The exceptional 28-song The World of Nat King Cole is a compact career retrospective and best-of package simultaneously celebrating one of the finest, swingingest jazz pianists AND pop vocalists of the 20th century. The collection, which benefits the VH1 Save the Music Foundation, is coming out January 25 to coincide with the 40th anniversary of Cole’s tragically early death at 45 from lung cancer.
Nat King Cole’s (1919-65) career followed a similar path to that of Louis Armstrong in that both began as jazz innovators and ended up as beloved popular entertainers. When each died, many fans weren’t even aware of their heroes’ early jazz lives. Cole was born in Alabama, grew up in Chicago, and lived in L.A.’s Hancock Park most of his adult life with his wife Maria and five children.
His piano style was known for its flow, wit, and rhythmic drive. By the time Cole signed to Capitol Records in ‘44 (his 150 charting singles is still a record for the label, which became known as “The House That Nat Built”), his Trio (with Oscar Moore on guitar and Wesley Prince on bass) was a West Coast jazz legend. Their first hit together was the swingin’, jivey Cole composition “Straighten Up and Fly Right” (ironically taken from an admonition from his Baptist minister father to forsake the music biz).
As the ‘40s progressed Cole began to move into the vocal pop (the great “Christmas Song” with strings – inexplicably not included here – was recorded in ‘46) that would carry him to the very top of the entertainment world as his incomparably warm, humane, quietly self-possessed voice mellowed and matured. The singer gave cigarettes credit for his tone – they exacted the heaviest of tolls in return.
There are many Cole songs that are essential (“Nature Boy,” “Mona Lisa,” “Unforgettable,” “L-O-V-E,” “Smile”), but the Bobby Troup-penned “(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66” from 1946 combines the swanky best of the Trio with a pleasing portion of the sweetness that was to come. “Route 66” is perhaps the perfect nexus of the divergent arrows of Cole’s career.
Listeners can judge for themselves Cole’s greatness: the Trio’s gentle ’46 ballad “(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons,” with Cole’s sweet piano answering his own vocals, is available here. His aptly titled “Unforgettable” (famously reprised in a time machine duet by his daughter Natalie, also included in the collection), recorded with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra in ’51, sits in all its loveliness here; and Cole’s archetypal ballad “Mona Lisa,” with Les Baxter’s Orchestra (’50), is on voluptuous display here.
Also under the same title is a forthcoming documentary film of Cole’s life (clip here), which will be available separately on DVD and in conjunction with the CD.
Philip Quartararo, President of EMI Music Marketing, said, “The World Of Nat King Cole tells the story of Cole’s illustrious recording career with Capitol Records through the music itself, while Double Jab’s exceptional documentary also explores Cole’s continued influence in the world today. From musicians and artists to sport stars and, actors, impacting on figures from all walks of life and diverse cultural backgrounds, the film shows the incredible range of people who draw inspiration from Nat King Cole’s gracious and tolerant way of living as well as his beautiful music.”