Personalities | Nat ‘King’ Cole | Forties | Jazz & Blues

(Piano, vocals, 1917–65)

Nat ‘King’ Cole (real name Coles) was one of the few jazz artists to become a household name as a popular singer, and was one of the first black American artists to have his own radio show (1948–49), and later television show (1956–57). He was born into a musical family in Alabama, but moved to Chicago at the age of four, where he learned piano by ear, before studying music formally as a teenager.

He formed a trio with Oscar Moore (guitar) and Wesley Prince (drums) that became the model for many subsequent groups, including Oscar Peterson’s trio. However, a vocal hit with ‘Straighten Up And Fly Right’ in 1943 set him on a different career path as a sophisticated pop singer. His fame as a vocalist and his later celebrity have tended to overshadow the fact that he was also a very fine and influential jazz pianist in trio and quartet settings.

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Source: The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Jazz & Blues, founding editor Howard Mandel


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