Sunday, March 17, 2019, marks the centennial of Nat King Cole’s birth. KUVO Jazz will begin its celebration of this giant of piano, vocal and American popular music on Friday, March 15. Tune in throughout the weekend for the Nat King Cole songs you know, and some you may have never heard before. Whether he was singing or playing, his music approach was (forgive us) truly unforgettable.
“Nat was, first of all, a musician,” said Bobby Short. "His brilliant piano playing – you don’t get that by just being sexy.” Nancy Wilson, host of the documentary radio series “Jazz Profiles,” credits Cole with virtually inventing the jazz trio when big bands were the national craze. “He was much more than that effortlessly styled crooner. It may be that some of his greatest contributions have been forgotten.”
Cole always sang, but he never thought his voice would provide a living. Legend has it a drunken bar patron demanded he sing, and Cole chose “Sweet Lorraine.” The audience there demanded more. Universal Pictures dramatized the scene in a 50-minute film “The Nat King Cole Musical Story” in 1955.
His trio was the first African-American group to host a national radio show (1946). A decade later, he was the first African-American to host a national television show (1956, NBC). Cole’s string of international hit records for Capitol Records led to the iconic company’s headquarters building to become known as “the house that Nat built.”
A heavy smoker, Cole succumbed to lung cancer at age 45 in 1965. But his musical legacy continued through the career of his daughter Natalie Cole. Her electronically manufactured duet with her father (“Unforgettable,” 1991) and her tribute album shot to number one on American and Australian pop charts, while sold seven million units.
While everyone loved his deeply textured voice, jazz fans still can’t get enough of his piano playing. KUVO Jazz listeners will enjoy both his voice and music this weekend.