Nat King Cole – The World of Nat King Cole

Greetings readers, it has been a while since I have laid my golden pen to paper and I attribute my post New Year’s slump to a run of bad luck. Though things ain’t exactly looking up, I realized the only thing that pleases me more than the sound of my own voice is the sight of my own words. To that end, all I needed was a good record to draw me out of the doldrums, get my creative juices flowing and the short circuited synapses firing. Last week I received the requisite inspirational gem that offered some classic songs for my listening pleasure. 

Next month, a documentary commemorating the 40 year anniversary of the passing of Nat King Cole will be aired across the globe; and Capitol/EMI is releasing a companion CD titled The World of Nat King Cole with 28 fully re-mastered songs that should please old fans and damn sure make some new ones. This comprehensive retrospective features material that was recorded during Cole’s 20-year career with Capitol Records that began during the mid 1940’s and was cut short by a three pack-a-day cigarette habit resulting in his untimely demise. Forty years is a long time and I for one was just a wee lad when Cole gave up the proverbial ghost. He began his career as a jazz piano player and a great one at that but ended up as one of the premier American vocalists. This forty year mark is the perfect time to revisit his music and remember just how brilliant his talent was.

Surprisingly enough, I only own one Cole record and it is his Christmas Album; you know, “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.” So it has come as somewhat of a refreshing surprise to comprehend just how many wonderful tracks this silky voiced songster recorded. Yes, I may be getting older but that doesn’t mean this music belongs only to my parent’s generation, does it? This new collection begins with the cool jazz vibes of Bobby Troup’s classic “Route 66,” which was recorded by the Nat King Cole Trio and features a groovy little guitar and piano solo in the middle section. “Straighten Up and Fly Right” exemplifies the jazz vocal sound of the mid 1940’s and has some silly lyrics about buzzards and monkeys. The trio sound is lean, clean and swings like the Rat Pack on steroids.

In 1948, Cole recorded the stunningly beautiful “Nature Boy,” where his simpler approach was traded in favor of the richer sound of neo classical piano supported by lush string arrangements. This formula gave him a smash hit and set the standard for popular ballads of the post World War II period. This orchestrated method also became a signature style for the artist and “Mona Lisa,” a song that won an Academy Award, was featured in a now obscure film called Captain Carey, USA. However, the track remains a melodic masterpiece.

Another ballad that makes me want to weep in my supermarket fresh, German Pilsner is “When I Fall in Love,” which was recorded by Cole in 1952 and struck gold again in the United Kingdom in 1978, becoming a number one single on the pop charts. Sure, the lyrics are a bit sappy but the combination of violins, cellos and harp, along with a perfect vocal performance are simply exquisite. For you “Unforgettable” fans, you are treated to both Nat’s original version recorded with the late, great Nelson Riddle and the more recent duet with daughter Natalie that rendered a Grammy award winning, posthumous smash hit for her father and mega record sales for her. This song is a testimony to the enduring appeal of a timeless talent and the birth right a daughter who had precious little time to know her famous parent. 

I believe it was French poet Rimbaud who said something to the effect of “there are shooting stars that blaze across the night sky.” Perhaps this is a metaphor for brilliant and talented people that we have on this earth for but a short time. Depending on your tastes, it could be Charlie Christian, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Hank Williams, Charlie Parker or Kurt Cobain. With the exception of Charlie Parker, none of these innovative musicians ever saw their 30th birthday. Nat King Cole also had a relatively short life, leaving us just before his 46th birthday. Yet he made an indelible mark on the history of American music and his legacy is a remarkable body of work that can be enjoyed on this new compilation of music. It is small reminder of how the light from his star was spectacular, luminescent and burned far too briefly.

(Capitol Records)