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.