Nat King Cole – Hittin’ The Ramp – Resonance Records, Part 2 of 2

by | Nov 1, 2019 | Jazz CD Reviews, SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

Nat King Cole – Hittin’ The Ramp: The Early Years (1936-1943) Resonance Records Deluxe Limited Edition  –  3000 180gm Hand Numbered 10LP  Sets HLP9042-Mastered by Matt Lutthans at Coherent Audio.*****

( Nat King Cole – piano & vocals; Oscar Moore – guitar; Wesley Prince – bass; Johnny Miller – bass; Red Callender – bass; Lester Young – tenor saxophone; Dexter Gordon – tenor saxophone; Harry “Sweets”Edison – trumpet; Clifford”Juicy” Owens – drums; Al Spieldick – drums)

The release by Resonance Records of this 10 LP box set of the very early recordings of the Nat King Cole Trio, shows his mastery at the keyboard and his effortless phrasing as a singer. This was discussed in some detail in Part 1 of this review. Part 2 picks up the recording story from the latter period of 1940 to the closing in 1943 and confirms the rise to fame the Nat King Cole Trio.

Part 2 —Hollywood 1940 – Hollywood 1943 ( Discs 6,7,8,9,10)

Starting in late 1940 until early 1941, the Nat King Cole Trio completed fifteen sides for Standard Transcription, which signalled the end of the relationship with that entity. This included two versions of “Gone With The Draft”, which the Trio reprised as part of their first session with Decca Records in 1940.

For the first Decca session the group also recorded “Honeysuckle Rose” in a barn burner version, a bluesy “This Side Up” and second iteration of what would become one of their signature numbers “Sweet Lorraine”. Their initial crack at that number was for Standard Transcription in 1939  which, by comparison, was a far less sophisticated version. These commercial releases were the first of a total of sixteen sides that the Trio did for Decca that, in effect, changed the trajectory of the Trio.

The success of these initial Decca sides raised the profile of the Trio and interested booking agents in getting the group on the road. This lead to a year long sojourn from a home base in New York City,  to Philadelphia, Washington D.C. and Chicago. As a result the Trio became well known and respected with some of the more prominent jazz entertainers such as, Billie Holiday, “Hot Lips” Page, and Art Tatum. It was during this period that the remaining Decca tracks were recorded either in New York or Chicago including the ones indicated in the following paragraph.

There were several titles among the Decca sides that are worthy of note. Firstly there was the romantic ballad “This Will Make You Laugh” that had a very flirtatious appeal. There was also the bluesy “That Ain’t Right” which gave guitarist Moore more profile as he had started to use an electric guitar instead of his previous acoustic instrument.

Additionally there was  “Hit That Jive, Jack” that covered a new hand-shake pattern for the hipsters. Finally there was the track “Hit The Ramp” written by Nat Cole and Oscar Moore which was expanded to Hittin’ The Ramp and is the title for this box set. The tune was an up tempo swinger that featured some very intricate interplay between Cole and Moore.

After more than a year on the road, the Trio was glad to be going back to Los Angeles in June 1942, but their return was not without  professional problems.  At this point the US had been in the War since December 1941, and the draft was about to call up one of the Trio’s key players, bassist Wesley Prince.

Nat’s initial replacement choice was bassist Red Callender who lasted for a short period and they made some good sides. But Red wanted to lead his own group and thus left. Nat was eventually introduced to Johnny Miller who had experience with the Lionel Hampton Band. Miller became a bedrock of the group as they began their ascent to wider recognition and fame.

In the summer 1942, impresario Norman Granz was interested in getting the then Trio ( Nat, Red, Oscar) into the studio to record with tenor saxophonist Lester Young. At the appointed day and time, Oscar was a no show and the recording went ahead without him. This produced four essential jazz tracks; “Indiana”, “I Can’t Get Started”, “Tea For Two” and the classic “Body And Soul”.

These four tracks all average close to five minutes in length which was much longer that the two and a half to three minute cuts that Cole and the Trio had been accustomed. However Cole’s improving improvisational skills were clearly up to the task. Throughout the four tracks, Cole’s command of the piano through the use of block chords, pauses, dropped notes, glistening arpeggios and shimmering runs, all said “I’m in the big leagues now”.

Young had already been recognized as an exceptional improviser, whose cool feathery tone had made his sound instantly recognizable. At thirty-three years old, he was in top form and his soloing on “Body And Soul”,  while it may be lesser known that the 1939 version by Coleman Hawkins, it certainly ranks in that same category.

In the summer of 1943, Granz again approached Nat with another collaboration, this time with tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon and trumpeter Harry “Sweets” Edison plus the addition of drummer Clifford”Juicy” Owens. The four tracks that were laid down included” I’ve Found A New Baby”, “Rosetta”, “Sweet Lorraine” and “I Blowed And Gone”.

With the exception of “Sweet Lorraine” which was done in its usual ballad style, all the others were swingers. These were blowing sessions which gave Cole, Gordon and Edison plenty of room to exercise their chops and do a little cutting.

As the War raged on, the Armed Forces Radio Service (AFRS) starting in 1942 produced musical programs for American service men. The Nat King Cole Trio (Cole, Moore, Miller) in July/August 1943 participated in these programs with several notable numbers including “Straighten Up And Fly Right”, “I’m An Errand Boy For Rhythm” and “I Know That You Know”.

It was not long after these recordings that the Nat King Cole Trio signed with Capitol Records. Nat King Cole remained with that label for the balance of his career.

The importance of this box set cannot be overstated. It has unearthed an unheralded period in the development of one of jazz’s most important artists and an influencer of  generations of jazz pianists. We should remember the words of William Shakespeare from his play The Tempest : “What’s past is prologue”.

—Pierre Giroux

Full track listing for the 10 LP box set is available at: Resonancerecords.org

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