THE KING COLE TRIO Transcriptions Vol.6
\Fine, Sweet and Tasty" Original 1941-1943 Recordings
With the disbanding of the King Cole Trio late in 1951, thegroup's mainstay Nat embarked in earnest on the solo career already earmarkedby the commercial successes of the million-selling US No.1s "Nature Boy" (1948)and "Mona Lisa" (1950). The velvet-voiced crooner's early billing as a kind ofSinatra 'in sepia', however, was superfluous, as his list of chart hits,including the No.1 "Too Young" and "Unforgettable" (both 1951), "When I Fall InLove" (1957) and "Ramblin' Rose" (1962) was soon to prove. With 78 Billboardhit singles between 1944 and 1964 (an average of three per year), 49 of whichentered the US Top 40, in terms of sales (even posthumous sales) Nat Colequalifies as one of the most popular singers in the history of recording.
Nat Cole was also something of a cult movie idol whosesporadic screen career - which began in 1943 with Here Comes Elmer and ended in1965, the year of his passing, with Cat Ballou - included a starring-role (aspianist-songwriter W.C. Handy) in St. Louis Blues (1958), but these greateridentifications of highly successful middle-of-the-road pop star and middlingfilm icon have eclipsed his true standing as a band-leader and brilliant jazzarranger. Nat's influence as a jazz piano innovator is consequently not as universallyrecognised as it should be, albeit he was many times a Downbeat, Metronome andEsquire award-winner and his influence was openly acknowledged by, amongothers, Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans and George Shearing, who still rates him'the most underrated jazz pianist of all time'.
The son of a Baptist minister, Nat was born Nathaniel AdamsColes in Montgomery, Alabama, on 17 March 1917 but from 1921 grew up inChicago. Keenly interested in the piano as a child (his brothers Eddie, Isaacand Freddy also became musicians) he was encouraged by his choir-mistressmother. He first played by ear but later, at high school, embarked on moreserious study with the musical educators Walter Dyett and N. Clark Smith. Attwelve Nat played the organ at his father's church and was steeped in classicalpiano repertoire 'from Bach to Rachmaninoff '. But he was also strongly drawnto jazz and improvising at the piano and in 1934, while still at school,fronted his first band. By 1936 he had already cut his first record (for Decca)with his bass-player brother Eddie Cole's Solid Swingers. Influenced from more than onedirection, at this stage Nat's playing already combined the economical pulse ofBasie's left-hand with the intricacy of Earl Hines' right and his own groups, theRogues of Rhythm and Twelve Royal Dukes, regularly featured Hines'arrangements.
Later in 1936, Nat left Chicago with Eddie to appear withthe band of a touring revival of Eubie Blake' Shuffle Along, a show which in1921 had been proclaimed 'the first all-black Broadway musical'. However, therevival was conspicuously less successful and, suddenly unemployed in LosAngeles, Nat found work as solo pianist at the Century Club on Santa MonicaBoulevard. In 1938, at Bob Lewis'sSwanee Inn Club, Nat formed the 'King Cole Swingsters', a quartet comprisingOscar Moore (1912-1981) on guitar, Lee Young (born 1917) on drums and WesleyPrince on bass, but after Young's departure the following year the group wasre-named the King Cole Trio and was heard both live and on radio aroundHollywood, notably at the Swanee Inn, until late 1940. The hot small combo wassigned that year by Decca and their first recorded sides (December 1940)included classic versions of "Sweet Lorraine" and "Honeysuckle Rose", and withNat's Hines-derived style prominently featured a 'cocktail jazz' format was setwhich Tatum and others would soon follow - although the group was alsodistinguished by frequent vocals from the Trio (or by more occasionalcontributions from featured vocalists ad hoc) and from around 1941 from Nathimself, a foretaste of the solo vocalist of the future.
Between 1938 and 1941 Nat provided the instrumental backingson about 200 broadcast transcription discs issued on the Keystone, MacGregorand Standard labels, many of which are still unpublished. These featuredvarious artists (including The Dreamers and soloists Maxene Johnson, JuaneldaCarter and Pauline Byrns) and the solo and instrumental items are invariablyprefaced by Nat's florid, Hinesian one-note-run intros, characterised by vocalsby trio members which alternate scat with lyrics. The majority of thetranscriptions predate the Trio's first commercial discs (here is yet anotherversion of Gone With The Draft, a number which was also featured in their firstDecca session). Precisely what they would have played in the clubs, they arecertainly more indicative of the Trio's slant on the (then) latest jazzinnovations than their more regular commercial Tin Pan Alley offerings mightindicate. The repertoire is remarkable in its diversity (reflecting Nat'scatholic tastes and early assimilation of many styles, both serious andmundane) and includes light-hearted echoes from well-known light classics, aswas then the fashion.
Many of the transcription items are of obscure authorshipalthough it is reasonable to assume that the majority are improvisations - ifnot actual creations - by Cole himself. Producer David Lennick has offered thefollowing clarifica-tion: 'Transcription companies syndicated their recordings toradio stations, and often recorded songs that were originals (to which theyheld the copyrights although they remained unpublished). Credits were nevergiven on the labels since the leasing agreement included the right to play thesongs on air without having to declare the composers' names.'
Peter Dempsey, 2004