NOTES: The New York Pops celebrate Nat King Cole
The New York Pops continued its 36th Season at Carnegie Hall last night with “Unforgettable: Celebrating Nat King Cole and Friends”, a concert marking the centennial of iconic jazz pianist and vocalist Nat King Cole (1919-1965).
Born Nathaniel Adams Coles in Montgomery, Alabama, Cole became a professional musician at age 15, teaming with his brother to form “Eddie Cole's Swingsters”. He later formed a rare jazz trio in the age of big bands, dubbing it the “King Cole Trio” in a nod to the nursery rhyme “Old King Cole”.
The 1940s found Cole’s breakout success as a vocalist topping the radio, and in 1956 he made history by becoming the first African American to host a television program with “The Nat ‘King’ Cole Show” on NBC. Criticized for playing to all white audiences during segregation, and the target of racial violence himself, Cole would become a prominent voice during the Civil Rights Movement before dying from lung cancer at age 45.
Despite his premature demise, he left behind a considerable catalogue of hits from over 40 albums and 100 songs, including his renditions of “Unforgettable”, “Embraceable You”, “The Christmas Song”, “Nature Boy”, and the posthumous release, “L-O-V-E”, among countless others.
To celebrate this remarkable body of work, the ever-affable New York Pops Music Director and Conductor Steven Reineke put together a comprehensive program of 21 songs, specially cued to feature the skills of his orchestra and vocal feats of guest artists Nikki Renée Daniels (“The Book of Mormon”) and Ryan Shaw (“Motown”). On hand to observe from a box in the first tier of the Isaac Stern Auditorium was Cole’s daughter, Timolin.
Ms. Daniels excelled at her up-tempo numbers, especially “Orange Colored Sky”, while Mr. Shaw displayed the stunning upper-register voice that made him an easy pick to play Stevie Wonder in “Motown” on Broadway. Slower, softer ballads were less successful for both, vocally.
A good and lively mix of instrumental and vocal presentations, though, the evening made for a soulful, swinging tribute to an American icon. Check out the rest of The New York Pops 2018-2019 season here.