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8.120705 - KING COLE TRIO: Transcriptions, Vol. 5 (1940)

THE KING COLE TRIO Transcriptions Vol

THE KING COLE TRIO Transcriptions Vol.5

“Vine Street Jump”  Original 1940 Recordings


Still best remembered by the general listener as the radio and TV star whose commercial blockbusters included “Nature Boy” (1948), “Mona Lisa” (1950), “When I Fall In Love” (1957) and “Ramblin’ Rose” (1962), in terms of sheer sales Nat Cole remains one of the most popular singers in the history of recording. However, his universal classification as a pop singer and film-actor obscures his earlier importance as a bandleader and arranger, while his influence as a jazz piano innovator is not so universally recognised (many times a Downbeat, Metronome and Esquire award-winner, his brilliant style was retrospectively acknowledged by Oscar Peterson and Bill Evans, among others).


The son of a Baptist minister, 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 (his brothers Eddie, Isaac and Freddy also became musicians) he was encouraged at first by his choir-mistress mother. He first played by ear but later, at high school, embarked on more serious study with the musical educators Walter Dyett and N.Clark Smith. At twelve Nat played the organ at his father’s church and – he would later quip – was steeped in classical piano repertoire ‘from Bach to Rachmaninoff ’.


In 1934, while still at school, Nat fronted his first band 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’s Shuffle Along, a show which in 1921 had been proclaimed ‘the first all-black Broadway musical’. The revival was conspicu-ously less successful however and, finding himself suddenly unemployed 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, Nat formed the ‘King Cole Swingsters’, a quartet comprising Oscar Moore (guitar), Wesley Prince (string bass) and Lee Young (drums) which after Young left in 1939 became the King Cole Trio and went on to perform and broadcast in and around Hollywood, notably at the Swanee Inn, until late 1940. A patently hot small combo comprising piano-guitar-bass, the group was signed that year by Decca, their first recorded sides (December, 1940) including classic versions of “Sweet Lorraine” and “Honeysuckle Rose” and with Nat’s Hines-derived style prominently featured, a ‘cocktail jazz’ format was set which Tatum and others would soon follow – although the group was also distinguished by frequent vocal contri-butions from the Trio (or by occasional ad hoc solos 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 are still unpublished. These featured various artists (including The Dreamers, vocalists Maxene Johnson, Juanelda Carter and Pauline Byrns) and the solo and instrumental items are invariably prefaced by Nat’s florid, Hinesian one-note-run intros, characterised by vocals by trio members which alternate scat with lyrics. The majority of the transcriptions predate the Trio’s first commercial discs (Gone With The Draft was also featured in their first Decca session) and in general they represent a fair cross-section of the jazz and Tin Pan Alley standards the Trio would have aired in clubs. Their repertoire is remarkable in its diversity (reflecting Nat’s catholic tastes and early assimilation of many styles, both serious and mundane) and includes light-hearted jazzings of light classics, as was then the fashion.


Many of the transcription items are of obscure authorship although the majority are the improvisations – if not actual creations – of Cole himself. 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, 2004

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