By the end of the 1940s into the 1950s, the smoky tenor-textured voice of Nat King Cole had all the young bobby-sox girls mesmerized. Even my mother loved her some “Nat King Cole.”
His stature as a popular star was cemented during this period by hits such as “All for You” (1943), “The Christmas Song” (1947), “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66,” “(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons” (1946), “There! I’ve Said It Again” (1947), “Nature Boy” (1948), “Frosty the Snowman,” “Mona Lisa” (No. 1 song of 1950), “Orange Colored Sky” (1950) and “Too Young” (No. 1 song of 1951).
Not only was Cole an incredible singer, but also he was an awesome pianist. More importantly, he was a Black man in America trying to support his family at the height of segregation. At the end of each performance, there were life’s issues waiting at the dressing room door.
The phenomenal production of “NAT…Inspired by the Life and Times of Nat King Cole,” now running through Sept. 30, visits the heart and soul and inner thoughts of that handsome man onstage in the tuxedo with the million-dollar smile.
Verlon Brown, the writer and star of this unforgettable one-man show, is the persona of Cole. We are with him in the dressing room as he expresses his thoughtful annoyance with his wife Maria’s constant visits to the recording studio.
His voice urges you to take part in the involved issues with the producers and executives of “The Nat ‘King’ Cole Show,” which debuted on NBC in 1956. The variety program was one of the first hosted by an African-American. The program started at a length of 15 minutes but was increased to a half-hour in July 1957.
His emotional soliloquy is a somewhat zealous debate as it relates to his show and how despite its popularity, racism is the brick wall that blocks a larger budget and national sponsor. Even with his efforts of securing such guests as Harry Belafonte, Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, Frankie Laine, Peggy Lee and Mel Tormé, Cole decided to end the program Dec. 17, 1957. He later commented, “Madison Avenue is afraid of the dark.”
When Cole is diagnosed with cancer, Brown draws the audience into Cole’s emotional web as he lounges at home reminiscing about his minister father and his older brother Eddie while he constantly spits up blood and continues to smoke.
The potency of his delivery pulls the audience to the edge of their seats, realizing this thoughtful father, this great performer has to go but hoping he could stay just a little longer. He died Feb. 15, 1965.
Ironically, Brown is not a professional singer or pianist, but he has the voice to carry a smoky rendition of Cole singing songs such as “Unforgettable,” “Paper Moon” and “Mona Lisa.”
Rome Neal, the director of this human voyage through the catastrophic waters of racism, the rocky waves of marriage and the deep dark waters of death demonstrates once again how with collaboration he is able to get the best out of his actor/actors. This play offers you an opportunity to know and experience Nat King Cole the man.
“NAT…Inspired by the Life and Times of Nat King Cole” marks Carolyn Adams debut as a producer. The swinging live trio includes pianist Baptista Horcholle, Alex Talarico and Michael Hojnacki.
“NAT” is playing at Theater for the New City at 155 First Ave. (near 10th Street). Performances are Thursday (tonight) through Sunday. For more information and ticket reservations, visit the website www.theaterforthenewcity.net., or call 212-254-1109.
Sept. 30, Andy Bey, in his usual effortless matter, will substantiate his virtuosity at the Blue Note jazz club (131 W. Third Street) for one night only. This native Newark, N.J. talent will perform two shows, at 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.
Upon hearing the honey-coated soul voice of Bey, you are hooked. He is the elder statesman of jazz vocalists. He never received his just dues as the iconic vocalist and pianist that he is, but his fans are alertly aware and sublimely engrossed with his talent, which has inspired audiences and students for six decades.
Seeing Bey perform live is to witness the complete definitive circle of what a jazz singer is all about. A conversation regarding jazz singers without Bey being included is simply a farce. Like Nat King Cole, his singing often overshadows his great piano playing.
In 1974, Bey and Dee Dee Bridgewater were the featured vocalists on Stanley Clarke’s album “Children of Forever.” Later, Bey recorded the album “Experience and Judgment,” which was influenced by Indian music.
When Harlem was swinging so hard the notes shook the clouds, Lena, Nina and Carmen crowded into Harlem’s Shalimar to hear Bey light it up. That tantalizing footage of Bey and his sisters delighting a crowd of Parisian partygoers in the Chet Baker documentary “Let’s Get Lost” (1988) gives us a clue of the years of brilliance that were never committed to vinyl. Call 212-715-3048 for reservations.
“You’ve taken my blues and gone/and you fixed ’em so they don’t sound like me.” These are words from Langston Hughes’ poem “Note on Commercial Theater.” Recently, in these bizarre times, three musicians who are committed to the blues and all it stands for brought it back to the people.
The Fraternal Order of Society Blues (young protégés of Carolina Slim) paid tribute to the Life and music of Carolina Slim at Manhattan’s Grand Lodge of New York F. & A.M.
The trio includes guitarist and lead vocalist Jeremiah Lockwood. He began playing with Carolina Slim at the early age of 14. Ernesto “Lover Cat” Gomez, on harmonica and vocals, was in his mid-20s when he began to accompany Carolina Slim and Ricky “Dirty Red” Gordon, washboard and vocals, is the seasoned trio member. He has had a long and storied career as a performer with Wynton Marsalis and as a composer and actor collaborating with filmmaker Spike Lee.
Carolina Slim (aka Elijah Staley) earned his New York City reputation by playing his guitar in the subway system as part of the MTA Music Underground New York program. He was one of the last great Piedmont Blues artists.
When Carolina Slim (a native of Denmark, S.C.) left this mortal coil in 2014, the group decided to keep his music going. Debuting on Columbia University’s WKCR radio just a few days after the funeral, the Fraternal Order of the Society Blues, made up of three of his most prominent students, decided to extend the music of Carolina Slim into the future.
The trio played that gut bucket folk blues that Huddie William Ledbetter represented. That Ma Mary’s four-table back porch late-night gig where pigs’ feet and fried chicken cost 75 cents and Tabasco sauce was flying everywhere, maybe even in your eye as cats danced and stumbled around from drinking too much 200-proof white lightin’.
Their repertoire varied with such songs as “Moon Is Rising,” “Big Boss Man” by Blind Willie Johnson, “Play With Your Poodle,” a 1920s tune alluding to sex sung by Gomez, the old gospel “Troubled About My Soul,” the Fats Domino hit “Kansas City,” “Bright Lights, Big City (Gone to My Baby’s Head)” and “Old Time Religion.”
Gordon is a member of Boyer Lodge 1, The Prince Hall Grand Lodge of New York City. It was the first African-American Lodge in Harlem. It is included with Abyssinian Baptist Church and Mother Zion A.M.E. Church as the three oldest Black organizations in the state of New York. The lodge under the Worshipful Master Darrell Conyers presented the event.
The Fraternal Order of Society Blues hasn’t taken the blues; they are trying to keep it in the forefront. In between songs, the trio discussed early blues legends and their mentor Carolina Slim.