Monday, June 5, 2017

Nat King Cole Trio - Zurich 1950 [Swiss Radio Days Vol. 43]

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


If you are a Jazz fan, I mean c’mon how could you not love Nat King Cole Trio - Zurich 1950 [Swiss Radio Days Vol. 43, Montreux Jazz Label TCB 02432] for as the press release from Michael Bloom’s Media Relations states:

“Straighten Up and Fly Right... to Zurich 1950!

To discover an unreleased concert is a priceless gift. All the more so, as the recording of this 1950 performance given at the Kongresshaus in Zurich recreates faithfully what was played that evening, in a quality worthy of praise for the sound engineer.

In 1950 Nat King Cole presented a brilliant trio, using the formula tried and approved by him consisting of guitar, piano and double bass. It is the impeccable Irving Ashby [guitar] and Joe Comfort [bass] who share the stage with him. along with a recent discovery, percussionist Jack Costanzo, aka Mr. Bongo.

The three musicians plus one are thick as thieves on the Zurich stage, alternating between standards and the trio's hits with a verve and a good humor which are pure pleasure to listen to. Nat isn't too concerned about delivering perfection, and lets himself go here and there with little "slips" and nicely risky flights, ideas owing in uninterrupted improvisation, giving these interpretations a unique flavor and freshness.

The arrangements, stuffed with tasty and rhythmically impeccable morsels, are a constant treat for today's listeners!

Consisting of 15 tracks of never before released material, the album contains standards by Vincent Youmans, Richard Whiting, Johnny Mercer, George and Ira Gershwin and Bobby Troup, among other, as well as, the trio’s own hits. Nat King Cole Trio - Zurich 1950 [Swiss Radio Days Vol. 43, Montreux Jazz Label TCB 02432].

Yvan Ischer, a  consultant for the Swiss Radio Days Jazz Series and a Journalist-Producer for Radio Television Suisse in Lausanne provided this essay entitled Nat King Cole Trio - Zurich 1950: Nat King Cole, Or The Consecration of A Voice which Tony Lewis translated to form the insert notes to the CD that is scheduled to be released 6/9/2017.

“Nat - King - Cole! Try and pronounce these three syllables in different ways: alternate versions quick, lively, slow, sweet, forceful... staccato shots or languorously drawn-out, then finishing up in perfectly regular triplets, say, in medium tempo; Nat... King... Cole! sounding like the traditional opening signal of three strokes of the baton before the rising of the curtain...

"Everything is in everything", as has been said... and indeed, everything is in these three short words, sounding notes so different from one another, just as the multifaceted talent and the changing and moving moods that have traversed the career of one of the true musical Kings: Nathaniel Adams Coles, alias Nat King Cole!

Get Me to the Church on Time!

Born on March 17, 1917, St. Patrick's Day, the very young Nat, encouraged and stimulated by his mother Perlina, studied formal piano as well as obtaining the best schooling possible. He also furnished organ accompaniment for the choir his mother directed at the Truetight Spiritual Temple in South Chicago, where his father Edward also provided his talents, as preacher. His beginnings couldn't be more auspicious, and we know that the young Nat, bathed in music from all sides, wasted no time harvesting everything he could in his adopted home Chicago, and it was a place and time of abundance!

While classical music was an important part of the curriculum at the Wendell Phillips High School, it was during this time that he founded his first band, Nat Coles and his Rogues of Rhythm, in which his brother Eddie played bass after a stint with Noble Sissle's orchestra. Like many great "Chicagoans", young Cole was exposed to the remarkable teaching of "Captain" Walter Dyett of DuSable High School from where over decades would corne top names such as Gene Ammons, Richard Davis, Sonny Cohn, Dorothy Donegan, Von Freeman, Johnny Griffin, Eddie Harris, Johnny Hartman. Wilbur Ware and even Dinah Washington... and this list is far from exhaustive. But even if he was diligent in his music studies, we know that the young pianist gladly pulled off semi-authorized escapades to clubs around town to eagerly devour the music, and to discover and meet his heroes, the likes of Louis Armstrong, Jimmie Noone and Earl Hines...

And as The Windy City has always had a number of powerful and inventive instrumentalists, it was common to witness furious contests between bands who would fight it out at clubs with two stages, in battles that could last until dawn... it is said that the first title of nobility bestowed on Nat was thanks to the victory won by his Rogues over the band of Eari "Fatha" Hines himself, one of the idols of his youth, as part of a "Battle of the Bands" held at the Savoy Ballroom in Chicago. He was awarded the promising title of "Prince of the Ivories"! It was just a short climb from then on, to mount resolutely to the throne...

What a Difference a Voice Makes...

A throne that would be tongue-in-cheeked into existence by Bob Lewis, the director of the Swanee Inn in Hollywood, after hiring a young pianist whom he had heard solo at the Century Club, and who had just finished a gig with the musical Shuffle Along(which had brought him to California in the first place). After insisting that he perform in trio, Lewis then suggested that Nathaniel Cole wear a crown during the two-week engagement, thus baptizing him inevitably Nat "King" Cole! The gig lasted... six months, and although the crown didn't survive the absurdity of the situation, the nickname unexpectedly stuck, although undeniably, few voices were as royal as this King's!

Having been asked to feature his singing, Nat seems at first very reluctant to "betray" his piano playing... Given that our piano virtuoso has chops way beyond common and with no trouble at all would be considered a top instrumentalist, it's just that in a time and place with an overabundance of pianists, each one more remarkable than the other, sometimes it takes a little "nothing" to make an historic difference. And like back in his church choir beginnings, he was able to familiarize himself with all imaginable voices and even add his own to the maternal chorus... he could certainly go a little out of his way to satisfy his employer.

In fact, with his inimitable voice (except in the case of Oscar Peterson, who paid tribute to his idol in a striking manner in With Respect to Nat), he opened up simultaneously the hearts of his female fans, and the gates of glory! Thanks to this voice of Sucrier Velours (a song title borrowed from a Duke, that of Ellington), he could embellish his trio sets with a few vocal numbers, with a grace and relaxation that made him one of the most adulated crooners of his time. All the more so since the first trio he formed in 1937 with guitarist Oscar Moore and bassist Wesley Prince was already bursting with swing and inventiveness. And if the color of his skin had not been the inevitable social brake to even more recognition in an era when one did not joke with this often crippling circumstance (any resemblance to a time a bit closer to us.-, etc... etc...), how far would that King have made it?

It should also be said that very early on, Nat had the presentiment that success would only happen through the media of radio, and later television. After making highly regarded debuts on NBC and CBS, he spent liberally (especially his own money) producing programs in which he himself assumed the risk. Then in 1943, the trio signed with Capitol Records, a record company that would soon be rubbing its hands in glee at this very fruitful collaboration. The contract would force him to make a few small patronymic pirouettes, since Cole kept a desire to acquiesce to the solicitations of friends who wanted to include his talent on one session or another. For example, it was under the discrete and powerfully original pseudonym of "Aye Guy" that he was the third member of the album released under the name The Lester Young/Buddy Rich Trio! And when the first records of Jazz at the Philharmonic appeared on... Mercury, the pianist took the alias "Shorty Nadine", based on his wife's first name... In what remains today of the video images of Nat, fortunately more filmed than many of his contemporaries also deserving of TV coverage, demonstrates beyond a doubt that the man certainly had not only an incredible talent, but also a class and a kind of effortlessness that seemed truly to have fallen from heaven. As for his miraculously placed phrasing (decidedly, for Nat, Heaven couldn't wait…), whether vocal or on piano, it is the absolute epitome of swing!


Straighten Up and Fly Right... to Zurich 1950!

So now... To discover an unreleased concert - aside from the few radio broadcasts over the decades and the inevitable low-quality bootlegs making occasional appearances - is a priceless gift. All the more so, as the recording of this 1950 performance given at the Korigresshaus in Zurich recreates faithfully what was played that evening, in a quality worthy of praise for the sound engineer. We have chosen to use the original magnetic tapes in order to preserve the entirety of its "presence", and its truth! At the risk of understatement, the music presented here is uniquely deserving of all these attentions.

In 1950 Nat presented a brilliant trio, beautifully road-tested, using the formula tried and approved by him consisting of guitar, piano and double bass. It is the impeccable Irving Ashby and Joe Comfort who share the stage with him, along with a recent discovery. Some time earlier, Nat had the opportunity to perform on a shared billing with the Stan Kenton Orchestra, at which he discovered and was very much impressed with the percussionist Jack Costanzo, aka Mr. Bongo. Less "invasive" than a drummer for the intimate music that he had in mind, while still spectacular and vibrant, it seems that he considered Jack's enhancement to the trio for part of the set to be indispensable. No sooner said than done, or almost... as Jack Costanzo himself tells us, in a telephone interview he gave us in December 2016!

The three musicians plus one are thick as thieves on the Zurich stage, alternating between standards and the trio's hits with a verve and a good humor which are pure pleasure to listen to. Nat isn't too concerned about delivering perfection, and lets himself go here and there with little "slips" and nicely risky flights, ideas flowing in uninterrupted improvisation, giving these interpretations a unique flavor and freshness. The arrangements, stuffed with tasty and rhythmically impeccable morsels, are a constant treat for today's listeners and should serve as a reminder to those who have had the luck to have lived a moment like that, either on stage or off, of what a privilege it was. One could even see it as a Royal privilege!

Isn't that right, Mr. Bongo?

Yvan lscher
January 2017

Jack Costanzo, alias Mr. Bongo

Jack Costanzo is a legend... and still a living one, born September 24,1919! While preparing this release of the 1950 Zurich concert of the Hat King Cole Trio and knowing that on occasion he still showed up here and there at concerts of his friends to play bongos on a few numbers, we decided to make him aware of the recording - by telephone! We spoke to him at his Lakeside, California home, his head overflowing with fond memories and ever enthusiastic, remembering this blessed period of his life as a busy and well-known musician. Naturally, Jack completely charmed us...

Telephone interview with Jack Costanzo, alias Mr. Bongo, December of 2016;

"Hellooooo!!" "Mr. Bongo?" "That's my name!"

"Man, it's so great getting to talk to you. i fell on some review telling that you were still playing from time to time, bringing your bongos to sit in with buddies... And I said to myself... I've got to talk to this guy!"

"Well! Here I am!"

"So, you keep on playing from time to time?"

"Well... once in a while... you know, I'm 97 now! What can you do at 97.,,?"

'To get in the mood, let me play something for you from Zurich in 1950..."

"OK!" (Bop Kick suddenly bursts into the telephone, at a breakneck tempo... and after a few seconds...) "I don't remember that... Oh yes! Is that Bop Kick? I do remember!"

"Jack, how did you meet Nat Cole for the first time?"

"I was in Stan Kenton's band. We were doing a job in a theater and Nat was in town. We eventually got together I can't remember if we were on the same program, but it's where I met Nat."

"What kind of man was he to you?"

"Oh! I loved Nat Cole... I thought he was a marvelous man."

"How did you work with the trio?"

"I didn't play on the ballads. I decided that I didn't want to play on the ballads because I couldn't do anything. And that was the main thing I did when I joined the trio. And Nat agreed with me. He said: just move your hands as though you are playing and then they won't know..." (Enormous explosion of laughter) "I was up there and on all the ballads, I'd move my hands and people wouldn't hear anything... but they thought probably that I was just not playing loud..."

"I read in some column that at first Nat hired someone whom he thought to be you! How's that possible?"

"Yes! It's very simple! I'll tell you how it happened. A person that said that he was me had joined Stan Kenton two months before that playing conga drums, and not bongos. And when Nat put the ad in the paper saying that he wanted to talk with the bongo player with the Kenton Band, he answered the ad! Stan had just broken the band up and I was in Florida for a vacation. So I didn't know that Nat was looking for me. And he thought he got me when the guy told him he was the bongo player with the Kenton band, which he was not..- He was the conga drummer! And Nat was working at this club in Chicago, that's where we are all from. Now... my brother had talked with me on the phone and asked me if I knew about that bongo thing. And I said I didn't know anything about that. So he went to see Nat at the gig and told him: do you really want to get the guy who played the bongos with the Kenton band? And Nat said to him: sure, and I've got him! So my brother showed him my picture and told him: if this is the guy you wanted, it's my brother and... well, you don't have him!" (Laughing,,.)

"How come you fell in love with bongos?"

"I guess I just liked rhythm. I was a dancer. I was working a ballroom in Chicago where we were doing jitterbug and all these swinging dances. And one day they brought a band from Puerto Rico. They came in for two weeks, something we never did there. So... I heard the band, and the drummer on one number came up front and played the bongos. I just went crazy.., he was probably not even a good player but at that time how would I know?... But I decided right away I was going to be a bongo player. And so my brother helped me build my own bongos and I played! In those days, Latin music was not very much known. There were no bongo players around."

"And you went three times to Havana, right?"

"Yes, I went there three times in the fifties, in 1951, '53 and '55. And though I did not work there, naturally, I sat in with local players. And they were amazed that an American played their instrument. And number two played it well..." (Laughs)

"What kind of relation did you have with drummers at the time, since it could get uneasy sometimes, trying to get the same pulse feeling?"

"Well... the drummer in the band was learning how to play Latin music with me. For example, with Shelly Manne... we were dear friends... friends 'till the end of the world-.- And I did show him different things about Latin music."

"When you were playing in the trio, was Nat close to you guys or was he sort of the star that he would become a little bit later?"

"He didn't change his attitude at all. Never! When I joined the band, they made some little fuss because I had a pretty good name by then. But outside of that, no! Nat and I turned to be very buddy-buddy. He was a classy guy but he never ever made us feel low. He always had the band feel important. And that's true that we were important!" (Laughing...)

The following video features Nat and the the trio on Bobby Troup’s Route 66, which along with How High The Moon and Sweet Lorraine would have a close association with Nat during the trio years of his career.


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