AT KING COLE I Like To Riff
The King Cole Trio Transcriptions, Vol.3: 1939
"I have always felt that he was the most underrated jazz pianist of all time." George Shearing
To a whole generation Nat King Cole the radio Family Favourite and TV star was a popular vocalist whose golden brown voice and laid-back, smooth delivery earned him many best-selling hits including "Nature Boy" (1948), "Mona Lisa" (1950), "When I Fall In Love" (1957) and "Ramblin Rose" (1962). However, whereas Cole is now universally remembered as a singer and film-actor, his earlier importance as a bandleader and arranger are generally less widely realised, his influence as a pianist on Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson et al (he was, after all, many times a Downbeat, Metronome and Esquire award-winner) appreciated only by true devotees of jazz.
The son of a pastor in the First Baptist Church, Nat was born in Montgomery, Alabama, on 17 March, 1917. In 1921 his family migrated to Chicago in search of greater prosperity. Displaying early a keen interest in the piano (encouraged at first by his choir-mistress mother he first played by ear and at high school studied the instrument more earnestly with the guidance of the musical educators Walter Dyett and N. Clark Smith) at twelve he played the organ at his fathers church and absorbed the classical piano repertoire "from Bach to Rachmaninoff ". He fronted his first band while still at school and by 1936 had already cut his first record (for Decca) with his bass-player brother Eddie Coles Solid Swingers. Influenced from more than one direction, at this stage Nats playing already combined the economical pulse of Basies left-hand with the intricacy of Earl Hines right and his own groups, the Rogues of Rhythm and Twelve Royal Dukes, were given to featuring Hines arrangements.
Later in 1936, Nat left Chicago with Eddie to appear with the band of a touring revival of Eubie Blake Shuffle Along. Proclaimed in 1921 the first all-black Broadway musical, this show was less successfully resurrected and, finding himself suddenly out of work in Los Angeles, Nat secured himself a new niche as a solo pianist at the Century Club on Santa Monica Boulevard. In 1938, at Bob Lewiss Swanee Inn Club, he formed the King Cole Swingsters, a quartet comprising Oscar Moore (guitar), Wesley Prince (string bass) and Lee Young (drums) which evolved to the King Cole Trio after Youngs departure and went on to perform (and broadcast) in and around the Hollywood and LA area until late 1940. With a Hinesian style still strongly in evidence, their cocktail jazz approach was frequently embellished by concerted vocal contributions from the Trio (or by occasional ad hoc solos from Bonnie Lake and others) and from around 1941 from Nat himself an embryonic foretaste of the solo vocalist of later years.
Between 1938 and 1941 Nat provided the instrumental backings on about 200 broadcast transcription discs issued on the Keystone, MacGregor and Standard labels, many of which remain unpublished. These featured various artists (including The Dreamers, vocalists Lake, Juanelda Carter and Pauline Byrns & Her Perils) and the solo and instrumental items are invariably prefaced by Nats florid, Hinesian one-note-run intros, characterised by vocals by trio members ad hoc in which scat alternates with lyrics. The majority of the transcriptions predate the Trios first commercial discs (recorded for Decca in December 1940) and in general they represent a fair cross-section of the many jazz and Tin Pan Alley standards which the Trio would normally have aired in clubs.
Even by contemporary standards (there was then a trend for jazzing the classics) the Trios repertoire is remarkable in its diversity, possibly a reflection of Nats catholic tastes and early assimilation of many styles -serious and mundane. Time-honoured standards newly revived, new material from films (e.g. Some Like It Hot, the Frank Loesser title-song of a 1939 Paramount light comedy starring Bob Hope and Shirley Ross) stand unself-consciously next to Nats own light-hearted rhythm arrangements of semi-classics (e.g. Johann Strauss IIs "Blue Danube" or Franz Liszts Liebestraum No.3)
However, several items are of obscure authorship (Tracks 1,2,5 & 6 are four examples from a longer list) and despite our best researches it has not been possible to trace the composers. Whereas some of these titles may be improvisations coined "to order" by Cole himself, our compiler-producer David Lennick has offered the following in clarification : "Transcription companies syndicated their recordings to radio stations, and often recorded songs that were originals (to which they held the copyrights although they remained unpublished). Credits were never given on the labels since the leasing agreement included the right to play the songs on air without having to declare the composers names."
Peter Dempsey, 2002
The Naxos Historical labels aim to make available the greatest recordings of the history of recorded music, in the best and truest sound that contemporary technology can provide. To achieve this aim, Naxos has engaged a number of respected restorers who have the dedication, skill and experience to produce restorations that have set new standards in the field of historical recordings.
As a producer of CD reissues, David Lennicks work in this field grew directly from his own needs as a broadcaster specializing in vintage material and the need to make it listenable while being transmitted through equalizers, compressors and the inherent limitations of A.M. radio. Equally at home in classical, pop, jazz and nostalgia, Lennick describes himself as exercising as much control as possible on the final product, in conjunction with CEDAR noise reduction applied by Graham Newton in Toronto. As both broadcaster and re-issue producer, he relies on his own extensive collection as well as those made available to him by private collectors, the University of Toronto, Syracuse University and others.