Wednesday, April 19, 2006


Nat King Cole, I Know That You Know.

The reputation of Nat Cole, over the past decade or so, has been restored a good bit, if not enough. Gradually and in some cases grudgingly, Cole's prowess as a jazz musician has been acknowledged, and he is no longer simply known as the purveyor of 'easy listening' classics like "Unforgettable" and "Mona Lisa."

Cole's roots were in swing and jazz--his great 10-minute version of "Body and Soul" with Les Paul during the first Jazz at the Philharmonic concert in 1944 ought to have shut up detractors in the first place--and in 1956, Cole returned to a small group setting for the sessions of what became his finest record of the decade, After Midnight.

"I Know That You Know" demonstrates Cole's effortless phrasing, the way he remains utterly calm and suave even at a breakneck tempo. Cole takes on Vincent Youmans' melody like it's a steeplechase, and wraps up the first verse completely unwinded. Violinist Stuff Smith plays Grappelli to Cole's Reinhardt--each gets a 16-bar chorus, and then the two spar off in a marvelous series of exchanges in which one sets the bar and the other vaults it.

Recorded on September 24, 1956, with Cole, Smith, John Collins (g), Charlie Harris (b) and Lee Young, Lester's brother, on drums. Find on After Midnight.

Earlier in 1956, Cole had been attacked during a concert at the Birmingham, Ala., Municipal Auditorium. More here. In short, a group of homicidal white supremacist idiots, already raging at the evils of rock & roll and Brown v. Board of Education, decided to kidnap Cole while he performed.

Gary Sprayberry: "Two other men, Adams and E. L. Vinson...had already surged over the footlights by the time Higginbotham reached the stage. Adams hit [Nat] Cole with a "flying tackle," and the singer fell backward onto his piano bench, snapping it into two jagged pieces. Adams then snatched up one of Cole's legs and attempted to drag him off the stage. just before he reached the edge, officers swarmed in from the wings, halting both attackers with a hail of fists and nightsticks. They handcuffed all three assailants and hustled them outside. Almost as soon as the melee had broken out, it was over.

For the audience, who sat in stunned silence throughout the ordeal, the whole affair seemed like an absurd comedy, purposely staged and chaotically performed by Cole and the Birmingham police

Sadly, Cole's troubles didn't end when he flew out of Birmingham. Asked at O'Hare Airport whether he would continue to perform before segregated audiences, Cole said he would, noting that since the Supreme Court was having trouble integrating schools, how could he alone integrate audiences? The remark infuriated Cole's African-American fans, some of whom boycotted his records, and even Thurgood Marshall said, "All Cole needs to complete his role as an Uncle Tom is a banjo."

No comments: