You never know who you’re going to meet on the internet and I came to know Peter Tibbles (bio here) via email over the past couple of years. His extensive knowledge of most genres of music and his excellent taste became apparent only gradually (Peter’s not one to toot his horn) but once I understood, I knew he needed his own column at Time Goes By – or, better, that TGB needed his column – which appears here each Sunday. You can find previous Elder Music columns here.
Nathaniel Cole was born in Montgomery, Alabama probably in 1919 (there’s some confusion about his birth year, but that’s the best bet) and the family moved to Chicago when he was 14.
He started piano lessons at the age of 12, learning the classics. He picked up jazz and gospel music as well. He was inspired by the playing of Earl Hines and later he and his older brother Eddie, a bass player, formed a band. They performed regularly around town and started touring.
When in California, Nat took a liking to the place and decided to stay. It was there he formed the King Cole Swingers, a group that eventually became the Nat King Cole Trio. You don’t need me to tell you about all the great music he’s given us over the years, his ground-breaking TV program and appearances in films.
He died in 1965 of lung cancer, almost certainly due to his life-long smoking habit. I’ll just get on and play the music.
Most of the tracks used today are by the Trio. The group consists of Nat on piano and vocals, Oscar Moore on guitar and Wesley Prince on bass. They originally had a drummer but he left before they had any great success and it was decided that they wouldn’t replace him. Wesley was later replaced by Johnny Miller and still later by Charlie Harris.
These tunes demonstrate what a great jazz pianist Nat was, something that’s rather forgotten, overshadowed by his career as a singer. They also show what a fine ensemble the trio was, as good as any jazz trio around I’d say.
Legend has it that Nat’s singing career didn’t start until a drunken barroom patron demanded that he sing Sweet Lorraine. In fact, Nat has gone on record saying that the story was fabricated but it sounded good, so he just let it ride. When the truth and legend collide, print the legend.
In reality, from the beginning he occasionally sang between instrumental numbers.
As a demonstration of the group’s jazz credentials, here is an instrumental written by Nat called Early Morning Blues.
[UPDATE: Some people are having trouble with the playback of this tune, Ronni included. It plays fine on Peter’s computer. We haven’t found a fix.]
The song that legend suggests started Nat’s singing career, Sweet Lorraine. It was written by Cliff Burwell and Mitchell Parish in 1928 and Rudy Vallee and Teddy Wilson recorded it rather successfully before Nat’s version trumped everyone else’s.
It’s Only a Paper Moon was written by Harold Arlen, Yip Harburg and Billy Rose for a Broadway play called The Great Magoo. The Magoo was a failure, just in case you haven’t heard of it.
The song has been used in several films, most notably in Peter Bogdanovich’s Paper Moon that starred Ryan O’Neal and introduced his daughter Tatum to the world. This is Ryan’s best film.
I thought I’d go with another moon song. Actually, Nat has half a dozen or more moon songs but I won’t play any others or this would degenerate into Nat playing moon songs, and that’d be a bit boring. The song is No Moon at All, written by Redd Evans and Dave Mann.
The next song is not the one that Sam Cooke sang to great acclaim. This is one Nat himself wrote, You Send Me.
The song Nature Boy was written by eden ahbez and yes, he did affect the lower case spelling. Eden (I wonder if he capitalized his name at the beginning of sentences) was born George Aberle in Brooklyn.
He was later adopted by a family in Kansas and assumed the name George McGrew. In the 1940s, he moved to Los Angeles and assumed the lower case name.
He also became a hippie at the time, growing his hair long when that was distinctly frowned upon for a bloke, grew a beard and ate only raw fruit and vegetables. One day he approached Nat’s manager after a show and gave him the music for Nature Boy. Nat started playing it and his recording spent eight weeks on top of the charts.
Another instrumental to illustrate the group’s prowess. The writer of this tune is unknown, according to the CD notes. It’s Syncopated Lullaby.
I had Straighten Up and Fly Right in my short list but I hadn’t originally included it. When I mentioned to Norma, the Assistant Musicologist, I was doing a column on Nat this was the first tune she mentioned. “Mandatory,” she suggested.
That’s good enough for me, at least it was when I went back and played it again along with the other tracks. It’s a song Nat wrote in 1943 in Omaha, Nebraska, when he had nothing much to do during his off-hours but write music.
It was an instant hit, especially with soldiers serving overseas.
I wouldn’t ordinarily play this next tune in this column but it was a particular favorite of my mum’s (as was Nat) so I’ll include for that very reason. Ramblin’ Rose.