Welcome to Afterglow, a show of vocal jazz and popular song from the Great American Songbook. I’m your host, Mark Chilla.
This week, I’ll be featuring the music of Nat King Cole, and in particular, focusing on a single year in the singer’s life: 1958. It was the year after his television show was canceled, but a year where Cole proved that he was undeterred. In 1958 alone, Cole recorded over 100 different songs on seven LPs, including love songs, blues songs, swing tunes, spirituals, and even an album all in Spanish. Coming up, I’ll feature some of the highlights of this banner year.
It’s Nat King Cole’s Remarkable 1958, coming up next on Afterglow
MUSIC - NAT KING COLE, “THE LATE, LATE SHOW”
MUSIC - NAT KING COLE, “LOOK OUT FOR LOVE”
Two songs from the Nat King Cole album Welcome To The Club, recorded in July of 1958 but not released until 6 months later in 1959. That was “The Late, Late Show” a tune by Roy Alfred and Murray Berlin, and just now we heard “Look Out For Love,” a song by Danny Meehan and Colin Romoff. Dave Cavanaugh was the conductor and arranger these, working alongside most of the members of the Count Basie Big Band (minus Basie himself).
MUSIC CLIP - NAT KING COLE, “PENTHOUSE SERENADE [EXCERPT]”
Mark Chilla here on Afterglow. On this show, we’re looking at Nat King Cole’s remarkable year of 1958.
By all accounts, 1958 should have been a bad year for Nat King Cole. Less than two years before, Cole had been violently attacked on stage by a group of white supremacists while on tour in Birmingham, Alabama. He was still reeling from the attack at this time, and now it was coming from all sides. Thurgood Marshall, then the head of the NAACP, criticized Cole for not speaking out strongly enough against the racist white attackers, calling Cole an Uncle Tom. This alienated Cole from much of his black audience.
To make matters worse, in December of 1957, Cole’s NBC television program, The Nat King Cole show, was canceled. It only ran for a year. Cole was the first African American entertainer to host his own television show, and friends like Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Harry Belafonte, Sammy Davis Jr, and Eartha Kitt appeared on the show. The show was a success, but most advertisers were afraid of supporting a show led by a black singer. Without any national sponsorship, NBC pulled the plug on the show. Nat King Cole remarked that “Madison Avenue was afraid of the dark.”
But Cole was resilient, and put his nose to the grindstone. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, Cole set to work in 1958, performing and recording more than he ever had in his career thus far.
An early success in 1958 was the film St. Louis Blues, made the year before but released in April 1958. It was a biopic about the blues pioneer W.C. Handy, and Cole starred as Handy in the film, performing his songs alongside other African-American stars like Pearl Bailey, Eartha Kitt, Ella Fitzgerald, and Mahalia Jackson.
The film was a bit of a flop. But what Cole lacked in acting skills, he more than made up for in musical skills. The album that resulted, recorded in January 1958, featured some of his best work with arranger Nelson Riddle. Cole is equal parts soulful and refined, adapting the sounds of his roots in the Chicago blues to a more nuanced pop style.
Let’s hear two songs from that album now, beginning with the title track, W.C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - NAT KING COLE, “ST LOUIS BLUES”
MUSIC - NAT KING COLE, “MEMPHIS BLUES”
“Memphis Blues” and “St. Louis Blues,” two songs by W.C. Handy, from the film soundtrack to St. Louis Blues, starring Nat King Cole as W.C. Handy. Cole recorded those in January 1958 with Nelson Riddle and his orchestra.
Nat King Cole’s follow up to this album, recorded in February 1958, brought him south of the border. The album Cole Espanol was one of the first albums by a North American star aimed directly at the Latin American audience. The idea came from his Honduran-born manager Carlos Gastel, who wanted to capitalize on Cole’s growing international fame.
Now, Cole didn’t speak a lick of Spanish, and had to learn the lyrics phonetically. Cole Espanol was a huge hit, making Cole a star in Latin America. He recorded a follow-up a year later, the album A Mis Amigos.
Let’s hear two songs from Cole Espanol. I’ll start with the Cuban rumba “Quizas, Quizas, Quizas,” known in English as the tune “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - NAT KING COLE, “QUIZAS, QUIZAS, QUIZAS”
MUSIC - NAT KING COLE, “CACHITO”
A cha-cha, and before that a rumba, both from the album Cole Espanol. Just now, we heard Nat King Cole with “Cachito,” by Mexican songwriter Consuelo Velázquez, and before that we heard “Quizas, Quizas, Quizas” by Cuban songwriter Osvaldo Farres.
In May 1958, Nat King Cole was joined in the studio by arranger Gordon Jenkins. The two had worked together two years earlier on the love-song album Love Is The Thing, which featured such Nat Cole classics as “Stardust” and “When I Fall In Love.” Their 1958 album The Very Thought Of You was very much along the same lines, featuring love song standards by Harry Warren, Jimmy Van Heusen, and others.
Jenkins’ arrangements were full of lush strings, sentimental, but never overly so. And Cole’s vocals are superb. His voice was fully matured by 1958, full of warmth and romance.
Here’s Nat King Cole with the Ray Noble title track from that album, “The Very Thought Of You,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - NAT KING COLE, “THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU”
MUSIC - NAT KING COLE, “FOR ALL WE KNOW”
Nat King Cole with “For All We Know” and “The Very Thought Of You,” two lovely tunes arranged by Gordon Jenkins on Cole’s 1958 album The Very Thought Of You.
Cole’s next album that he recorded in 1958 was actually not released until 1959. In fact, the singer recorded so much in this calendar year that it took three years for Capitol Records to release all of the material. In July, he recorded the album Welcome To The Club which was an album of all swing tunes arranged by Dave Cavanaugh.
The band that Cole and Cavanaugh worked with was essentially Count Basie’s Orchestra, minus the Count. Conflicting record contracts—Cole was on Capitol, Basie on Roulette—made it difficult for the two to work together officially. So Basie’s band is uncredited. Pity the session pianist Gerald Wiggins, who had to fill in for one of the greatest jazz pianists ever Count Basie, while accompanying one of the other greatest jazz pianists ever Nat King Cole.
Many jazz and pop singers worked with big bands like Basie’s or Duke Ellington’s in the late 1960s and beyond. It’s a shame that Cole passed away prematurely in 1965, because this album is fantastic. It would have been wonderful to have heard him perform more swing tunes like these.
I’ll start off this set with a Duke Ellington tune from this session. Here is Nat King Cole with “Moon Indigo,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - NAT KING COLE, “MOOD INDIGO”
MUSIC - NAT KING COLE, “AVALON”
A swingin’ Nat King Cole with the Al Jolson standard “Avalon” and the Duke Ellington standard “Mood Indigo.” Both of those songs were recorded in 1958 and later released on the album Welcome To The Club, featuring uncredited members of Count Basie’s big band behind him.
MUSIC CLIP - NAT KING COLE, “ROSE ROOM [EXCERPT]”
Coming up after a break, we’ll hear more from Nat King Cole’s remarkable 1958. Stay with us.
I’m Mark Chilla, and you’re listening to Afterglow
MUSIC CLIP - NAT KING COLE, “TU MI DELIRIO (YOU ARE MY OBSESSION) [INSTRUMENTAL]”
Welcome back to Afterglow, I’m Mark Chilla. We’re exploring the banner year of 1958 for singer Nat King Cole, a year where he recorded over 100 songs.
MUSIC CLIP - NAT KING COLE, “NON DIMENTICAR”
This is “Non Dimenticar” or “Do Not Forget,” an Italian song recorded by Nat King Cole in August of 1958, featuring an arrangement by Nelson Riddle.
In addition to recording seven LPs in 1958, Cole also recorded a number of singles that year, “Non Dimenticar” being one of the more successful ones.
His most successful single, however, was perhaps a little out of his comfort zone. The song “Looking Back” was really an R&B song, with a dash of early rock and roll (this was 1958, after all, the year of “Johnny B. Goode.”) Cole had previously recorded a few R&B and early rock ‘n’ roll singles, like “If I May” in 1954 and “Send For Me” in 1957, both of which became hits for him.
MUSIC CLIP - NAT KING COLE, “SEND FOR ME”
It’s ironic then that in 1960, he recorded a song called “Mr. Cole Won’t Rock And Roll,” given how successfully he did rock and roll in the 1950s.
Let’s hear his rock and roll tune from 1958, this one arranged by Dave Cavanaugh. This is Nat King Cole with “Looking Back,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - NAT KING COLE, “LOOKING BACK”
Nat King Cole in February 1958 with his biggest hit single from that year, “Looking Back,” a song by Clyde Otis, Brook Benton, and Belford Hendricks, an R&B songwriting team that also wrote for Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan.
Between June and August of 1958, Nat King Cole recorded another album with Nelson Riddle, this time recording all new songs, not jazz standards. The album was called To Whom It May Concern. The songs were mostly written by young songwriters like Marvin Fisher, Johnny Burke, and Sammy Cahn, but Cole himself also contributed a song to the album.
The title track of “To Whom It May Concern” was co-written by Cole and his sister-in-law Charlotte Hawkins.The song takes the form of a love letter written as a professional correspondence, and I’ll play it for you now.
This is Nat King Cole and Nelson Riddle’s Orchestra with “To Whom It May Concern,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - NAT KING COLE, “TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN”
MUSIC - NAT KING COLE, “YOU BRING OUT THE DREAMER IN ME”
Two new songs in 1958 on the Nat King Cole album To Whom It May Concern. We just heard Johnny Burke’s “You’re Bringing Out The Dreamer In Me” and the tune “To Whom It May Concern,” co-written by Nat King Cole himself. That album was released in May 1959, almost a year after it was recorded.
Nat Cole’s next venture in 1958 was perhaps his only blunder of the year, even though in theory it should have been his most interesting. In September, Cole teamed up with The First Church of Deliverance choir in Chicago to record an album of traditional spirituals, like “Go Down, Moses” and “Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen.” Cole’s father Edward Coles was a preacher in Chicago, so these songs were certainly close to Nat.
However, the production seemed rushed, and the accompaniment of nothing more than choir, organ, and light drums—while traditional in the Gospel world on a typical Sunday—seems lacking in the studio.
I’ll play one of the songs from the album, which nonetheless features the warm and rhythmic voice of Nat Cole. From the album Every Time I Feel The Spirit, this is “Ain’t Gonna Study War No More,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - NAT KING COLE, “AIN’T GONNA STUDY WAR NO MORE”
The traditional spiritual “Ain’t Gonna Study War No More,” recorded in 1958 by Nat King Cole and the First Church Deliverance Choir of Chicago. That comes from the album Every Time I Feel The Spirit, released in 1959.
Between all of these recording sessions in 1958, Nat King Cole continued to tour. He performed in Las Vegas, in Chicago, and at the Copa in New York. He also co-starred in the film Night Of The Quarter Moon alongside Julie London, which was released the following year. And he spent lots of time with his family and at the ballpark, watching the L.A. Dodgers play.
In November 1958, he stepped into the studio yet again to round off the year. In the course of six sessions which lasted just over a week, Cole recorded 27 songs. Half the time he spent with conductor and arranger Dave Cavanaugh, recording the songs for the album Tell Me About Yourself, which wouldn’t be released until 1960. We’ll hear a song from that album in just a bit.
And the other half of the time, he spent with his longtime partner Nelson Riddle. Some of the Cole-Riddle songs were later released as singles, while others remained in the vaults, released at various points after Cole passed away in 1965.
I’ll start this final set with one of those rare, unreleased songs from 1958, which didn’t actually see the light of day until over 50 years later. Although, it’s one of his best from this year.
This is Nat King Cole and Nelson Riddle in November 1958 with the Marvin Fisher and Jack Segal tune “Something Happens To Me,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - NAT KING COLE, “SOMETHING HAPPENS TO ME”
MUSIC - NAT KING COLE, “(I WOULD DO) ANYTHING FOR YOU”
Nat King Cole and arranger Dave Cavanaugh with “I Would Do Anything For You.” That’s from the album Tell Me About Yourself, released in 1960. Before that, we heard the Cole and Nelson Riddle with “Something Happens To Me,” a song that wasn’t released on CD until the early 2000s. Both of those songs were recorded in November 1958.
MUSIC CLIP - NAT KING COLE, “SOMEBODY LOVES ME (INSTRUMENTAL)”
And thanks for tuning in to this look at Nat King Cole’s Remarkable 1958, on Afterglow.
Afterglow is part of the educational mission of Indiana University, and produced by WFIU Public Radio in beautiful Bloomington, Indiana. The executive producer is John Bailey.
Playlists for this and other Afterglow programs are available on our website. That’s at indianapublicmedia.org/afterglow.
I’m Mark Chilla, and join me next week for our mix of Vocal Jazz and popular song from the Great American Songbook, here on Afterglow