Oliver Edward Nelson (June 4, 1932 in St. Louis, Missouri – October 28, 1975) was an American jazz saxophonist, clarinetist, arranger and composer. Oliver Nelson’s family was musical: his brother was also a saxophonist who played with Cootie Williams in the 1940s, and his sister sang and played piano. Nelson began learning to play the piano when he was six, and started on the saxophone at eleven. From 1947 he played in “territory” bands around Saint Louis, before joining the Louis Jordan big band from 1950 to 1951, playing alto saxophone and arranging. After military service in the Marines, he returned to Missouri to study music composition and theory at Washington and Lincoln Universities, graduating in 1958. While back in his hometown of St. Louis, he met and married the former Miss Eileen Mitchell. From this union came a son, Oliver Nelson Jr.. Oliver and Eileen divorced, and, after graduation, Nelson moved to New York, playing with Erskine Hawkins and Wild Bill Davis, and working as the house arranger for the Apollo Theater in Harlem. He also played on the West Coast briefly with the Louie Bellson big band in 1959, and in the same year began recording as leader with small groups. From 1960 to 1961 he played tenor saxophone with Quincy Jones, both in the U.S. and on tour in Europe.
After six albums as leader between 1959 and 1961 for the Prestige label with such musicians as Kenny Dorham, Johnny Hammond Smith, Eric Dolphy, Roy Haynes, King Curtis and Jimmy Forrest), Nelson’s big breakthrough came with The Blues and the Abstract Truth, on Impulse!, featuring the tune “Stolen Moments,” now considered a standard. This made his name as a composer and arranger, and he went on to record a number of big-band albums, as well as working as an arranger for Cannonball Adderley, Sonny Rollins, Eddie Davis, Johnny Hodges, Wes Montgomery, Buddy Rich, Jimmy Smith, Billy Taylor, Stanley Turrentine, Irene Reid, Gene Ammons and many others. He also led all-star big bands in various live performances between 1966 and 1975. Nelson continued to perform as a soloist during this period, though increasingly on soprano saxophone.