cream of the crate: album  review # 127 – nat king cole: the complete after midnight sessions

cream of the crate: album review # 127 – nat king cole: the complete after midnight sessions

 

 

  This review was originally posted on the first Toorak Times web site where publications ceased on that site in March 2017. The old site will be permanently closed in 2020 and these reviews are being re-published in order to preserve them on the current Toorak Times/Tagg site.

 

 

 

"There's no mistaking those velvet-piled vocal chords. Warm, sandy, accessible, Nat King Cole's is a voice to curl up inside on a grey afternoon, a fleecy blanket for the soul." - (BBC music review 2004) . . . "He put his heart into everything he did" - (George Benson: A Tribute To Nat King Cole 2013) . . . "The thing about Cole is that he understands simple. Simple’s always better. Other cats be playing way too many changes behind me. They get fancy when all fancy does is get in the way." - (Lester Young [The Prez]- JazzTimes)

This is album retro-review number 127 in the series of retro-reviews of both vinyl and Cd albums in my collection.

The series is called
“Cream of The Crate” and each review represents an album that I believe is of significant musical value, either because of it’s rarity, because it represents the best of a style or styles of music or because there is something unique about the group or the music.

The first fifty reviews were vinyl only, and the second fifty reviews were CD’s only. Links to these reviews can be found at the bottom of this page. From review 101 onward I have mixed vinyl and CD albums and, try and present an Australian album every fifth review!

This week it’s a CD album of a man who was making hits and wowing audiences even before some readers were born.

The artist is the absolute legend – Nat King Cole and the album is titled The Complete After Midnight Sessions and it features the King Cole Trio although some tracks have been augmented by four guest artists, who are discussed further on.

It is released in 1987 on the Capitol Records label and has the code CDP 7 48328 2.

cream of the crate: album review # 127 – nat king cole: the complete after midnight sessions
CD Label

 

The album has a total of 17 tracks including five previously unreleased tracks. Initially, the album was released in a 33rpm LP version as well as in a set of four (7 inch) 45rpm discs.The first 12 tracks were on the original vinyl release.

TRACKS:

  1. “Just You, Just Me

  2. “Sweet Lorraine”

  3. “Sometimes I’m Happy (Sometimes I’m Blue)”

  4. “Caravan”

  5. “It’s Only a Paper Moon”

  6. “You’re Looking at Me”

  7. “Lonely One”

  8. “Don’t Let It Go to Your Head”

  9. “I Know That You Know”

  10. “Blame It on My Youth”

  11. “When I Grow Too Old to Dream”

  12. “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66”


Bonus tracks (taken from the same 1956 recording sessions):
13. “I Was a Little Too Lonely (And You Were a Little Too Late)” (Evans, Livingston) – 3:02
14. “You Can Depend On me” (Carpenter, Dunlap, Hines) – 3:56
15. “What
s There to Say?” (Duke, Harburg) – 3:37
16. “T
wo Loves Have I” (Murray, Scotto, Trivers) – 2:47
17. “Candy” (David, Kramer, Whitney) – 3:54

cream of the crate: album review # 127 – nat king cole: the complete after midnight sessions
Rear CD Cover: Track Listing – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

The tracks were recorded between August and September, 1956, in Studio A of the Capitol Tower in Hollywood and then remastered at Capitol Recording Studios. Tracks 13 to 17 are previously unreleased selections from the original recording sessions.

Briefly, Nat King Cole was born on March 17, 1919, in Montgomery, Alabama, and was an American musician who first came to prominence as a jazz pianist. Known for his smooth and well-articulated vocal style, Nat King Cole actually started out as a piano man. He first learned to play around the age of 4 with help from his mother, a church choir director. The son of a Baptist pastor, Cole it is likely that he would have started out playing religious music.

Cole was actually classically trained but that wasn’t the path the young man wanted to follow, he saw his music future in Jazz. Earl Hines, a leader of modern jazz, was one of his biggest inspirations. At 15, he dropped out of school to become a jazz pianist full time. Cole joined forces with his brother Eddie for a time, which led to his first professional recordings in 1936. He later joined a national tour for the musical revue Shuffle Along, performing as a pianist.

The following year, Cole started to put together what would become the King Cole Trio, the name being a play on the children’s nursery rhyme. They toured extensively and finally landed on the charts in 1943 with “That Ain’t Right,” penned by Cole. “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” inspired by one of his father’s sermons, became another hit for the group in 1944.

Eventually he went solo and was the first African-American performer to host a variety television series, and for many white families, he was the first black man welcomed into their living rooms each night. He went on to sell over 50million records.

Cole was actually very popular amongst younger people because his trio focussed on swinging instrumentals, but the story goes that one night a belligerent drunk demanded he play Sweet Lorraine, and not wanting a confrontation Cole obliged. It was so successful that on the basis of that one nights response, the group immediately went to work on adding more vocal tracks and Nat King Cole rapidly evolved from a jazz musician to a brilliant and charismatic singer.

The King Cole Trio consisted of guitarist, John Collins was a veteran of both Art Tatum and Dizzy Gillespie’s groups, bassist Charlie Harris who had played extensively with the brilliant Lionel Hampton band before leaving to join Cole and finally, drummer Lee (Leonidas) Young, who was the brother of Lester Young. Lee worked in movie picture orchestra and was also a veteran of the Lionel Hampton Orchestra. Interestingly, there is generally a “guest” artist on most of the tracks on this album to augment the sound, and I’ll discuss that person when appropriate.

cream of the crate: album review # 127 – nat king cole: the complete after midnight sessions
King Cole Trio – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

Four additional and great musicians were bought in to augment the sound of the King Cole Trio, to give it just an extra bit of zip and sass!

 

cream of the crate: album review # 127 – nat king cole: the complete after midnight sessions

As I like to do, we begin with track number 1, Just You Just Me featuring Willie Smith

Now Nat King Cole was a master of a loping style: delivering vocals at a relaxed pace, but never forgetting to swing.

This track is a clever arrangement which is close to a virtually perfect track. Here and elsewhere, guitarist John Collins supplies some choice solos. Willie Smith is considered by many to be one of the great stylists of the alto-saxophone.

Born in 1908 he was one of the original members of the Jimmy Lunceford Orchestra. Later he played with greats such as Billy May, Duke Ellington and Harry James.

Willie’s ability in the particular form of jazz called Swing, shines through in this track and it’s easy to hear his influence in assisting in giving this track a discreet but a really nice feel.

Nicely melodic it makes it an ideal “jam” tune although this is a well rehearsed version with each musician given a chance to “do his thing”.

A fantastic track to begin the album, it is also a fantastic introduction to anyone not familiar with Cole’s ability to play quality jazz.

Oh, and if this is the first Nat King Cole track that you have listened to, then you can’t help but to enjoy his beautiful and relaxed voice. Like drinking an excellent cup of coffee, it just goes down leaving a wonderful aftertaste.

Just You Just Me



Track number four is Caravan and is only what can only be described as a “jazz standard”.

Caravan was composed by Juan Tizol and first performed by the great Duke Ellington in 1936.

Ellington’s arrangement of Caravan makes the song. Starting in a minor key and performed with a Middle Eastern beat, the music creates an exotic atmosphere, all the while conjuring up such elements as camels, tents and the desert all part a hot and dusty day in the caravan trade.

Caravan was a popular “mood” piece recorded by a number of big bands in the 1930’s (Edgar Hayes, Bunny Berigan, Benny Goodman). An interesting version from 1937 is by the Mills Brothers, doing an arrangement featuring their vocal imitation of instruments.

By the 1950’s, the tune had become a set-up for extended drum solos (musician/composer Frank Zappa once remarked, “I wanna hear ‘Caravan’ with a drum solo”), and to most people, this is the way the tune is expected to be performed.

cream of the crate: album review # 127 – nat king cole: the complete after midnight sessions

 

Yet in this “classic jazz version, there are no extended drum solo’s, just an evocative piece of jazz played with class by classy musicians.

This version by Nat and the King Cole Trio features the tracks composer, Tizol playing trombone.

He was one of the first valve trombone players in jazz. The King Cole Trio’s version is different enough from the Ellington version to allow us to appreciate this performance with Nat providing vocals.

Night and stars above that shine so bright

The mystery of their fading light
That shines upon our caravan

Sleep upon my shoulder as we creep
Across the sand so I may keep
This memory of our caravan

This is so exciting, you are so inviting
Resting in my arms
As I thrill to the magic charms

Of you beside me here beneath the blue
My dream of love is coming true
Within our desert caravan

This is so exciting, you are so inviting
Resting in my arms
As I thrill to the magic charms

Of you beside me here beneath the blue
My dream of love is coming true
Within our desert caravan

Caravan



My third track is track number 9, I Know That You Know.

This track has Stuff Smith and his amazing jazz violin playing. Not only was Stuff one of the first jazz violinists he was in fact, one of very few such jazz instrument players.

He had his own hit tracks including “Swing Street” and his playing stands out in a track that moves along at quite a pace that not only showcases his violin playing, but Coles vibrant piano playing.

 

cream of the crate: album review # 127 – nat king cole: the complete after midnight sessions

 

These guys really cook on this track and I’ll bet you will find it very hard to keep your feet from wanting to move to the swing and the beat.

Jazz.com had a few words to say about this track, and frankly it sums the track up so beautifully I’ll use their quote in full.

Young sets the frantic pace, Smith exchanges brief whirling passages with Cole’s piano, and then Cole sings the lyrics in a relaxed and assured manner. Smith captivates in his solo, and Cole follows and more than holds his own, lucid and nimble with not a note wasted or out of place.

He and the violinist resume their dialogue, showing great rapport and spirited invention before Young’s boisterous drum break launches Cole’s vocal reprise. A final buoyant Smith-Cole instrumental interaction seals the deal on this memorable track.”

I Know That You Know

 

The final track to be discussed is a track, that while made famous during this swinging jazz period, was picked up and played right through the latter rock and pop period.

Track number twelve is the well known and very played Route 66.

Written by Bobby Troup in 1946 it has been recorded by no less than 55 well known artists including Chuck Berry, the Rolling Stones, Bing Crosby, Jerry Lee Lewis, Tom Petty, Louis Prima, Aerosmith, Them and Depeche Mode just to name a few.

However, the very first version recorded was by the King Cole Trio.

Accompanying the trio is Harry “Sweets” Edison who was the “Star” trumpet player with the Count Basie orchestras.

It moves a nice pace while maintaining a cool lean-back type attitude and has a simply delightful piece of jazz lead work from the trio’s guitarist, John Collins.

This is not a track I want to over analyse. It rocks regardless of being a jazz classic and just requests that you settle back and take the trip with the King Cole Trio as they traverse Route 66.

If you ever plan to motor west
Travel my way
Take the highway that’s the best
Get your kicks on Route 66

It winds from Chicago to LA
More than two thousand miles all the way
Get your kicks on Route 66

Now you go through St. Louis
Joplin, Missouri
And Oklahoma City looks mighty pretty
You see Amarillo
Gallup, New Mexico
Flagstaff, Arizona
Don’t forget Winona
Kingman, Barstow, San Bernandino

Won’t you get hip to this timely tip
When you make that California trip
Get your kicks on Route 66

Won’t you get hip to this timely tip
When you make that California trip
Get your kicks on Route 66
Get your kicks on Route 66
Get your kicks on Route 66

Route 66



With 17 tracks on this album, Cole manages to cover all the genres he was so famous for.

From crooning, spooning and hitting the highs of swinging jazz, Cole had it all, and did it all.

Sadly, like many (probably almost all) of my generation (The Baby Boomers) and most of those generations that followed, I dismissed Nat King Cole when I was a younger man, as it was seen (heard) as the music of our parents.

Route 66 was a great track by the Stones! I wasn’t interested in crooners, lounge jazz and indeed, even swing jazz was disregarded by many of my generation that had not been exposed to jazz, because it was a new era and new music was pouring forth.

But, as the great Aussie artist Peter Allen sang, “Everything Old Is New Again“!

And so it is very appropriate that fifty years after he passed on, we rediscover Nat King Cole and rightly so, because it was not just my generation but the generations that followed that either dismissed him (at the best) or vilified him (at the worst)

cream of the crate: album review # 127 – nat king cole: the complete after midnight sessions

 

In his day jazz fans attacked him for crossing over to pop, but he was a challenge to the pop world just by virtue of being black.

His life as a working musician was also a continual struggle against racism, which included a principled insistence on never playing segregated spaces. At one point, a white supremacist group attacked him on stage.

He also became the first black musician to be given his own TV variety show, only to have the show taken off the air in little over a year due to advertisers’ refusal to support a black man who had his own show.

He was also heckled constantly over his choice to buy a house in cushy, all-white Beverley Hills.

He refused to back down, and, became a one-man force for integration during a time of great racial adversity. He is simply amazing!

Cole died of lung cancer in 1965 at only age 45, but he left behind a unique musical legacy spanning over twenty-five years of recording.

This album is one of many that is left to celebrate his wonderful vocal ability, piano playing, group leadership in fact, his all round musicianship! He was a great man who left a might musical legacy.

This album is available on Ebay for around $25.00 including postage and really, do yourself a favour and listen to a few tracks more than I have provided.

Incidentally, despite providing the track in the review above, I couldn’t resist including a video clip of Nat singing Route 66.

You will be amazed!


VIDEOS:

Thanks to Youtube there is a plethora of King Cole live tracks, but sadly few from this album. Here is a selection to further demonstrate his amazing abilities.

 

Better To be By Yourself (from the film Piano Blues)

 

Got A Penny Benny

 

Route 66


Previous Cream of The Crate Albums:

 

To view/listen the first 50 vinyl album reviews just click the image below –

cream of the crate cd review #2 : robert johnson – the complete recordings

 

To view/listen the first 50 Cd album reviews just click the image below –

 

Click to open the following Vinyl reviews from 101 onward:

#101:  Bo Diddley – Bo Diddley’s Beach Party (Live)

#102:  Les Paul and Mary Ford – The World Is waiting For The Sunrise

#103:  Captain Beefheart – Trout Mask Replica

#104:  Los Fronterizos – Misa Creole

#105:  Bobby Bright – Child Of Rock And Roll

#106:  The  Nylons – One Size Fits All

#107:  Jimmy Cliff – The Harder They Come [Soundtrack from the film]

#108:  Paul Simon – Graceland

#109.  The Ventures – The Very Best Of

#110.  The Pardoners – Indulgences

#111.  Atlantic R&B: Volumes 1 – 3 [1947 to 1957] 

#112.  Atlantic R&B Volumes 4 & 5 [1957 – 1965]

#113.  Roots of Rock: Vol.12 – Union Avenue Breakdown

#114.  David Fanshawe – African Sanctus

#115.  A Reefer Derci – Various Artists

#116.  Dr. John – Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch

#117.  The Walker Brothers – The Walker Brothers

#118.  Peter Gabriel – Peter Gabriel

#119.  Curved Air – Airconditioning

#120.  The Delltones – The Best of The Delltones

#121.  Hound Dog Taylor – Hound Dog Taylor and The Houserockers

#122.  Bessie Smith – Queen of The Blues

#123.  The Shadows – The Shadows Greatest Hits

#124.  Gil Scott Heron – Reflections

#125.  The Dingoes – Five Times The Sun

#126.  Bert Jansch and John Renbourn – Bert and John