Nat King Cole • Live At The Blue Note Chicago

It is easy to divide the musical life of Nat King Cole (1919-65) into two. Prior to 1950, he was well known as a very talented swing pianist who also sang, most often with his piano-guitar-bass trio. After he had a giant hit with “Mona Lisa” in 1950, Cole (who became world famous) would always be known to the general public as a singer who also played a bit of piano. However he never lost his talents as a jazz pianist even though it was on display much less often in his later years.

The previously unreleased music on the two-CD/LP set Live At The Blue Note Chicago adds to Cole’s legacy. Performed in 1953 with his trio (which included guitarist John Collins and bassist Charlie Harris) plus drummer Lee Young, the 24 performances feature Cole once again (and for one of the last times on record) as a singing pianist playing live in a small jazz club. He enjoyed the intimacy of the Blue Note, liked its owner, and clearly relished interacting with the enthusiastic audience.

Hot Jazz Jubile

Cole performs versions of some of his hits (without an orchestra or strings) including “Unforgettable,” “Sweet Lorraine,” “Walkin’ My Baby Back Home,” “Straighten Up And Fly Right,” “Nature Boy,” “Route 66,” and a medley of “Mona Lisa” and “Too Young.” His voice sounds at its peak, particularly on the ballads, and one can easily understand why so many fans loved his singing. In addition, Cole jams such numbers as “Little Girl,” “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” “Exactly Like You,” and “This Can’t Be Love.” His piano solos are generally longer than on his recordings, guitarist Collins gets some spots, and the boisterous audience occasionally sings along. Everyone was clearly having a great time, and now today’s listeners can enjoy the excitement.

This album was one of the Record Store Day releases for 2024

In addition to the 24-page booklet, a fascinating facsimile of the Blue Note’s newsletter from Aug. 28, 1953, is also included. All Nat King Cole fans (of both his early and later periods) will want this very welcome release.

Nat King Cole • Live At The Blue Note Chicago
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Scott Yanow

Since 1975 Scott Yanow has been a regular reviewer of albums in many jazz styles. He has written for many jazz and arts magazines, including JazzTimes, Jazziz, Down Beat, Cadence, CODA, and the Los Angeles Jazz Scene, and was the jazz editor for Record Review. He has written an in-depth biography on Dizzy Gillespie for He has authored 11 books on jazz, over 900 liner notes for CDs and over 20,000 reviews of jazz recordings.

Yanow was a contributor to and co-editor of the third edition of the All Music Guide to Jazz. He continues to write for Downbeat, Jazziz, the Los Angeles Jazz Scene, the Jazz Rag, the New York City Jazz Record and other publications.

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