Every Friday night we smooth our way into the weekend with music, the universal language. These selections demonstrate that despite what is being passed off as art today, there is plenty of really good music available. Come along and enjoy.
One of the greatest singers of all-time would have been 100 years old earlier this week.
Nat King Cole was taught to play the piano by his mother when he was 4. At 15 he dropped out of high school to lead his own bands. A ballad singer and jazz musician, Cole sold more than 50 million records.
“Nat King Cole’s voice is really one of the great gifts of nature,” said Daniel Mark Epstein, author of the 1999 biography Nat King Cole. “Remember, he was never trained as a singer. And so, his voice is absolutely pure. He’s a baritone with absolutely perfect pitch. He sings the notes true and he hits them right in the center.”
This week, remembering Nat King Cole. Let’s get started.
It’s the late 1930’s. Cole is 18, married, living in Los Angeles, and leading his own jazz trio. The group became so popular that in 1946 it got its own national radio show. No African-American had ever hosted such a program before. The hits kept coming.
By the 1950’s Cole played less jazz and started singing more. In 1963 he was featured in a TV special on the BBC.
Even though he downplayed his singing ability, once he stood up from the piano Cole manufactured love songs that the public adored.
“You see, it’s not a case of my personal likes,” Cole said. “I try to please as many people as I possibly can and if I find the people like certain things, I try to give them what they like. And that’s good business too, you see.”
Next, a rather unusual connection.
Charlie Chaplin was the king of silent movie comedies.
In the 1936 film “Modern Times” Chaplin plays a factory worker who suddenly has a nervous breakdown and goes mad. During a journey that takes him from the hospital to prison to unemployment, Chaplin comes across a beautiful orphaned girl and helps her escape from the police.
The final scene shows Chaplin and the girl setting off down a road to a new life. He pauses and points to the corners of his mouth, indicating that she should smile.
Chaplin wrote the music for the song “Smile” that was used in the movie soundtrack. Lyrics were based on that final scene.
Nat King Cole recorded the first version of “Smile” with the lyrics. His daughter, Natalie Cole recorded many of her father’s song and performed them in concert, helping immensely to keep his memory alive.
Father and daughter were part of a super successful 1991 album “Unforgettable…with Love” that ultimately sold 14 million copies. On the title track Natalie Cole employed a number of over-dubbings allowing her to sing a virtual duet with her dad. Recording engineer Al Schmitt was the mastermind behind the classic collaboration.
“Natalie’s very easy to record,” said Schmitt. “At one point, instead of being in a vocal booth, she came out and stood right there with the orchestra, à la Frank Sinatra. She was amazing.”
The album won a Grammy Award for Best Engineering.
“Nothing had been attempted like that,” said Natalie Cole. “To lift Dad’s voice, literally, off of that track and put it on a brand new one, and then line it up, match it up, get the phrasing right. I remember listening – everyone listening at the end, and we were just enthralled. It was really wonderful.”
For Cole’s 1996 album “Stardust” the engineering trick was repeated on this standard from the early 1950’s.
That’s it for this week.
Have a great weekend.
Nat King Cole developed a very nasty habit when he was 14.
He was a heavy smoker from then on and had a lung removed in early 1965. But doctors said the lung cancer had spread beyond control.
Born on March 17, 1919, Cole died on February 15, 1965. He was only 45. Just before he died his last studio album, “L-O-V-E” was released.
I just can’t resist. Here’s Kyla when she had just turned 7 performing with her school ballet group. Kyla’s classmates voted her “best hip action.” She starts out on your far right.