Nat King Cole: After Midnight

Only the second reissue for the session in toto, with the lesser-known Stuff Smith tracks 'a monument suffused with irresistible humour'


Nat Cole was one of the bravest men. I’ve never been able to forget that when he moved into an all-white neighbourhood of Los Angeles the residents inflicted all manner of horrors upon his family, including the slaughter of its pet dog.

There’s been no general acceptance of Nat and Sinatra as jazz singers. Of course they were, and in addition Cole was one of the finest jazz pianists.

These much-reissued sessions have only been issued in toto once, on the 18-CD Mosaic album by Cole’s trio on MD 18-138. They came as a jazz oasis in the middle of Nat’s successful era as a “commercial” singer and the dozen of them that open the album must have been huge sellers for Capitol.

The rhythm made up Nat’s regular trio of the time plus drummer Lee Young. The four guest soloists each provide contrasting approaches to their roles, with Edison and Stuff Smith most effective. The presence of Juan Tizol has been criticised, but he has well-chosen numbers and the valve trombone fits in perfectly. The other nine tracks are simply superb and while Sweets and Willie had well-known recording careers, the lesser-known Stuff tracks make a monument suffused with irresistible humour.

It’s irritating to note the odd tracks missing, but there’s compensation in the second dozen which are from Nat’s exceptional combination with Billy May’s studio big bands. These are classics of their genre.

(1) Just You, Just Me; (2) Sweet Lorraine; (3) Sometimes I’m Happy; (4) Caravan; (2) It’s Only A Paper Moon; (1) You’re Lookin’ At Me; (4) The Lonely One; (1) Don’t Let It Go To Your Head; (3)I Know That You Know; (4) Blame It On My Youth; (3) When I Grow Too Old To Dream; (2) Route 66; (5) When Your Lover Has Gone; A Cottage For Sale; Who’s Sorry Now; Once In A While; These Foolish Things; Just For The Fun Of It; Don’t Get Around Much Anymore; I Understand; Just One Of Those Things; The Song Is Ended; I Should Care; The Party’s Over (77.06)
(1) Cole (p, v); John Collins (g); Charlie Harris (b); Lee Young (d); plus Harry Edison (t). LA, 15 August 1956. (2) Willie Smith (as) replaces Edison. 14 September 1956. (3) Stuff Smith (vn) replaces Willie Smith. 21 September 1956. (4) Juan Tizol (vtb) replaces Stuff Smith, 24 September 1956. (5) Nat Cole (v) accompanied by orchestras led by Billy May. LA, July and August 1957.
20th Century Masterworks 170030