Nat King Cole at 100
By Bill Edgar
How fitting it is that for our Tenth Anniversary we are featuring the music of the great Nat “King” Cole, who would have turned 100 this year had he survived the cancer that felled him at age 45. Growing up in the church, as did so many black musicians, it is not surprising that his first big hit, “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” was based on one of his father’s sermons.
Nat Cole’s musical life began at the piano and he could hold his own next to the best of them, including Art Tatum, Earl Hines, and Erroll Garner. But white audiences mostly know him as a singer whose lush baritone voice, accompanied by his piano and the sidemen of the Nat King Cole Trio, was welcomed into living rooms through the medium of television, a first in the 1950s for so many. His enduring hits include “Mona Lisa,” “Nature Boy” and “Unforgettable.” He is a global icon and is one of Monty Alexander’s most important mentors.
It is appropriate to have the marvelous Allan Harris render the tribute to Nat “King” Cole on Friday Night’s Festival opening. Outside of jazz circles Allan Harris may not be a household name, but it should be, with, as The New York Times describes him, having a “formidable baritone with…husky edges and deep resonant low notes.”
He has done a good deal of work on African American history, including the landmark “Cross That River” album (2006), which explores the role of African Americans in the Western expansion of the United States. Allan is truly a powerhouse and we are privileged to have him here to celebrate Jazz on the Chesapeake turning 10 during the late great Nat “King” Cole’s 100th year.
The Monty Alexander Jazz Festival is partially underwritten by the Maryland State Arts Council and the Talbot County Arts Council. Jazz on the Chesapeake is a program of Chesapeake Music. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit Jazzonthechesapeake.com or call 410-819-0380.