One of the seminal performers in 20th-century American music, Nat "King" Cole was a major figure in the development of jazz piano, the stylistic link between early jazz and pop of the sophisticated urban variety that emerged in the '30s, and finally one of the greatest pop singers of his day. Cole was a hugely talented, intensely musical singer, blessed with almost flawless good taste, who became an international superstar capable of appealing to audiences across all boundaries.
Nat "King" Cole endured more than his share of scorn and rebuke from all manner of fans and critics. He wasn't jazzy enough to satisfy many, not white enough to please the pop cultural obsession with Anglo- and Euro-American stardom. In answer to all of this, Cole simply proceeded, crooning beautifully even after he'd walked away from the piano and become primarily a vocal sensation. This 1956 collection is famous as Cole's riposte to the critique that he wasn't jazzy. The session brings several Swing Era stars on board: violinist Stuff Smith, trumpeter Harry "Sweets" Edison, trombonist Juan Tizol, and alto saxophonist Willie Smith. The horns and violin fronted a semistandard jazz setup of guitar, drums, and percussion, along with Cole's own considerable chops on piano. As an improviser, Cole heavily influenced a generation of ivory ticklers, including Oscar Peterson and others, and here he shows himself a stellar pianist. His runs bespeak Cole's utter perfection on the keyboard. This is a crucial document. --Andrew Bartlett
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