Drummer Irv Cottler, 71; Called ‘Best in the Business’ by Sinatra

Irv Cottler, a veteran big-band drummer and the musician who Frank Sinatra said was the key to Sinatra’s own orchestra, died of cardiac arrest Tuesday. He had suffered an attack at his home in Cambria and died at nearby Templeton Hospital, said his daughter, Starr Nemiroff.

Cottler, born in Brooklyn 71 years ago, was a self-taught percussionist who began providing rhythm for the bands performing in the Catskills in New York when he was only 14. At an early age he began working with such big-band leaders as Red Norvo, Van Alexander, Larry Clinton, Alvino Ray, Claude Thornhill, Les Brown and Tommy Dorsey.

While he was with Dorsey he caught the attention of the young Sinatra. He had played for the singer the last 33 years.

His work with the Sinatra orchestra involved three presidential inaugurations, the rededication of the Statue of Liberty and Sinatra’s most recent tour with Liza Minnelli and Sammy Davis Jr.


Cottler also was a studio musician with NBC and film companies for many years while concurrently working on the Dinah Shore, Milton Berle and Nat (King) Cole TV shows.

He is believed to have made more than 2,000 recordings. Sinatra often referred to him as “the best in the business.”

In addition to his daughter, he is survived by his wife, Roslyn; another daughter, Paulette; two sisters; a brother, and a grandson. The family asks donations to the Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center at Eisenhower Medical Center, Rancho Mirage.