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Tony Mottola Dies

Tony Mottola, a guitarist who backed Frank Sinatra and was a longtime member of the Tonight Show Orchestra, died Mon., Aug. 11 at Saint Clare’s Hospital in Denville, N.J., of complications from double pneumonia and stroke. He was 86.

Born in Kearney, N.J. in 1918, Mottola started playing professionally at 18, touring with the George Hall Orchestra. By the end of the 1940s, the guitarist had recorded with Frank Sinatra, beginning a working relationship with the iconic crooner that would last, on and off, into the 1980s.

In the 1950s Mottola started a career in television that saw him work as musical director for the CBS series Danger and, later, as a member of Skitch Henderson’s orchestra on the The Tonight Show. He worked in that band from 1958 to 1972 and it was during this time that he began releasing records under his own name via producer Enoch Light’s Command label, starting with Mr. Big in 1959. In the mid-’60s Mottola began recording for Project 3, another label run by Light.

Mottola was widely used as a studio musician on sessions in the jazz, pop and easy listening genres. His warm and subtle guitar sound was a good match for vocal accompaniment and Mottola can be heard on tracks cut by Lena Horne, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, Perry Como and Johnny Mathis.

Mottola toured with Sinatra in the 1980s and was often featured in duet performances with the singer. He retired from the music business in 1988 but continued to play his guitar at home afterward.

Mottola is survived by his wife, a son, three daughters, seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Originally Published