Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Smooth As Silk - Nat King Cole

Today if you mention Nat King Col to anyone they probably think of his smooth ballads like Mona Lisa or When I Fall in Love and don't realize that his beginnings lay firmly in Jazz. Nat Cole was born in Montgomery, Alabama in 1917. In the late 30s he played piano in a revival of Eubie Blake’s revue, Shuffle Along in Los Angeles. After the show folded Nat formed his own trio with bassist Wesley Prince and guitarist Oscar Moore. As the King Cole Trio they got a residency at the Swanee Inn on North La Brea Avenue, just south of Hollywood.

He recorded as King Cole’s Swingsters in 1939 and then in July 1942 he recorded with saxophonist Lester Young and bass player Red Callender. Amongst these sublime sides were ‘I Can’t get Started’, ‘Tea For Two’ and ‘Body and Soul’. The impeccable performances and especially Nat Cole’s piano playing show his jazz credentials.

In November 1942 the King Cole Trio record, ‘That Ain’t Right’ went to No.1 on the R&B charts. The following year ‘All For You’ repeated the success and also crossed over to the Billboard chart. National recognition came in early 1944 with ‘Straighten Up and Fly Right’, and from then on Nat King Cole was rarely off the Billboard best sellers list. With his jazz leanings, his blues undertones and a voice as smooth as silk he appealed to everyone. His influence spread to piano players like Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Charles Brown and Ray Charles. He had signed for Capitol Records in 1943 and for the next two decades Cole was one of the biggest thing on the R&B charts, and no slouch on the mainstream Billboard charts, as his records increasingly crossed over to the white audience.

This album recorded in 1956 is full of Cole's brilliant piano playing and is a sonic testament to his days playing jazz in the clubs of Los Angeles.

Cole, a heavy smoker, developed lung cancer, which cut short his career in 1964. He died the following year, aged 47.

To buy the album click HERE It'll be £6.98 well spent!


r morris said...

Here's a question for you, Richard. What kind of impact do you feel Nat King Cole had on Frank Sinatra?

Richard Havers said...

Interesting question Rob. Nat was working with Nelson Riddle before Frank worked with him.

When Frank and Alan Livingston the guy that signed Frank to Capitol first had lunch AL was anxious to put Frank with Nelson Riddle who had had considerable success already with Nat King Cole for Capitol (Nat and Nelson’s recording ‘Pretend’ was sitting at No.6 on the Billboard chart as they lunched).

The pivotal moment that would eventually lead to Nelson working with Frank came in late 1949 when choral arranger Les Baxter got Nelson to arrange ‘Mona Lisa’ for Nat King Cole. Nelson also ‘ghost arranged’ Too Young’ and too this day Baxter often gets the credit. Nelson began working extensively with Nat Cole and did a great deal to hone his relaxed style of song delivery.

I think that unless Nelson had worked with Nat Cole he wouldn't have worked with Frank - it's as simple as that.