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“Big CD box sets are like fancy cars or eye-catching jewelry—fun to own but expensive to buy. Then comes the holidays, a time when wish-lists come out of the shadows and permit us to ask others for all the things we dare not ask of ourselves. That's why record companies reserve their most tempting treasures tor December, when even adults are entitled to dream like children on Christmas Eve.
In that spirit, the front runner for the most wish-lists in 2019 could be Nat King Cole, Hittin' The Ramp: The Early Years (1936-1943) (Resonance Records), which scoops into one seven-CD (or 10-LP) package a nearly complete library of Cole's early pre-Capitol period, which formally ended Nov. 30, 1943. I say "nearly" because it misses the nine 1940 sides he did for Victor with Lionel Hampton and a 1943-ish Norman Granz session with Illinois Jacquet and Shad Collins whose precise date remains mysteriously vague and might fall within the Capitol period. But their absence won't stop Hittin’ The Ramp from becoming the essential companion to Mosaic's famous Complete Capitol Recordings Of The Nat King Cole Trio, issued nearly 30 years ago.”
John McDonough, December 2019 Downbeat
With its official release in partnership with the Nat King Cole Estate, Resonance Records’ Nat King Cole - Hittin' The Ramp, The Early Years (1936-1943) [HCD 2042] seven CD and deluxe limited edition 10 LP set features meticulous sound restoration on its 180+ tracks totaling 8.5 hours of music, information about the recordings sourced from the Institute for Jazz Studies at Rutgers University and the Library of Congress and includes a 56-page booklet with rare photographs,; essays by acclaimed author Will Friedwald and guitarist Nick Rossi; commentary by Quincy Jones, John Pizzarelli, Freddy Cole, Tony Bennett, Harry Belafonte, and Johnny Mathis.
In his review of the set for Downbeat, John McDonough explains the origins of the music in the boxed set:
“The principal platform of Cole's early career was not the commercial record, but the radio transcription. The '30s and '40s were a pre-payola period when big record companies fought to keep their music off the radio, not give it away free on the radio. To fill that gap, annotator Will Friedwald explains, local stations subscribed to various transcription services that supplied them with whole libraries of recorded music.
Starting in September 1938, Cole and his new trio began picking up quick cash by dashing off a dozen or more tracks in an hour or two for these libraries. The performances were relaxed and not particular about details or repertoire. Of the nearly 200 selections on Hittin' 'The Rump, almost 150 are transcription pieces. (Cole did another 100 or so transcriptions after joining Capitol, but they are for another day.) Only about 40 tracks here are commercial record dates, and only 16 of those were for a major label, Decca. The remaining dozen or so are taken from Armed Forces radio broadcasts in which the hipster lingo seems quaintly, if not severely, dated.”
Will Friedwald, a noted authority on vocal Jazz and the annotator of each of the sessions that make up the boxed set describes the recordings in the accompanying insert booklet as THE SOUNDS THAT CHANGED THE WORLD:
“At the height of his fame in the 1950s and 60s, Nat King Cole (1919-1965) was primarily known as a popular singer—the biggest-selling artist of iis generation, no less—who occasionally played piano. By that point, only a few older fans and critics remembered that he had been one of the greatest pianists in the whole history of American music, a true spiritual descendant of Earl "Fatha" Mines and Art Tatum, and himself a huge inspiration for Oscar Peterson, George Shearing, Erroll Garner, and many others. Cole himself never wanted the world to forget that he had been a jazz musician, but even in his most reflective moments, he rarely discussed his early career, or ever mentioned that he had even made any recordings of any kind before he signed with Capitol Records, the label that would help make him a superstar, at the end of 1943. (Even the discography in his widow's memoir begins with the first Capitol session.} For years, fans, musicians, and historians have been curious about Cole's early music, but few would ever guess how vast and diverse his pre-Capitol career really is.
This package represents the first detailed and comprehensive history of Nat King Cole's remarkable early years, starting with his first band in Chicago (co-opted by his older brother Eddie for the purposes of recording) and the
groundbreaking formation of the legendary King Cole Trio in 1937. Just in time for his centennial, we cover this quintessential American artist from his very first stirrings at the start of the swing era to the very precipice of universal fame during World War II, with dozens of fascinating detours along the way. This, then, is the incredible but true origin story of a sound and a career that would change the world.”
As to the style of music offered by Nat and the trio on these recordings, John McDonough describes it as cleverly as a clash between camp and class:
“Yet, the music—and particularly Cole's magnificently streamlined piano flights-sounds totally at ease in the 21st century, much more so than, say, the pre-Decca Bing Crosby sides made only a few years before. In the interim, between 1933 and 1938, the modern swing bands had, shall we say, hip-notized American music, i.e., awakened young audiences to the often-subtle distinctions between the quick emotional hit of campy excess and the enduring elegance of authentic style. Hipness became its own kind of camp, of course. ("Tickle my belly, and I'll send you the jelly," says Cole. Translation: "Send your requests and I'll sing them on the air.") But Cole on piano was like Fred Astaire in shoes.
Camp and class converge like two clashing sensibilities in this wonderfully conflicted collection.”
More details about this wonderful collection are available in the following media release.
Resonance Records, the Los Angeles-based independent jazz label noted for its historical releases, will issue its most ambitious release to date, the seven-CD/10-LP Nat King Cole boxed set Hittin’ the Ramp: The Early Years (1936-1943) on November 1, 2019.
Succeeding critically acclaimed Resonance archival collections devoted to previously unheard recordings by Bill Evans, Wes Montgomery, Sarah Vaughan, and other eminent jazz performers, Hittin’ the Ramp offers the first in-depth survey of singer-pianist Cole’s work in the years preceding his long hit-making tenure at Capitol Records.
“This is a really important project for Resonance,” says Zev Feldman, label co-president and the set’s co-producer. “We’ve done some pretty substantial packages over the years, such as our three-disc Eric Dolphy and Jaco Pastorius sets with 100-page booklets, but this Nat King Cole box is truly a definitive, king-sized set, clocking in at a staggering 10 LPs and seven CDs worth of essential early Cole material with enhanced audio.”
The expansive collection — which includes several previously unreleased studio sides, transcriptions, and private recordings — is the first major overview of Cole’s earliest work to be produced in conjunction with the musician’s estate.
“The Nat King Cole Estate is thrilled to be partnering with Resonance Records on this exciting collection of early recordings that showcase Nat’s extraordinary abilities as a jazz musician,” says Seth Berg of the Nat King Cole Estate. “The family is especially grateful for Resonance’s unwavering determination to preserve and present these pioneering recordings to the world.”
The set’s co-producer, writer and historian Will Friedwald – who received Grammy Award nominations for his work on Mosaic Records’ landmark 1992 box The Complete Capitol Recordings of the Nat King Cole Trio and the 1989 album Nat “King” Cole and the “King” Cole Trio – points out in his comprehensive notes to the collection that Cole’s deep and influential jazz roots were often obscured by his towering reputation as a pop singer.
“At the height of his fame in the 1950s and ‘60s,” he writes, “Nat King Cole (1919-1965) was primarily known as a popular singer — the biggest-selling artist of his generation, no less — who occasionally played piano. By that point, only a few older fans and critics remembered that he had been one of the greatest pianists in the whole history of American music, a true spiritual descendent of Earl ‘Fatha’ Hines and Art Tatum, and himself a huge inspiration for Oscar Peterson, George Shearing, Erroll Garner, and many others.”
Beyond Cole’s brilliance at the keyboard, the Resonance set takes in his dazzling work as a vocalist, and includes a new interview with the master pop singer Johnny Mathis, who discusses his debt to and friendship with his great predecessor.
“As a young boy, studying the art of vocalizing, Nat was everything I needed,” Mathis says. “All I did was listen and learn … And then I want [people] to remember that he also, also, also played the piano. Please, please, please remember that. Even as gigantic as a pianist as he was as a vocalist.”
Co-produced by Zev Feldman, Will Friedwald, Seth Berg, Matt Lutthans, and Jordan Taylor, and executive produced by Resonance co-president George Klabin, Hittin’ the Ramp hones in on Cole’s prodigious early career, beginning with the debut sides he recorded with his brother Eddie for Decca Records as a 17-year-old piano phenom in 1936.
The majority of the set’s nearly 200 tracks focus on the first work by the King Cole Trio, the seminal combo that put Cole on the map with a swinging combination of jazz, jive, and pop, with an emphasis on his simpatico creative partnership with the trio’s longtime guitarist Oscar Moore.
In his notes for the collection, guitarist Nick Rossi notes that Moore’s synthesis of such influences as George van Eps, Dick McDonough, Django Reinhardt, and Charlie Christian led to his “groundbreaking style, one which provided a template for how the guitar functions in a modern jazz setting.”
Hittin’ the Ramp compiles Cole’s recordings – among them the first versions of “Sweet Lorraine,” a staple of his ‘40s repertoire, and the R&B and pop hit “Straighten Up and Fly Right” – with his trio and in other studio settings (as sideman and accompanist) for Decca, Ammor, Excelsior, Premier, Mercury, and Philo (including a celebrated session for the latter label, founded by Norman Granz during the 1942 Musicians Union recording ban, with saxophonist Lester Young).
It also contains dozens of transcriptions, mainly by the trio, cut by Standard, Davis & Schwegler, and MacGregor for servicing to radio stations, as well as wartime recordings produced for American servicemen by the Armed Forces Radio Service.
The newly discovered selections include several performances that were not known to exist before research for the boxed set began. These include a privately recorded number, “The Romany Room is Jumping,” a homage to the titular Washington, D.C., club that hosted Cole’s group; the hitherto unheard Cinematone transcription “Trompin’”; and an unreleased 1940 trio rendering of Trummy Young’s “Whatcha’ Know Joe.”
“Although nothing on this package can be described as ‘common,’ these are some of the rarest Cole items known to exist,” Friedwald writes.
He adds, “Just in time for his centennial, we cover this quintessential American artist from his very first stirrings at the start of the swing era to the very precipice of universal fame during World War Two, with dozens of fascinating detours along the way. This, then, is the incredible but true origin story of a sound and a career that would change the world.”
Order information directly at Resonance Records is available via this link.
For press and media assistance, please contact Ann Braithwaite at Braithwaite and Katz Communications via firstname.lastname@example.org.
You might also enjoy viewing this mini-documentary about this special series of recordings: