian writer and poet attended a performance at the Westport Country Playhouse. That was sometime between 1931 — when the summer theater opened — and 1936, when Pirandello died.

The pages that Buell sent are fascinating. Then again, everything he did for “06880” was.

This one’s for you, good friend.

Remembering Buell Neidlinger

If you read the comments section on “06880,” you know Buell Neidlinger. He wrote often about old-time Westport, music, and topics of the day.

Buell commented most recently on Friday morning. That afternoon, he died. He was 82 years old.

Buell was one of the most interesting readers I know. He led a rich, fascinating life, most notably in the music world. Read on to learn more.

Buell Neidlinger (Photo/Drew Kampion)

A resident of Whidbey Island, Washington, he arrived in Westport in 1938, at 2 years old. His parents rented a house on South Compo Road. Buell went to Bedford Junior High, then St. Luke’s in New Canaan.

He spent one year at Yale, then floated around. He returned to Westport, working in Frank Zack’s “high-class haberdashery” downtown.

He sold aluminum windows. Meanwhile he practiced bass in a warehouse, playing along to records.

Max Kaminsky, a famous jazz trumpeter renting in Westport, convinced Buell to move to New York — superb advice. He backed Billie Holiday when she played clubs, during the last years of her life.

In 1957, Buell Neidlinger played at the Newport Jazz Festival with pianist Cecil Taylor. (Photo/Bob Parent)

The first hit record Buell played on was Tony Bennett’s “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” He went on to play and record with Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Ray Charles, the Beach Boys, Elton John, Dolly Parton, the Carpenters, the Moody Blues, Barry White, Whitney Houston, Ringo Starr and Bill Monroe.

He hung out with Pablo Casals — in Westport. (Click here to read about that encounter. For more on his youth here, and his Westport recollections, click here.)

Buell had not been back to Westport in decades. But he discovered this website, and rediscovered his hometown. That meant a lot to him.

From time to time, he would call. “This is Buell,” he’d begin. Though we never met, we felt like old friends. In a gravelly voice, he’d describe some long-ago adventure in town. He’d ask about an old landmark. Then he’d apologize for taking my time, say, “I’ll talk to you soon,” and hang up.

Buell died suddenly — just hours after commenting on “06880.” His Whidbey Island friend Drew Kampion sent more details on his extraordinary life:


Buell’s gone, but the music lingers on through nearly 70 recordings made in a 60-year career in the music business. As a bassist, he backed up many who became household names. But name recognition or not, Buell could hold his own in any musical setting.

Buell Neidlinger (center), flanked by Roy Orbison and T Bone Burnett.

He was born in New York City on March 2, 1936 into a privileged life. He was exposed to great musicians from an early age. His music training began at St. Thomas Choir School at the age of 7, where he also began playing the cello. He became accomplished on the instrument.

At Yale University he became interested in the bass. By age 25 his jazz apprenticeships with Joe Sullivan, Herbie Nichols, Dick Wellstood, Vic Dickenson and Oran “Hot Lips” Page had led to recording and performance gigs with Tony Bennett, Billie Holiday, Lester Young, Rex Stewart, the Gil Evans band, and Cecil Taylor (whose bassist he was for 7 years).

Composer Gunther Schuller encouraged Buell to further expand his classical abilities (and hired him to participate in history-making Third Stream concerts at Circle in the Square). He also joined Sir John Barbirolli’s Houston Symphony, and moonlighted around Texas with Arnett Cobb, Little Esther Phillips, Bobby Blue Bland, and James Clay.

The recipient of a Rockefeller performance grant in 1965, Buell worked closely with composers Mauricio Kagel, Sylvano Buscotti, George Crumb, and John Cage to develop new string playing techniques and sounds, giving premier performances of their compositions worldwide. He freelanced with Stokowski’s American Symphony, City Center Opera, the Budapest and Amadeus string quartets, and small ensembles led by Igor Stravinsky, Karl Richter, and Schuller.

In 1967 he became a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Erich Leinsdorf, and joined the faculty of the New England Conservatory of Music, where he helped establish the jazz department.

In 1971 he moved to Los Angeles to teach at CalArts. He was chosen by Neville Marriner to be principal bass with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, a post he held for 8  years.

Buell Neidlinger and his wife, Margaret Storer, on the Warner Brothers sound stage in 1993. The big blue trunk carried his 1785 Italian bass.

In LA Buell began an extensive recording career. He played in hundreds of major Hollywood movies from the early 1970s to the late ’90s. He recorded with Barbra Streisand, Frank Sinatra, The Beach Boys, The Eagles, Elvis Costello, Earth Wind and Fire and Frank Zappa, to name a few. He also produced recordings of his jazz ensembles, toured Europe and America, and produced other artists, such as Leo Kottke.

In his spare time he presented master classes in chamber music and jazz at Aspen, Tanglewood, Eastman School of Music, Harvard, New York State University, Rotterdam Conservatory, and the annual San Luis Obispo String Seminar.

Buell was larger than life. The same passion he brought to his music carried over into his relationships, sometimes resulting in fireworks. He was rarely lukewarm about anything. He brought a full set of emotions to everything he did. He cared deeply about music and our world. Those who knew him intimately found him to be an extraordinarily sensitive and kind man, and felt privileged to be his friend or musical associate.

His wife, Margaret Storer, was also a professional bassist. They were an elite team on the studio and film circuit in Los Angeles, and after they moved to Whidbey Island. They were married for 36 years. She was his love and his rock. He also leaves behind two children, Mike Neidlinger and Miranda Neidlinger.

In his later years, Buell played around Whidbey Island in many venues. He could be found entertaining customers as Billy the Cellist, playing Bach cello suites at the local coffee shop, or with his favorite string quartet, while eating chocolate and telling stories of his long life in the music business.

Buell Neidlinger playing in a coffee shop on Whidbey Island. He called himself “Billy the Cellist.”

Remembering Ted Simons

Ted Simons’ death this week was a loss to the musical world.

It was a loss to Westport as well.

The 84-year-old longtime resident was a Broadway, television, film and cabaret musical director, composer and arranger. He created shows and films for more than 100 companies, including IBM, GE, Ford and Procter & Gamble.

He composed music for “Bye Bye Birdie” and “Anything Goes.” He worked on the Miss America Pageant, “Hullabaloo,” and TV specials with Barbra Streisand, Ethel Merman and Paul Anka.

Simons was a conductor and arranger for Bob Hope, Roberta Peters, the Four  Seasons, Shari Lewis, Leslie Uggams, Julius La Rosa and many others. He was the orchestra leader at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York.

Ted Simons

But he was just as active in Westport. Never one to turn down a request, he volunteered as musical director and conductor for many school shows, at Greens Farms Academy, and with the Y’s Men’s Hoot Owls singing group.

In 2009 the Senior Center honored him with a lifetime achievement award, for all he’d done for his community.

Buell Neidlinger — who grew up in Westport in the 1940s and ’50s, and is a very accomplished musician in his own right — worked on recording sessions with Simons.

“He was the consummate — maybe the most artistically able — producer/director of what we used to call ‘Big Splash TV,” Neidlinger — who now lives in Washington state — recalls.

“You don’t see those shows much anymore, on account of the expense. Some guys in his position were vicious. But he was the nicest and kindest guy.”

Working on “The Producers” with Simons was, Neidlinger says, “unbridled hilarity. Ted knew just how to respond to Mel Brooks’ constant interrupting joking. He kept everyone laughing Mel liked that! At the same time he kept the music going onto the tape — the producers liked that! It was quite a feat.”

There will be no funeral service. Instead, he asked, “Please sing or play a chorus of George Gershwin’s ‘They Can’t Take That Away From Me,’ in a slow tempo.”

Buell Neidlinger: The Ace Of Bass

He’s played and recorded with Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Ray Charles, the Beach Boys, Elton John, Dolly Parton and Barry White.

He hung out with Pablo Casals — in Westport.

He’s 81 years old. He lives a continent away, near Seattle. In fact, Buell Neidlinger hasn’t been back here much since he left in 1955.

But he’s an avid “06880” fan. He comments frequently, primarily on music and looking-back stories.

And man, does he have tales to tell.

Buell arrived in Westport in 1938, at 2 years old. His parents rented a house on South Compo Road. (A few years later, his father worked with General Eisenhower’s staff in London, planning the Omaha Beach landing.) Buell’s grandfather lived nearby, on Thomas Road.

Buell went to Bedford Junior High, then St. Luke’s in New Canaan.

Pablo Casals was one of the first famous musicians Buell Neidlinger met. He would not be the last.

His first instrument was the cello. That led to his early encounter with Casals. The bass came later.

He spent one year at Yale. The McCarthy hearings mesmerized the country. Buell realized, “I was in school with the same type of people I was watching every day on TV.” College was not for him.

Buell floated around. He returned to Westport, working in Frank Zack’s “high-class haberdashery” downtown.

He sold aluminum windows. Meanwhile he practiced bass in a warehouse, playing along to records.

Max Kaminsky, a famous jazz trumpeter renting in Westport, convinced Buell to move to New York — perhaps the best advice he ever got. He backed Billie Holiday when she played clubs, during the last years of her life.

The first hit record Buell played on was Tony Bennett’s “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”

“We’d call the answering service,” Buell remembers. “They’d say, ‘you’ve got a session on Saturday, 10 a.m.’ That would be that.”

The custom of the day was for the rhythm track to be recorded first. Then came vocals, followed by horns. The “string sweetener” — with Buell — came last. The lead vocalist cut another track, this time singing along with the strings.

In 1957, Buell Neidlinger played at the Newport Jazz Festival with famed pianist Cecil Taylor. (Photo/Bob Parent)

Buell’s studio work led to a number of live gigs. He played with Chuck Berry, whose promoter was the first white man Buell ever saw with long hair.

He was on stage with the Carpenters — and can be heard on their famous version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

The Moody Blues flew Buell to London. They needed his acoustic bass.

It wasn’t all rock, pop and jazz. Buell also played with the father of bluegrass, Bill Monroe.

The list of famous recording sessions rolls off Buell’s tongue: The Village People’s “YMCA.” The Eagles’ “Hotel California” and “Desperado.” He played with the 5th Dimension and Chicago. He was there the night John Lennon challenged Harry Nilsson to the screaming match that ruined Harry’s voice.

Buell Neidlinger (center), flanked by Roy Orbison and T Bone Burnett.

He met Whitney Houston when she was just 9 or 10. Her mother — famed gospel singer Cissy Houston — brought her to sessions. During breaks, Cissy and other backup singers sang church songs to their kids. “I’ve never heard anything like that,” Buell recalls.

Elton John played piano on his first 3 albums, while Buell played bass. Years later, Elton offered him $10,000 to perform in a Hollywood concert that included Leon Russell (whom Buell had backed on earlier club dates). Buell was honored — but had retired.

He’d gotten other calls too, like the one to play with Frank Sinatra in Egypt, for King Farouk’s birthday.

Sinatra is a huge name. So is Dolly Parton. He played on her “Coat of Many Colors.”

“What a voice! Buell says. “What a song! What a person! What a night!”

Among all the singers Buell backed, Barbra Streisand stands out. During one session, he played a Mozart composition. She did not like one note. “She changed Mozart,” Buell marvels.

Buell Neidlinger and his wife, Margaret Storer, on the Warner Brothers sound stage in 1993. The big blue trunk carried his 1785 Italian bass.

Buell — who for 27 years was principal bassist of the Warner Brothers orchestra — played on hundreds of movie soundtracks. His first was “Soylent Green.” His last was “Oscar and Lucinda.” In between were many others, including  “Aladdin,” “Dead Poets Society,” “Lion King,” “Shawshank Redemption” and “Yentl.”

Film recording has changed a lot, Buell notes. When he began, musicians worked up to 8 hours a day, for 10 days. For “La La Land,” he says, the orchestra played for just 4 hours, once. All the rest was done on computers.

In 1992, Buell and his wife, Margaret Storer, took their very first vacation: to Whidbey Island in Puget Sound. They liked it so much, they bought property there.

That’s where they live now. In retirement, he plays cello all day.

These days, Buell Neidlinger plays in a local coffee shop. He calls himself “Billy the Cellist.”

Though he hasn’t been back to Westport in decades, he remembers it fondly. “It was so beautiful,” he says. “It was like living in the wilderness — with amenities.”

He asks about local musicians, then answers his own question: “I hope Jose Feliciano is doing well. I did a session with him in L.A.”

Of course he did. He’s Buell Neidlinger.

The only man from Westport who has played with Pablo Casals, Brian Wilson, Duane Eddy.

And Ringo Starr.