Weekend Extra: Nat Cole Meets St. Patrick

Nat Cole was born March 17, 1917. He did not appear to be Irish, but his birthday falls on St. Patrick’s Day. What better excuse to remember a great musician? Cole did not record many Irish songs, but there is one in his 1946 collaboration with Lester Young’s trio. We begin our Nat Cole birthday observance with Lester Young, tenor saxophone; Cole, piano; Buddy Rich, drums, and “Peg ‘O My Heart.” In an anomaly that only the person who posted this on YouTube could explain, the video continues for about 20 minutes after the four-minute piece ends, so unless you’re in love with the fuzzy representation of the album cover, you might want to bail out when the track is through and move to the next section.

Cole became one of the most popular singers in the world—we’ll get to that toward the end—but he remained a pianist whose touch, harmonic depth, melodic creativity and swing set an example and standard for dozens of others, including Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, Tommy Flanagan (not Irish) and a legion of their successors. Here is Cole in 1957 on his television show, with two versions of “Tea For Two.” Athough the difference could be in dubbing speed, the first one seems to be in A-flat, the second a half-step up in the more challenging key of A (I don’t have perfect pitch; I have a piano).

Now, Nat King Cole and his trio plus Jack Costanzo on conga drum, with the Bobby Troup song that kept Cole on hit parades, juke boxes and the radio for years and will no doubt be on the web and digital downloads for decades more.

Happy Nat Cole’s Birthday. Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Have a good weekend.
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  1. David says

    If you watch Nat’s fingers you’ll see that the 2nd “Tea For Two” is indeed running a half-step sharp. However, A wouldn’t be an inherently more challenging key for a pianist, only for a horn player.

  2. says

    Long live the King, long live Nat ‘King’ Cole!

    The trio with Prez ‘n’ Buddy is another timeless milestone of real, living and inspired jazz interaction. One of the greatest triologues in jazz ever.

    “Music is your own experience, your own thoughts, your wisdom. If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn. They teach you there’s a boundary line to music. But, man, there’s no boundary line to art.” ∽ Charlie “Bird” Parker

    And these three surely lived it.

    With his 1956-album After Midnight, Nat ‘King’ Cole proved to all who missed his jazz piano that he still had it. It’s unfortunate that – at least on studio recordings – his jazz playing was actually nonexistent throughout the 1950’s & ’60’s.

    His very last recorded feature on piano came out in 1966, the year after he died. It can be found on the vocally fantastic ‘live’ album Nat ‘King’ Cole At The Sands. It’s partly a fake, or rather a staged album, you name it, ’cause it was recorded before a hand-picked audience of friends, long, well, long after midnight, “from 2:30 until 5:00 in the wee hours of the morning on January 14, 1960:” (Jim Santella, AAJ).

    “And now at the old piano!” … Nat plays a funky version of “Where Or When”, supported by shouts, coming from the audience, and driven by Lester’s brother Lee Young’s inspiring drumming.

    After the very humorous, greatly swinging rendition of Rodgers’ & Hart’s song from 1937, the now obviously hooked audience screamed for “more, more, and more!” — And Nat? He kindly denied the requests and said humbly: “Thanks to you all. You’re so kind. – Come back again, I have to take six more lessons for that.”

    Also from me, a belated happy Nat Cole anniversary!