January 30 1958, May 6 1958, September 30 1958, April 1959, March 1 1960
March 22 1961, March 23 1961, March 24 1961, March 27 1961, March 29 1961, March 30 1961, April 3 1961, July 6 1961, July 19 1961, July 20 1961
Nat Cole - vocals, piano
Ralph Carmichael - conductor
Stan Kenton - conductor (track 11)
Nelson Riddle - arranger
Billy May - arranger, conductor (track 15)
Gordon Jenkins - arranger
Pete Rugolo - arranger, poss cond (track 8)
Frank DeVol - arranger
Ralph Carmichael - arranger
Nat Cole - arranger
Lee Gillette - producer
Capitol SWCL 1630
as a set or separately as
SW 1926, 1927 & 1929
"Although there would be more notable successes both creatively and commercially to come in the years ahead, the set remains a glorious overview of Nat King Cole's career on record."
The roughly simultaneous arrival of magnetic tape for recording studios and the vinyl microgroove record for music customers ushered in the age of, as it was put at the time, High Fidelity sound. In the ensuing decade, many celebrated artists undertook projects re-creating past highlights of their careers in the glories of the new world of High Fidelity. There was Benny Goodman In Hi-Fi, Glenn Gray and The Casa Loma Orchestra In Hi-Fi, lots of artists got Hi. Fi, I mean, of course. If one didn't care about the lush new sound, the new releases often offered a convenient compilation of select highlights, and sometimes offered a new interpretation revealing of the artist in the present as well as the past. Then in the later '50s, Hi-Fi entered yet another new dimension: stereophonic sound! That ushered in another phase of artists remaking popular recordings from their past.
Under the auspices of recreating select classics in Stereo, Nat undertook what would become one of the prime examples of the Hi-Fi remake wave in 1961. While there can be little doubt but that Capitol was anticipating great commercial returns in a re-packaging of some 36 highlights from one of their greatest and most successful artists, this project was also produced with evident pride. Original complete editions boast lavish binding, handsome materials and design, extensive liners and a bunch of photos, all of the best for its time. The musical production matched, with time and money for multiple sessions spread over some months and whatever orchestration was desired being hired. Being intended for presentation in stereo, the stereo recordings for this project are also among the most carefully engineered and supervised of any Nat project. A re-recording and re-packaging yes, but with appreciable class.
Unlike many another artist who may have a few widely known highlights, the question of what to record with Nat can not have been an easy one. With a career that might be called "crossover" today and containing an embarrassment of riches in popular tracks, artistically fine tracks and tracks having other points of interest spanning a couple decades straight, the selections must have involved plenty of consideration between Nat, producer Lee Gillette and others. Considering the daunting task, there's surprisingly little to quibble about in the choices they made. Of course everyone will have their own opinions and favorites among his thousand or so recordings for Capitol which they would like to have seen featured in this anthology. But the selection arrived at here seems likely to have succeeded very well at striking a pleasing middle ground in prevalent interest at the time of its production.
Then there's the question of how to approach the music. Much had changed in the years years since many of the selections had first been created. Tastes, fashions, style and numerous social angles had been in the rapid flow of change through the 1940s and '50s. Nat, too, had seen change in his singing technique and voice, and he no longer played the piano as extensively as he had when the earliest selections had been landmark successes for a piano-playing jazz man leading a hep jazz pop trio. They might have tried "modernizing" the songs with new arrangements peddling to a new, younger crowd or perhaps a crowd pleased to link Nat's ongoing career with a safe nostalgia more conservative to current ears than it had actually been. It's also easy to imagine Nat being tired with many selections and phoning in performances, or some folks at the label wishing to milk profits with a rushed, penny-pinching production. Somehow, to the everlasting credit of Nat, Lee, Capitol and all involved, this project managed to avoid all of the most potentially harmful of choices.
The songs were classics of their genre, and respectful of their original quality, Nat and company chose to rerecord the set following original arrangements. Only minor changes occur, mostly in expanding the number of instruments in some parts in order to present a fuller sound in stereo. Nat seems to have approached these songs, some he had performed countless times and others seldom, with pride and enthusiasm for the challenge of bringing his current technique and voice to the task of equalling and just maybe, bettering the originals. Ralph Carmichael, responsible for the backing, proved commendably sensitive to the varied arrangements. It has been found that the original arrangers also conducted these remakes in most cases. Stan Kenton and his Orchestra was booked just to reprise their backing of Nat on Orange Colored Sky. The intricate and unenviable task of recreating the "magic" was pulled off with surprising consistency. Most tracks compare well to the originals, either coming down to trade-offs or at least holding their own, including such legendary tracks as Lush Life.
In some cases these remakes are notably superior to the originals. The Sand And The Sea is profoundly superior; it's impossible to imagine any aspect could be expressed more perfectly than this. A comparison of Nat's vocal here to the 1954 original highlights just how he had grown as a vocal artist. Here he has achieved such a mastery of technical aspects that we hear a richly nauanced painterly depiction of the setting and soul at the point of every bit of this peice, to an extent of refinement possibly no other popular vocalist has ever equalled. In general, he "sings out" far more than he had in earlier eras, in longer, sometimes more broadly melodic lines. That proves to be another aspect that elevates the remake of The Sand And The Sea above the original. At the same time, to this listener's surprise, conductor Ralph Carmichael and the musicians far surpass the original Nelson Riddle conducted of his own arrangement in perfect compliment to the changes in Nat's vocal.
On the other extreme of the scale we encounter the disadvantages of his work at this point in a few songs which turn out rather inferior to the originals. Non Dimenticar finds his grander melodic approach less suited than his more succint and tart 1958 original. To be sure it sounds prettier and more sensitive through most of the way, but unfortunately the point of the song is more potent with the more ardent, even possessive assertiveness of the earlier reading. Likewise Ballerina may be "sung out" with more effort here, but neither Nat nor the band approach the more nimble, pliant and expressive original. Still, such is the calibre of talent and musical quality that even the less successful only pale if compared to the originals. On their own they work well enough and may be instructive to the enthusiast as well.
Not all the selections needed to be remade in stereo however, so this set reissues six previously released tracks: Stardust, St. Louis Blues, Paradise, Oh Mary Don't You Weep, Ay Cosita Linda and Wild Is Love. One curious case is Non Dimenticar; the original was in stereo, yet for whatever reason it was re-recorded for this project anyway. Perhaps as it was only issued in mono at the time, they didn't recall it had been "covered" in stereo or were unable to locate the tape. In any case the original has since been released in stereo on CD.
Initially the set was released in a deluxe edition in both stereo and monaural, as customary at the time, with the three LPs comprising the set also available as more affordable individual volumes. Selections from this project would also come to supplant the original recordings in countless compilations in the decades that followed.
Sadly, surely unimagined by any involved at the time, the world was graced with Nat's presence only 3 years following this anthology. That being the case, it is close to being a fairly complete overview, missing only a few key tracks. It's interesting to consider which selections they would have chosen from the following years, but of course we'll never know.
The project proved a success on every one of the levels it had aimed for. Although there would be more notable successes both creatively and commercially to come in the years ahead, the set remains a glorious overview of Nat King Cole's career on record.