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8.120685 - KING COLE TRIO: Transcriptions, Vol. 4 (1939-1940)
THE KING COLE TRIO Transcriptions Vol.4
“Crazy ’Bout Rhythm” Original Recordings 1939-1940
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). Lionised after his premature death (in February, 1965) in terms of sheer sales he remains one of the most popular singers in the history of recording. However, this universal classification as a pop singer and film-actor has eclipsed his earlier importance as a bandleader and arranger and his importance as a jazz pianist (many times a Downbeat, Metronome and Esquire award-winner, the influence of his brilliant style was respectfully acknowledged by Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans and others) is not generally appreciated.
The son of a pastor in the First Baptist Church, Nat was born Nathaniel Adams Coles in Montgomery, Alabama, on 17 March 1917, but from 1921 grew up in Chicago. Keenly interested in the piano as a child (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 father’s church and was steeped in 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 Cole’s Solid Swingers. Influenced from more than one direction, at this stage Nat’s playing already combined the economical pulse of Basie’s 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, the revival was conspicuously less successful and, finding himself suddenly out of work in Los Angeles, Nat found work as solo pianist at the Century Club on Santa Monica Boulevard. In 1938, at Bob Lewis’s Swanee Inn Club, he formed the ‘King Cole Swingsters’, a quartet comprising Oscar Moore (guitar), Wesley Prince (string bass) and Lee Young (drums) which after Young left became the King Cole Trio and went on to perform (and broadcast) in and around the Hollywood and LA area until late 1940. A patently hot small combo comprising piano-guitar-bass, with a Hinesian style still strongly in evidence, their ‘cocktail jazz’ approach set the format which Tatum and others would soon follow, but its other distinction came from frequent vocal contributions from the Trio (and occasionally from Bonnie Lake or The Dreamers) and from around 1941 from Nat himself – pre-echoing 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 Nat’s 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 Trio’s first commercial discs, (Deccas, recorded in December 1940) and in general they represent a fair cross-section of the many jazz and Tin Pan Alley standards the Trio would have aired in clubs. Their repertoire is remarkable in its diversity (possibly a reflection of Nat’s catholic tastes and early assimilation of many styles – serious and mundane) and includes light-hearted jazzings of light classics, in the style of the day. There are, however, many items of obscure authorship although some, if not all, may simply be improvisations by Cole himself. Our compiler-producer David Lennick has offered the following 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, 2003
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