Nat King Cole will always be special to me because his music reminds me of my parents, who are still doing well in Colorado at age 86 and 88. He was among the first “common ground” musicians we had found, along with Harry Belafonte and Julie London and Dean Martin. Just a few years ago, when we lived in the same Colorado town, my parents would come over and listen to whatever system I had up and breaking in, usually for an upcoming high-end audio show, and I knew I always had a secret weapon to play for them–the DCC Compact Classics LP reissue of Nat King Cole’s Love Is the Thing. To invoke an audiophile cliche, jaws would drop. They’d always request it.
This is important to me, this Nat King Cole connection with my parents. First of all, I grew up in a household with an older brother and older sister who were into their rock and roll, and my parents were definitely old-school. My earliest memories of my dad tend to revolve around him coming into our room and telling us to “turn it down”–albeit more colorfully. (My parents had to repeat this routine a decade later when my younger brother went hardcore punk on us.) I was always the “good kid”–ask my siblings how they felt about that–so it’s no surprise that in 2019 I’m the only one who shares musical tastes with them. It starts with Nat King Cole.
That’s what makes the Nat King Cole collection, Hittin’ the Ramp: The Early Years (1936-1943) so special at this time of year. This is a massive project from Resonance Records with 7 CDs or 10 LPs, and an illuminating 56-page booklet with contributions from Quincy Jones, Johnny Mathis (my mom’s favorite), Tony Bennett, Harry Belafonte (my dad’s favorite) and many more. These are, as you might have guessed, early mono recordings of Nat King Cole’s first band in Chicago, as well as his famous trio that first formed in 1937 and stuck together into the ’60s. This is no random box set, assembled for a cash grab–these 180 tracks have been remastered to sound clean, crisp and better than ever.
With Hittin’ the Ramp, you also get a few worthwhile rarities: you get the 1939 version of “Trompin’,” which was only available on jukeboxes, and a 1940 recording of “What’cha Know, Joe” that was culled from a radio broadcast–no one is sure of the origin of this one. There’s plenty of unreleased material, all of it jumpin’, all of it worth hearing.
I mentioned “that special time of year,” because I couldn’t think of a better Christmas gift for my parents than a truckload of Nat King Cole. They spend every day listening to old music on a system I’ve curated over the last twenty years. While the hi-fi in my house while I was growing up consisted of a Zenith all-in-one with an 8-track player built in, my parents now enjoy music on a revolving system that has included brands such as Epos, Creek, Rotel, Cardas, Music Hall and even Trenner & Friedl. They’re getting the CD box set for the holidays, and you better believe I’m getting the vinyl for myself.