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Arts Desk
Every week on the air there's a special focus on one particular jazz album. Check them all out here!

Jazz Album of the Week: A King-Sized Collection Celebrates The Early Years of Nat "King" Cole

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December 9, 2019. The archival masters at Resonance Records are at it again, this time with an ambitious project to celebrate the centennial of the great Nat “King” Cole. Hittin’ the Ramp: The Early Years (1936 to 1943), gives an in-depth account of the youthful years of the hit-maker, before he made any big hits.

The set includes seven CDs or 10 LPs, packaged along with an extensive booklet that includes interviews and statements from Quincy Jones, Harry Belafonte, John Pizzarelli and many other notables in the music world. A bulk of the nearly 200 tracks in this set focus on the work of the Nat “King” Cole Trio, in which Nat was on the piano much of the time, and collaborated often with his long-time guitarist Oscar Moore.

At this point in his career, Nat was a jazz artist, known for being a monster pianist who was able vocalize as well. Resonance Records was able to partner with The Nat King Cole Estate to secure some unreleased and private recordings, all with an emphasis on his jazz capabilities. This collection spans across six record labels, and includes wartime recordings produced by the Armed Forces Radio Service, and several recordings that were not known to exist before research on this project commenced.

Just because many of these recordings are rare, doesn't not mean that they are all unfamiliar territory. “Sweet Lorraine” was a huge one for Nat, but he had been playing it for years before stardom. You can hear an early version of it, along with “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” “On the River St. Marie” and so many others.

Speaking about this collection, co-producer Will Friedwald stated, “Just in time for his centennial, we cover this quintessential American artist from his very first stirrings at the start of the swing era to the very precipice of universal fame during World War Two, with dozens of fascinating detours along the way. This, then, in the incredible but true origin story of a sound and a career that would change the world.”

Resonance Records hit the nail on the head with this one—a king-sized collection for Nat “King” Cole. The perfect way for us all to celebrate 100 years of a true American icon.