Recorded 6/30/58, 7/1&2/58
Nat Cole - Vocals
Dave Cavanaugh - Arranger
Lee Gillette - Producer
"Upbeat and brassy, this big band set features sublime vocals by Nat backed by the Count Basie Orchestra, alas sans the Count."
As Nat is one of the premier vocalists in the popular and jazz vocal genres, it would have been nice if Nat had recorded with some of the renown orchestras of the time, chiefly with the Duke Ellington or Count Basie Orchestras. Well, he did, sort of, once: and this is the recording.
Nat recorded this album backed by what is the Count Basie Orchestra, only without Count Basie, in arrangements by Dave Cavanaugh rather than the Orchestras' usual arrangers at the time and without promotion or credits to note the Orchestra's pedigree.
A typical assumption is that unions between the titans of the times rarely happened owing to egos involved, and it's cute to say there'd be all those arguements about whose name is first, whose is bigger and so on. The reality in most cases would owe more to business, for two principal reasons: one, neither headliner needs the other and the return on the massive expenses could fail to return; second, the contractual and promotional concerns and all that sort of thing would be daunting at the least. It seems to have been purely contractual reasons which limited this encounter to the Count Basie Orchestra playing as an uncredited band on an essentially standard classic pop vocal album project and the Count himself being obliged to sit it out.
Fortunately, at least to my ears, the album itself is nothing to be dissappointed about. Upbeat and brassy, this big band set features sublime vocals by Nat, and the Count Basie Orchestra is in its customarily superb form. The songs are a mix of well-known standards and new songs, and both are good. The wry Look Out For Love is atypical content and point of view for Nat, but it's delivered with cynical perfection. In his guise as human Cupid, Nat tells of The Late Late Show to a fabulous, vigorous arrangement. Avalon is another standout with its emphasis on drums, which are a standout feature many times through this album. The only thing which could likely improve this album would be some stretching into instrumental passages, but then the focus is on the song. Still, it's too darn brief.
The brievity of the album isn't helped by the fact that it has 11 tracks; just as this might imply, one song recorded for inclusion on this album didn't make it to the pressing stage. The song was Madrid, a vivid upbeat number with music based entirely upon Georges Bizet's Carmen. Seems there may have been a copyright issue; the single was pulled after the initial release and Madrid pulled from this album. A shame, since Nat and the band tear through it with zest and amazing sense of timing and swing.
The album cover is interesting in that it evokes, for the final time, a very 1950's style of art found on the covers of Penthouse Serenade, the original Sings For Two In Love cover and Ballads of the Day. After going through a period of probably being seen as incredibly cheesy, the changing times and nostalgia can now lend it some respite. It's possibly more evocative of style and elegance to us as a sort of aspiration of its era than it may have been seen by most in the reality of its time, and certainly enhances an escapist appeal. They seem to have lost the cover as soon as possible; the album was reissued (one example being retitled as The Swingin' Side of Nat King Cole, Capitol SW-1724) with different covers ranging from the good (the aforementioned reissue) to... not so good (a World Record Club UK reissue for instance).