Ray Conniff

Bandleader, composer who recorded theme to ' Doctor Zhivago ' ; 85

Ray Conniff, the composer, trombone player and bandleader who won a Grammy Award for his recording of the " Doctor Zhivago " theme " Somewhere My Love " has died. He was 85.

Mr. Conniff died at Palomar Medical Center in Escondido on Saturday after falling down and hitting his head, San Diego medical examiner ' s investigator Angela Wagner told The Associated Press.

Mr. Conniff had more than 100 recordings and produced 25 Top 40 albums for Columbia Records.

He rendered such classics as " Besame Mucho, " " New York, New York " and " S ' Wonderful " in a career that spanned six decades.

He produced 10 gold and two platinum records. He won CBS Records ' Best Selling Artist for 1962 for the recording " We Wish You a Merry Christmas. "

The Ray Conniff Orchestra and Singers epitomized the lounge-singing style of the 1950s and 1960s with a mix of wordless vocal choruses and light orchestral accompaniment.

Though he got his start as a trombone player in the Big Band era playing with Bunny Berigan, Bob Crosby and Artie Shaw, Mr. Conniff broke out as a solo artist after being hired as a house arranger with Columbia Records in 1951.

He was responsible for Johnny Mathis ' " Chances Are, " Frankie Laine ' s " Moonlight Gambler, " Johnnie Ray ' s " Just Walking in the Rain " and Guy Mitchell ' s " Singing the Blues. "

In 1956, Columbia decided to try out Mr. Conniff as a featured performer with a big band mix that included guitarists Al Caiola and Tony Mottola. His debut album, " S ' Wonderful, " in which he combined a chorus of four men and four women with a traditional big band mix of 18 instruments, stayed on the Top 20 charts for nine months.

A 1962 article in McCall ' s magazine described his band as " singers who ' play ' their voices as though they were instruments, more like subtly fluted woodwinds than singing. "

A few of Mr. Conniff ' s singers were known studio vocalists including Loulie Jean Norman and B.J. Baker. Jay Meyer assisted as conductor.

Mr. Conniff ' s instrumental arrangements provided easy listening for a booming adult album market.

His popularity waned with the rise of rock ' n ' roll, but artists such as The Carpenters, Simon and Garfunkel, The Fifth Dimension and Burt Bacharach benefited from his arrangements with recordings of " Laughter in the Rain, " " I Write the Songs " and " I ' d Like to Teach the World to Sing. "

He received numerous international awards, continued touring and produced about an album a year.

He performed at the White House during the Vietnam War and in 1974 was the first pop artist asked to record an album in Moscow. In 2001, he gave a series of concerts in Brazil. He performed " Somewhere My Love " at the wedding of David Gest and Liza Minnelli in March.

Born in 1916 in Attleboro, Mass., Mr. Conniff gained much of his musical experience from his father, a trombone player, who led a local band while his mother played the piano.

Mr. Conniff led a local band while in high school. He moved to Boston and began playing with Dan Murphy ' s Musical Skippers. He moved to New York during the swing era in the mid- ' 30s and landed a job playing and arranging for Bunny Berigan in 1937.

By 1939, he moved to Hollywood to join Bob Crosby ' s Bobcats, one of the hottest bands of the time.

" He was always reinventing himself, that ' s how he was able to continue his popularity for so many years, " said fan club official Warren Pischke.

Mr. Conniff is survived by his wife, Vera, and a daughter, Tamara Conniff.

Published in U-T San Diego on Oct. 14, 2002