The late, great Nat King Cole died in 1965. He was an extremely successful recording artist, movie star and television host, bridging pop and jazz, with a silky smooth, baritone voice. He had hits like “Route 66” (1946), “Nature Boy” (1948), “Mona Lisa” (1950), “Too Young” (the #1 song in 1951), and his signature tune, “Unforgettable” (1951). Nat King Cole recorded dozens of albums, and has a songbook with more than 500 tunes.
Jack Benny called Nat King Cole “The best friend a song ever had.”1 And he was right. In an era of great singers, Cole stood out.
Ramsey Lewis is one of the world’s great living jazz pianists. You may know him from some his pop/jazz hits from the 1960s, songs like “The In Crowd“, “Hang On Sloopy“, and “Wade in the Water“. He has shelf full of gold records, Grammys and honorary doctorates. WC saw Ramsey Lewis in Oregon in 1968 or 1969; he’s 80 now and a little stiff moving about but once behind the keyboard, he is still electrifying; a brilliant improvisational jazz pianist.
John Pizzarelli is less well known but is a fine jazz guitarist and vocalist; he sounds like a young Dean Martin, and shares the same Italian-American heritage. On the stage, he projects a charming, easygoing geniality.
Supported by Joshua Ramos on bass and Charles Heath on drums, Lewis and Pizzarelli put on a fine show honoring Nat King Cole. They covered both Cole’s classics, opening with “Route 66,”and more obscure tunes like “Sweet Lorraine.” There was a sly nod to Lewis when Pizzarelli sang Cole lyrics to Lewis’s hit “In Crowd.” Probably lost on two-thirds of the audience. Cole was a balladeer, and Lewis and Pizzarelli honored Cole’s ballad style in some songs. But in many, they honored Cole’s jazz roots by bringing a straight-ahead jazz approach to Cole’s big hits.
The big stars left room for Joshua Ramos to give the crowd some fine bass solos, and Charles Heath provided a nice, extended drum solo. These are four guys who have clearly performed together a long time, like each other and enjoy playing. Lewis, after all, has been doing it since 1956.
All in all, a delightful evening. At a couple of points, WC was pretty sure he saw FCA’s big Bösendorfer piano tapping its feet along with half the crowd.
Thanks as always to Fairbanks Concert Association for bring this fine show to Fairbanks.
- WC has seen this phrase applied to Conway Twitty. Not in WC’s world ↩