Nat King Cole – Live at The Blue Note Chicago – Iconic Artists Group

by | Jun 30, 2024 | Jazz CD Reviews, SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

Manna from jazz heaven, Nat King Cole, live in Chicago from 1953, in superb acoustics…

Nat King Cole – Live at The Blue Note Chicago – Iconic Artists Group #IAG 00005-CD, IAG 00005-LP – 1958 – 2 CD (38:28, 40:38) or 2 LP

(Nat King Cole – vocals, piano; John Collins – guitar; Charlie Harris – bass; Lee Young – drums)

One of the prized finds from the most recent Record Store Day in May, was the release of rare, never heard before, live recordings of the Nat King Cole Quartet from a week long residency at The Blue Note jazz club in Chicago.

Recorded at the end of August in 1953, Nat was utilizing a quartet, with the addition of drummer, Lee Young. This was rather unique as before this time Cole more typically worked as a trio with bass and guitar accompaniment. Having a drummer added more heft to the group, especially on the uptempo numbers. Young continued to work with Cole until 1962.

At this time in his career, Nat’s fame had taken off (he was in his second decade of a three decade career), and he seldom played in small clubs, as he commanded larger fees and was featured in bigger venues. But as a native of Chicago, Cole had an allegiance to club owner, Frank Holzfeind, who had supported him during leaner times.

During his week long residency at the club, Holzfeind, recorded over ten hours, with 200 takes. What stands out today is the incredible fidelity (with modern remastering). Frank used only two microphones, and at 7 1/2 ips on Scotch High Output magnetic tape, the music was fed from the mics into the PA system, to a large speaker over the stage. The output filled four tape boxes.

Now a half century later, on either two CDs, or two audiophile quality LPs, (nearly 80 minutes of prime material), the magic of Nat King Cole’s velvety voice, and fleet piano stylings are available in superb acoustics. The CDs were produced, edited and mixed by James Saez at the Audio Labs, and mastered by Stephen Marsh at Marsh Mastering. The original tape transfers were handled by Bill Smith at United Archiving.

The pristine LPs get the benefit of restored audio from the original tape lacquers by the esteemed Kevin Gray.

Fans of Mr. Cole (he has remained iconic to this day), prepare yourself for a revisit with the master. The adoring audience is heard in the background, reacting to the matinee idol looks, and the inimitable smoothness of Nat’s matchless vocals. Cole deserves more credit for his piano skills using both block chords and single line sections, with easy going, yet at times lightning fast fingers flying over the piano keyboard.

He reprises his hits with sparkling versions of “Unforgettable,” “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” and a medley of “Mona Lisa,” and “Too Young.” The audience sings along on “Walking My Baby Back Home,” and Nat goes Caribbean on “Calypso Blues,” with drummer Lee Young on congas, channeling Jack Costanzo.

On the closer, “Route 66,” Cole shows his early “hep cat” credentials.

There is so much to love here, and a valuable addition are liner notes from Nat’s biographer, Will Friedwald, who states he wishes that he had the benefit of having this material available when he wrote Cole’s definitive biography.

That says a lot for the quality of this release. Whether your preference is vinyl or CD, this is a must purchase for Nat King Cole fans. It also deserves consideration for next year’s Grammy Awards for best historical release.

—Jeff Krow

Nat King Cole – Live at The Blue Note Chicago

Tracklist: 

CD 1:
Frank Holzfeind Introduction #1
Little Girl, Unforgettable, It’s Only a Paper Moon, Love is Here to Stay, Too Marvelous for Words, What Does It Take?, You Stepped Out Of a Dream, Exactly Like You, Sweet Loraine, Can’t I?
Band Introduction, Calypso Blues

CD 2:
Frank Holzfeind Introduction #2
Walkin’ My Baby Back Home, Mona Lisa/ Too Young, Blue Gardenia, Straighten Up and Fly Right, Funny (Not Much), Somewhere Along the Way, Nature Boy, Pretend, A Fool Was I, If Love is Good To Me, I Am in Love, This Can’t Be Love, Route 66

LP Version
Side 1:
Frank Holzfeind Introduction
Little Girl, Unforgettable, It’s Only a Paper Moon, Love is Here To Stay, Too Marvelous for Words, What Does It Take?

Side 2:
You Stepped Out of a Dream, Exactly Like You, Sweet Loraine, Can’t I?
Band Introduction, Calypso Blues

Side 3:
Frank Holzfeind Introduction #2
Walkin’ My Baby Back Home, Mona Lisa/Too Young, Blue Gardenia, Straighten Up and Fly Right, Funny (Not Much), Somewhere Along the Way, Nature Boy

Side 4:
Pretend, A Fool Was I, If Love is Good To Me, I Am In Love, This Can’t Be Love, Route 66

More information through Iconic Artists

Album Cover for Nat King Cole - Live at The Blue Note Chicago

Album Cover for Nat King Cole - Live at The Blue Note Chicago Vinyl





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