Friday, March 17, 2017

Nat King Cole: Straighten Up And Fly Right

March 17 affords us an opportunity to not only celebrate a saint - the venerable Patrick - but also a king. The royal side of this pairing is the inimitable jazz pianist and singer, Nat "King" Cole, who was born on this day in Montgomery, Alabama in 1919.  Powerline's cultural observer, Scott Johnson, posted a fine tribute to the man in 2009 so I'm not about to try and improve it. On the other hand, I will point out that Cole had a significant link to Georgia through his association with Savannah's favorite son, Johnny Mercer. 

Nat King Cole (Gottlieb 01511).jpg

Mercer is credited with discovering Cole in 1943 and developing his early career with Capitol Records, an enterprise founded by Mercer, Buddy DeSylva, and Glenn Wallichs the previous year. Over a five month period beginning in July 1943 Mercer produced five Nat King Cole Trio recordings. They were superb examples of jazz and popular music fusion that appealed to a broad American market. The recording sold in the millions then and remain embedded in American music history today. The songs are: Tea For Two, Body and Soul, Straighten Up and Fly Right, Sweet Lorraine, and Embraceable You.

Here is a sample of that history in sound from the trio before 1955:

I would like to add another video to the mix. This one features Cole singing with Johnny Mercer. What a pleasure it is to watch these two extraordinary artists enjoying themselves in a fun performance on Cole's NBC television show from the 1950s.


Photos and Illustration:
Cole at the piano, June 1947, William Gottleib Photo Collection, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.


Title, 1943 song written by Cole and Irving Mills
Glenn T. Eskew, Johnny Mercer: Southern Songwriter for the World, Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 2013.

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