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

Mark Sullivan By

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Before pianist/vocalist Nat "King" Cole had a career as a pop crooner—his many hits included "All for You," "The Christmas Song," "(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66," "(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons," "Nature Boy" and "Mona Lisa" (the No. 1 song in 1950)—he led a successful jazz trio which featured both his piano playing and vocals. This voluminous collection aims to document all of his early work. There are many surprises for those who only know the pop hits, and plenty to interest jazz fans who may have dismissed him as a sellout.

The earliest recordings (1936) were made under the leadership of Nat's brother, bassist/vocalist Eddie Cole, with Nat playing piano. By 1938 the King Cole Trio had been formed with guitarist/vocalist Oscar Moore and double bassist/vocalist Wesley Prince. After demonstrating vocal skills on live gigs, Nat had been encouraged to sing. So much of this material features vocals, although substantially different from the later pop records. Cole's first hit was "Sweet Lorraine" (Decca, 1940) after many radio transcriptions and recordings for small labels. The trio was a hot, jiving swing machine, prone to novelty tunes like "The Sheik of Araby," "'Taint What You Do" and "Straighten Up and Fly Right." Given the recording technology of the time, most of the tracks are in the two to three minute range, with a few hitting the five minute mark. But these recording sessions cover a broad range.

There are guest vocalists, most notably the vocal group The Dreamers. Their session includes a range of contemporary pop with the trio in a purely accompanying role. Instrumental tracks also have a place. Some of them have the feel of spontaneous jams, with titles like "Riffin' in F Minor" and "I Like to Riff." But there are also tunes like "Moon Song" and "Rhythm Serenade" (which includes a bass solo). The trio also made instrumental sessions with guest soloists. Tenor saxophonist Lester Young played on one in 1942, regrettably without guitarist Oscar Moore. In 1943 they were joined by trumpeter Harry "Sweets" Edison and tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon. That recording was produced by renowned producer Norman Granz, and included a drummer (an occasional addition in this collection).

It is easy to forget that Cole was originally a pianist who also sang, rather than the other way around. As a pianist he was in the line of greats like Earl Hines and Art Tatum, and himself was a huge inspiration to Oscar Peterson, George Shearing, Erroll Garner, and others. Most of these recordings feature his deep partnership with guitarist Oscar Moore. His style was a synthesis of such influences as George Van Eps, Django Reinhardt, and Charlie Christian, and a template for modern jazz guitar playing.

This deluxe seven-CD/10-LP package is the first comprehensive collection of Cole's early years, compiling nearly 200 pre-Capitol Records recordings, and produced in partnership with the Cole Estate. While few of these tracks are easy to find, the collection also includes several previously unreleased studio sides, transcriptions, and private recordings. The extensive accompanying booklet includes interviews, quotes and essays by Johnny Mathis, Tony Bennett, Quincy Jones, Harry Belafonte, Freddy Cole, Michael Feinstein, John Pizzarelli and others.

Track Listing: DISC 1: Honey Hush; Stompin' at the Panama; Bedtime; Thunder; Mutiny in the Nursery; F.D.R. Jones; The Sheik of Araby; The Blue Danube; Button Button, Jingle Bells; Swanee River; With Plenty of Money and You; Don't Blame Me; Lullaby in Rhythm; Dark Rapture; The Wiggly Walk; Flea Hop; Chopsticks; Patty Cake, Patty Cake; Blue Skies; Liza; Three Blind Mice; Caravan; There's No Anesthetic for Love; Dixie Jamboree; Ta-De-Ah; Riffin' at the Bar-B-Q; Harlem Swing; I Lost Control of Myself.


DISC 2: The Land of Make Believe; That Please-Be-Mine-Able Feeling; Dancing in the Street; You're So Different; I Wouldn't Have Known It; Let's Get Happy; Undecided; 'Taint What You Do; Do You Wanna Jump, Children?; Riffin' in F Minor; Ol' Man Mose Ain't Dead; Blue Lou; Honey; Russian Lullaby; Georgie Porgie; The Limp; Snug as a Bug in a Rug; Liebestraum; Fidgety Joe; Two Against One; Some Like it Hot; Crazy Rhythm; Moonglow; Don't Let That Moon Get Away; My Blue Heaven; I Was Doing Alright; I Can't Get Started; Old Man Moon; Carry Me Back to Old Virginny;
DISC 3: Moon Song; Baby, Won't You Please Come Home; Rosetta; Trompin'; You're My Life; Hoy Soy; Take 'Em; Scategoria; Rhythm Serenade; Rib Town Shuffle; Music'll Chase Your Blues Away; I'll Gather Up My Memories; A Fool's Affair; Jump, Jack, Jump; I Knew a Time; Mine You'll Always Be; Doin' the Bow Wow; Lilla Mae; I Like to Riff; On the Sunny Side of the Street; Black Spider Stomp; By the River St. Marie; Slew Foot Joe; Crazy 'Bout Rhythm; Off the Beam; King Cole Blues; Jivin' with the Notes; Never Mind, Baby.
DISC 4: I'm a Perfect Fool Over You; Lovely Little Person; Love Me Sooner; Sentimental Blue; Goin' to Town with Honey; Syncopated Lullaby; Falling in and Out of Love; Let's Do Things; Jumpy Jitters; Nothing Ever Happens; What'cha Doin' to My Heart; Bedtime; Honey Hush; French Toast; Vine Street Jump; B Flat; You Send Me; Love Is My Alibi; Pogo Stick Bounce; Whatcha' Know, Joe?; Sweet Lorraine; Honeysuckle Rose; Gone with the Draft; This Side Up; Jumpin' with the Mop; Jam Man; Let's Try Again; Fudge Wudge; Smokey Joe; Windy City Boogie Woogie; Ode to a Wild Clam.
DISC 5: Let’s Try Again; Whatcha' Know, Joe?; Lazy River; Georgia on My Mind; Rockin' Chair; A Little Jive Is Good for You; You've Changed; Babs; Scotchin' with the Soda; Slow Down; Early Morning Blues; The Romany Room Is Jumpin'; This Will Make You Laugh; Stop! The Red Light's On; Hit the Ramp; I Like to Riff; Call the Police; Are You Fer It?; That Ain't Right; Hit That Jive, Jack; Indiana; I Can't Get Started.
DISC 6: Tea for Two; Body and Soul; Vom, Vim, Veedle; All for You; Hip Hip Hooray; I Know That You Know; I'm Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town; Pitchin' Up a Boogie; I'm Lost; Beautiful Moons Ago; Let's Spring One; Slender, Tender, and Tall; I've Found a New Baby; Rosetta; Sweet Lorraine; I Blowed and Gone; Solid Potato Salad; F.S.T. (Fine, Sweet & Tasty); Got a Penny; Let's Pretend; My Lips Remember Your Kisses; I'm an Errand Boy for Rhythm;. Straighten Up and Fly Right.
DISC 7: Honey Hush; By the River St. Marie; I Like to Riff; Black Spider Stomp; Sweet Lorraine; Early Morning Blues; Gone with the Draft; Trompin'; Sweet Lorraine; Gone with the Draft; Scotchin' with the Soda; Gone with the Draft;The Romany Room Is Jumpin' ; Hit That Jive, Jack; Beautiful Moons Ago; Honeysuckle Rose; I Know That You Know; Solid Potato Salad; My Lips Remember Your Kisses; Straighten Up and Fly Right.

Personnel: Nat “King” Cole Trio: Nat “King” Cole: piano, vocals; Oscar Moore: guitar; Wesley Prince or Johnny Miller: bass. Selected artists on some tracks: Anita Boyer: vocals (CD 3: tracks 11-18); Maxine Johnson: vocals (CD 4: tracks 1-11); Lester Young: tenor saxophone; Red Callender: bass (CD 5: tracks 21-22; CD 6: tracks 1-2); Dexter Gordon: tenor saxophone; Harry “Sweets” Edison: trumpet; Red Callender: bass (CD 6, tracks 13-16).

Title: Hittin’ the Ramp: The Early Years (1936-1943) | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Resonance Records

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