Nat King Cole means two very different things to two different segments of the music-loving populace today. To those simply plugged into popular culture he's the golden-voiced baritone crooner, debonair and delightful as can be while travelling over the airwaves. But to those steeped in jazz history he's known as a mighty and true pianist, throwing down the gauntlet at Jazz at the Philharmonic shows, pushing a then-progressive agenda with fellow giants Buddy Rich and Lester Young, and walking a beautifully straight line in a more conventional trio setting. For some, never the twain shall meet when it comes to these two different Coles. But in reality there was only one, and this date shows it.
By 1950, both sides of Cole's musical persona were already established. He'd been making waves as a pianist as far back as the mid-to-late '30s and his status as a vocalist, bolstered by a string of hits like "The Christmas Song" and "Nature Boy," contributed greatly in his steady rise toward mainstream pop stardom a decade later. This live recording, captured in October of 1950 at Kongresshaus Zurich and seeing its first release in its entirety here, favors the ivory-tickling side of Cole's personality. But it does so without denying the voice its place. The pipes produce an appropriately upbeat and swoon-inducing "Too Marvelous For Words," a dreamy "Embraceable You," a peppy and charming "Little Girl" (met with rapturous applause and whistling), a gently gliding "Sweet Lorraine," and a "Route 66" that's as snazzy as any take of that Cole-associated classic; the piano does the talking for him on the other two-thirds of the program.
The ten instrumental numbers found herein don't find Cole completely cutting loosethis is a concert after all, not a jam sessionbut they do find him near the peak of his expressive powers. He runs wild over Jack Costanzo's bongos on his own "Bop Kick," extemporizes on "Saint Louis Blues" in stellar fashion, commands attention in setting the scene for a purposeful "Summertime," tickles the keys on "Poor Butterfly," and paints a picture of pure class on "Body And Soul." Had Cole never opened his mouth, he still would've been a star.
While Cole captures attention throughout with his musical mastery and banter, he's never a glory hound. Each of his sidemen gets a feature numberguitarist Irving C Ashby is showcased on his own "Nothing To Fret About," bassist Joe Comfort on "Tea For Two," and Costanzo on the somewhat tacky "Go Bongo"and Cole constantly shares the spotlight elsewhere. His rapport with the musicians in this augmented trio is always evident during the program. Whether you love the man for his voice, his piano, his personality, or a combination of all three, there's much to enjoy on this one.
Nothing To Fret About; Tea For Two; Body And Soul; Too Marvelous For Words; Bop Kick; Saint Louis Blues; & Bluesology; In The Cool Of The Evening; Go Bongo; How High The Moon; Summertime; Embraceable You; Poor Butterfly; Little Girl; Sweet Lorraine; Rout 66.
Nat King Cole: piano, vocals; Irving Ashby: guitar; Joe Comfort: bass; Jack Costanza: bongos.
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