Nat “King” ColeMusic is a universal language, a language that many can speak; however, one that only few can master.One of those masters was Nat “King” Cole.A true legend, Nat not only could carry a song with his voice, but also through his incredible skills with the piano. Today, Nat is most remembered for that soft, soothing and so powerful voice; however he is recognized as one of the greatest jazz pianists of all-time.The man today known as Nat “King” Cole was actually born in Nathaniel Adams Coles, in Montgomery, Alabama on March 17, 1917. By the age of four, his father, Edward James Coles Sr.
and his mother, Perlina Adams Coles, decided it would be best that the family move to Chicago. By the time Nat reached four years of age, his father quit his job as a grocer and moved his family to Chicago, where he became a preacher.This decision would have had a huge impact on the family as a whole, but especially in the case of Nat. Moving to Chicago was the first step in Nats rise to fame, the place where the foundation of a jazz superstar would be built.
As a child, Nat dreamed to be a big band leader and soloist in the tradition of his idol, Earl “Fatha” Hines. By twelve years old, Nat was already playing the organ at church, amazing for such a young man only trained by his mother. Later, Nat would be enrolled in formal piano lessons, which only further add to his impressive repertoire.At fifteen years old, Nat decided to drop the “s” in his name, to become Nathaniel Adams Cole. By the age 17, Nat formed a 14-piece band, composed of students from both Wendall Philips and Dusable High schools in Chicago. The band would go around Chicago, working for as little as $2 or $3 a night.In 1936, Nat made his first recording for Decca, as part of his brother Eddies band, the Solid Swingers; however, his time with the band would not last.
Later in 1936, Nat left Chicago for Los Angeles, where he would eventually land his big break.In Los Angeles, Nat joined a Eubie Blakes revival of “Shuffle Along”, in 1936. Here he worked with a dancer Nadine Robinson, who would later become his future wife. Nat continued his role in the musical until it disbanded in Long Beach California, in 1937.
When Shuffles run was ended, Nat became intensely involved in the club scene, playing wherever he could get a chance and it was in the club scene that Nat would get his break, in the form of club promoter Bob Lewis (who is also rumoured to the person who convinced Nat to become Nat “King” Cole).On one summers day, while playing at the Century Club, Nat was approached by Lewis to form a band. Lewis saw a special talent in Nat and offered him $75/week if he would play the Swanee Inn. Nat gladly accepted, not knowing that this offer would eventually lead to the success and wealth that had been eluding him for the most part. The King Cole Trio was about to be born.Nat now had to form a group. The first person to come to Nats mind was the drummer, Lee Young.
Young however, had different ideas, deciding that there was no room for a drummer at the Swanee. Next Nat approached bassist Wesley Prince, whom he had met while playing the at club scene. Prince decided to accept Nats offer and along the way suggested the name of a guitarist named Oscar Moore, who would become the final member of the trio.
Originally called King Cole and his Swingsters, the band eventually evolved to become the name that is famous today, the King Cole Trio.The trio was a talented group. From the second they played together, it was clear that these men performed with real chemistry, especially Nat and Oscar.
Both men grew up listening to the same great jazz artists, including: Louis Armstrong, Earl Hines, Jimmy Noone and Art Tatum, all of whom had a profound influence on Nats and Oscars playing styles; yet there was something more when these two played together. The two had a musical connection; with one complementing the others style perfectly.After hearing the Trio, Bob Lewis knew he had found something special and he was ready to take a chance.
While most promoters were sceptical that a group of three could fill up the clubs, Lewis believed in the boys. Originally hired for a two-week run, Lewis extended the Trios contract for six months, starting the initial run of one of jazz musics greatest groups.In September 1937 the Trio made took the next big step on the path to stardom, they made their first studio recording.
The company was Standard Transcriptions and the Trio made 16-inch discs for them. These disks however, were for radio rather than retail sale.Between the years of 1942-1943, things really started to heat up for the Trio, when they started playing in the 331 Club on Eighth St.
Though the 331 Club was small, it was always packed. Now the Trio was starting to show up on the radar screen, a fact that was not hurt by the club being frequented by various movie stars. Nat “King” Cole was about to really hit it big.1943 was the year that the Trio made two decisions that would change the course of the band forever. First, they signed Carlos Gastel as their new manager. To the groups great surprise, Carlos would be the man who helped make them all very rich men.
Second, the Trio left Decca to join Capitol Records in late 1943, the company that would be with them for their first and last hits. Approached by Johnny Mercer and Glen Wallichs that year, Nat, unhappy with Decca, gladly agreed.In the winter of 1943, Nat was under tremendous stress. While still playing music and writing songs, Nat received his induction notice from the draft board. At the same time, Nat was writing what would become the groups first hit, “Straighten Up and Fly Right”F. Later he would fail the physical due to “nervous hypertension”.F The song was about a monkey who takes a ride on a buzzard.
In addition, further listening to the lyrics, brings an interesting observation; the buzzard (representing a white man), takes the monkey (who represents a black man) for a ride into a dangerous and high territory. The monkey holds tightly onto the buzzards neck, fearing that the buzzard will take him up very high, drop him and eat the remains. In a greater context, the lyrics refer to a stronger person using his power to take advantage of someone who is weaker; i.e. the rich taking advantage of the poor, the clever over the simple, etc. The song brings to the light the inner struggle to act on ones good impulses while at the same time suppressing evil ones.In 1944, the song finally reached the charts.
Now the Trio (with Johnny Miller replacing Wesley Prince on bass) had its first hit and was beginning to make some real noise. In addition, “Straighten Up” was a place were Nat was finally able to come out as a singer, opening up new doors for him and the group. In that year, the Trio would also tour and record as part of Norman Granzs, “Jazz At The Philharmonic”. The King Cole Trio was now a force to be reckoned with.
Later that year, Nat wrote the song “D-Day” to commemorate the allied victory in June 1944. In 1946, another hit, “Route 66” was released. Later that year, Nat also released “I Love You For Sentimental Reasons”, which propelled itself to number one on the Billboard chart, a remarkable achievement, especially since Nat was an African American.
More success followed that with the release of Nats version of Mel Tormes “Christmas Song”. However, the Trios days of group success was about to end. In 1947, the group released “Nature Boy” (which became a hit in 1948) and shortly thereafter, the King Cole Trio would never be the same.
In 1947 Oscar Moore decided to leave the Trio, leaving a hole in the group. Luckily, the Trio was able to find and suitable in Johnny Miller, but he too would eventually leave the group in 1948. Though the Trio stayed together loosely until 1951, after Millers departure in 1948, Nat was essentially a solo musician.While in the mid-forties the Trio was enjoying musical success, the same could not be said for Nats domestic situation. As the group became more popular, his marriage seemed to deteriorate further.
The stress of being apart days on end was definitely taking an emotional toll on the Coles marriage. Though Nat was making $100,000 a year by 1946e, the money was not enough. Further burdening his home life, Nat began a weekly radio show in 1946. Every Saturday afternoon, Cole would play for half-an-hour, in whatever town he was in.
The show was yet another outlet for his immense talent and would last an impressive four years.In 1946, Nat met the woman that would have a profound impact on his home life, Maria Ellington. Later, Nat and Maria would have an affair, causing Nat to seek a divorce from Nadine, so he could pursue Maria. On March 22, 1948, Nathaniel Cole and Nadine were officially divorcedb, freeing Nat to Marry Maria.
On Easter Sunday, 1948, wedding bells rang once again for Nat, this time for good. Maria would be with Nat until the very end, bearing him three children: Natalie Maria in 1950; and twin girls, Timolin & Casey in 1961. In addition, the Cole family adopted two children: Carol, the daughter of Marias late sister; and Nat Kelly Cole in 1959. It is interesting to note that although his marriage with Maria survived until the very end, Nat continued to be a notorious womanizer throughout his lifetime.
In 1950, Nat had another hit with “Mona Lisa”; however, this song was not just a hit in the jazz genre, but crossed over to the pop charts. Nat King Cole truly was now recognized not only as one of the best jazz artists of his time, but also as one of the great artists of his time. The song went on to win an Academy Award as the theme song to the movie, Captain Carey, U.
S.A.In the fifties, Cole produced a number of hits. In 1951, he released “Frosty The Snowman”, which went to number one on the charts for a week in January. Other hits in this decade include: “Too Young”, “A Fool Was I”, “Answer Me, My Love”, “A Blossom Fell”, “Unforgettable” and “Time and the River” to name a few. In addition to those hits, Cole also released the album, “After Midnight” (1956), which is considered one of the greatest albums ever recorded by a jazz pianist.The fifties were not all fun and games for Cole.
While the decade started off well, Cole would have an especially tough year in 1955. That year on February 23, tragedy struck the Cole family, as his mother, Perlina Adams Coles passed away. Nat was devastated by her death and at the funeral he completely broke down. He sobbed uncontrollably, until he had to be carried out of the church, after faintingg. Later in 1956, Cole was offered a weekly television show by NBC. This was remarkable, not only in the fact that he was offered a television show, but also because he was of an African-American descent. The show went on to become quite successful, however even Nat King Cole could not elude the racism of the times.
Though its ratings were good, the show was eventually pulled because of a lack of advertising. Though some advertisers were willing to sponsor the show, many were afraid to put their names on a show featuring an African-American for fear of backlash, especially in the South.Cole also appeared in variety of films.
The first was a movie titled “The Blue Gardenia” (1952). He also appeared in “St. Louis Blues” (1958) and in “Cat Ballou” (1965), where he played the role of a wandering minstrel.Unfortunately for Nat, by 1965 he was nearing the end. A lifetime chain-smoker, his three pack-a-day habit really began to take a toll on him in his later years. Diagnosed with lung cancer, Nat was near death by the beginning of year. Already having dealt with the loss of his mother years before, Nat was in no condition to hear more bad news.
Unfortunately on February 1, 1965 Nat would find out that his father had passed away as well. Two weeks later, on February 15, Nat followed his father and was pronounced dead at 5:30 a.m. that day, at the age of 47.Nat King Cole is one historys greatest balladeers, certainly among the greatest of his time. During his heyday, he was as popular as anyone, including the legendary Frank Sinatra. This is even more remarkable when one takes into account the fact that Nat refused to play in segregated halls his popularity was such that he was one of the few African-Americans who could do so.
On February 15, 1965 the music world lost one of its greats. By the time his life was over, he was already a legend, having influenced the likes of Oscar Peterson and Ahmad Jamal. Nat had performed with some of the best including Duke Ellington and performed for some of the best, including the Queen, he was even friends with John F. Kennedy. Though he is often remembered today as a great singer, he was also one of historys greatest jazz pianists. It is said that as a pianist, he developed the intricate right-hand style of initiated by Hines and the sparse left-hand of Count Basiel.
His records have been released and re-released and even to this day they are still popular. Through the marvels of modern technology, Nat and his daughter, Natalie (who is also a well-known artist) were reunited for a rendition of the classic, “Unforgettable”, which he certainly is.