Jazz: Nat King Cole: the genesis of a genius | Babelia

Jazz: Nat King Cole: the genesis of a genius |  Babelia
Nat King Cole, in 1943 in Los Angeles.Frank Driggs Collection / Jazz at Lincoln Center

Some years before dazzling the entire United States with his sophisticated voice, becoming the best-selling artist of his generation, and long before seducing locals and strangers by singing in Spanish “if Adelita went with someone else, I would follow her on the ground and by sea ”, Nat King Cole (1919-1965) was already an extraordinary and precocious musician, with varied and different facets. Among these, one particularly stands out: Cole quickly became a brilliant and influential pianist, whose legacy and contributions to the development of jazz between the late 1930s and early 1940s has been inevitably overshadowed by the enormous success of his profile as a singer. melodic, which he concentrated on as his commercial potential grew.

Until now, his initial stage on the Capitol label, which quickly catapulted him to stardom thanks to his charismatic voice and personality and swing of his trio, he was the cornerstone of the initial Cole. Hittin’ the Ramp, A recent box of records beautifully assembled by the Resonance label, rewrites, in a way, the legend of Nat King Cole: a guy who at only 17 years old was facing his first professional recording and who, by that point, already had a certain prestige in Chicago as a pianist, arranger, composer, and conductor. Soon after, after moving to Hollywood, young Cole joined guitarist Oscar Moore and double bass player Wesley Prince to form one of the most influential trios in jazz history. Its brief instrumentation served as inspiration for pianists such as Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson or Ahmad Jamal, who later would take the concept of the piano, guitar and double bass trio further, to make it one of the reference formats of the genre.

Most of the material is “transcripts”, recordings made for radio and not commercialized.

As a pianist, Cole exerted no less significant influence on numerous giants of the instrument: while he was a faithful heir to such masters as Earl Hines, Teddy Wilson, and to a lesser extent Art Tatum and Count Basie, his articulate phrasing and a certain modernity in his speech make him a key pianist to understand the future of the jazz language of the instrument in that transition that was from the era of swing until the bebop. From Erroll Garner to George Shearing, Hank Jones or Oscar Peterson himself, who even published an album dedicated to Cole when he died, there are countless soloists who are influenced by the graceful and lively piano of that Cole who had not yet imagined that one day he would be the most popular singer in America.

The trio was already in circulation some time before the publication of their first albums, thanks to the so-called “transcriptions”: recordings made ex profeso for radio broadcast, not marketed to the public, and that only sounded on the radio stations or in the jukebox that one found in bars, cafes, etc. Thus, the music of the King Cole Trio (as they called themselves then) reached many American homes thanks to the radio, and when the Decca label finally recorded them to publish albums that would be commercialized, at the end of 1940, the group was already a refined machine swing which produced, among others, Cole’s first hit: a beautiful version of ‘Sweet Lorraine’, which would forever become one of his recurring songs.

From there, his ascent was unstoppable: more radio transcriptions, more records, his meeting with Norman Granz, whose first record as a producer is a 1942 session with Cole, double bassist Red Callender and none other than saxophonist Lester Young, a meeting in the studio with the trumpeter Harry Sweets Edison and a very young Dexter Gordon, and countless recordings with his trio and different vocalists.

All of this is in this Hittin’ the Ramp, an edition that collects in full the material that is known by Nat King Cole between 1936 and 1943, most of it taken from those radio transcriptions together with his trio: more than a hundred pieces that, since their original diffusion, had not been published properly so far, even less in a cataloged and anthological form like this one. In total, the box contains more than 180 tracks, almost nine hours of music that restore a very important part of Cole’s career, including a handful of previously unreleased rarities. Listening to it now en bloc, with historical perspective and listening ears, one cannot help but wonder at what point the jazz fan forgot the extraordinary pianist that Nat King Cole was. So much so that we could consider it as part of the first division of the time, along with Hines, Wilson, Tatum and Fats Waller, among others.

Together with guitarist Oscar Moore and double bass player Wesley Prince he formed one of the most influential trios

As is usual in the very careful editions of Resonance, every detail of the recording and original publication of the songs is specified, giving an account of the colossal archaeological work that has involved rescuing all this material. From different private collections and the archives of the Institute of Jazz Studies of Rutgers University and the Library of Congress, among others, this Hittin’ the Ramp it constitutes the most important collection of Nat King Cole material published since Mosaic Records released his complete recordings for Capitol in the early nineties; a period that begins practically where the material of the Resonance edition ends, making this a more than complementary edition. With the recovery of all this music, the figure of Cole as one of the pillars of jazz of the time is perfectly documented, and justified.

Without being dedicated to the specialized amateur, producers Zev Feldman and George Klabin continue to bet on an engaged audience: you will not find most of these songs on platforms of streaming or on YouTube. One has to get hold of the physical edition of 7 CDs or 10 vinyl albums, or purchase the digital version. This custom, less and less common in record companies, does not stop leading to some controversy, but it is impossible to think about the financial viability of projects like this if it is not with a traditional audience in mind. Of which there is no doubt is the incalculable historical and musical value of this edition.

Hittin’ the Ramp: The Early Years (1936-1943). Nat King Cole. Resonance.

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Jazz: Nat King Cole: the genesis of a genius | Babelia