Nat King Cole Live At The Blue Note Chicago

Nat King Cole – Live At The Blue Note Chicago (Live Album Review)

In the world of Jazz, Nat King Cole is perhaps one of the most beloved performers to ever grace the earth. An exceptionally talented individual, Cole, at a very young age, first began in the late ‘30s as part of The King Cole Trio; although historically most recognize him by his name alone, for which was he was billed as starting in 1950. A journey in music that really took off in the ‘40s, but one that found larger recognition during the ‘50s, Cole would sustain a massively successful career for over three decades until an untimely death at only 45 years of age in 1965.

Known for his silky-smooth singing vocals, as well as extraordinary piano playing skills, he would go on to record somewhere over 100 songs, many of which topped charts. Factors which earned him a Grammy in 1959, plus a slew of posthumous awards, it was really outside the studio where Cole truly captured audiences with each of his live performances. A performer who could take control of a room in a dignified and subtle manner, those who were fortunate to experience Cole’s sets, whether it be in a theater or a smoky Jazz club, will attest to the magic. Showcases which have been documented and released through the years, what if there were some live recordings that were thought to be lost, or never exist at all, now available to be heard? Well, in 2024 this impossibility has become a reality with the release of Nat King Cole’s Live At The Blue Note Chicago through Iconic Artists Group.

A new collection with a whole lot of compelling history surrounding it, back on April 20th (Record Store Day) it first became available, before the wider release set for May 31st. Providing some background to it all, The Blue Note in Chicago was one of the Windy City’s premiere Jazz clubs during the 1950s. A club that showcased nationally renowned musicians as regular acts – such as Count Basie and Duke Ellington – there was also Nat King Cole whom spent much of his life in the Chicago area. Cole, a kind-hearted man, reportedly was a good friend of the club’s owner Frank Holzfeind; and even though he was playing much larger venues, still returned home to The Blue Note. Something to remember, Cole, while at the top of his popularity in 1953, set aside time strictly for a list of shows the week of August 28th. A very intimate group of performances, unbeknownst to anyone was that Frank Holzfeind had actually set up two microphones on the stage to captured them to a tape recorder set in his office somewhere backstage. His own personal commerce of the residency, many years later the existence of these recordings was uncovered. Thanks to the graciousness of Frank’s son, Tom Holzfeind, permission was granted to have these tapes reviewed and what was uncovered was many hours of music from that week in August of 1953. Really fascinating, even more so is the fact that while the recordings were not professionally done, they still had enough quality in them to tighten up and actually compile into an official live record.

Narrowed down to 27 songs in total for this collection, it is available as either 2LP or 2CD set, but also on digital formats. Glorious enough within itself, the release is dressed in a lovely packaging that includes a very well-written and educational booklet along with a foldout replica of the original newsletter used to promote these shows. Beyond this, there is a list of rare photographs to feast your eyes on, but again, the boldest aspect here is the actual music. Breaking it down, the audio quality is astoundingly crisp and clean, the song selections are perfect, all while Cole’s affectious personality shines through brilliantly. You get to hear great renditions of well-known Cole pieces like “Unforgettable” and “It’s Only A Paper Moon,” but a list of others that will have your ears tingling. In truth, the clarity is something you need to hear to believe; because the original tapes utilized are from only two microphones and are over 70 years old! If anything, it is inspiring to see that history can be preserved in such a magnificent way where it feels as if you are literally in The Blue Note club right next to Cole and his band (consisting of John Collins on guitar, Charlie Harris on bass, and Lee Young on drums).

In reality, we are living in a world where it seems as if history is either marginalized or eradicated all together. A very sad state of affairs, thankfully we still have some who understand the importance of the past and the tremendous contributions of those who came before. After all, each of us will be history one day… don’t we want our artistic achievements remembered? A truly lovely live album worth adding to any music lover’s collection, Cryptic Rock gives Nat King Cole’s Live at The Blue Note Chicago 5 out of 5 stars. 

Nat King Cole - Live At The Blue Note Chicago
Nat King Cole – Live At The Blue Note Chicago / Iconic Artists Group (2024)

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