What’s the point of having a website if I can’t indulge myself now and then? Jazz is as vital to me as movies. A boxed CD set came my way late last year and having listened to it in its entirety I feel impelled to spread the word about it.
Nat King Cole enjoyed a long career as a hit recording artist, but before his silky vocals commanded the world’s attention he thrived as a pianist and “jive” singer. I’ve always liked the King Cole Trio, but the act is not nearly as famous as Cole became when he went solo in the 1940s. This lovingly assembled CD set is not for beginners, as its strengths are rarity and thoroughness. There are mediocre tracks alongside the gems and some songs appear in multiple versions.
But I don’t mean to offer faint praise for such an ambitious endeavor: I listened to all seven discs in my car (which is old enough to have a CD player) and loved them. The King Cole Trio’s jazzy unison-vocals on uptempo numbers like “Mutiny in the Nursery” are hard to resist; their instrumentals on the likes of “The Blue Danube” and “I Know that You Know” show off Cole’s nimble-fingered pianistics and the equally impressive single-note work of guitarist Oscar Moore. (Wesley Prince is the bassist and third member of the singing trio.)
For completists there are also samples of the Trio backing generic pop vocalists and, more profitably, such jazz greats as Lester Young and Dexter Gordon.
Best of all, the handsomely packaged CDs are accompanied by a booklet featuring interviews with notable musicians who knew or were influenced by Cole, along with annotations by jazz wordsmith Will Friedwald (whose book Straighten Up and Fly Right: The Life and Music of Nat King Cole is coming in May from Oxford University Press). He also co-produced this commemorative boxed set.
Not so incidentally, Zev Feldman and George Klabin’s Resonance Records also offers this set in LP form. You can learn more at www.resonancerecords.com and watch a trailer about the Nat Cole set here: https://resonancerecords.org/shop/nat-king-cole-hittin-the-ramp-the-early-years-1936-1943/