Timeless and universally adored, Nat King Cole would have celebrated his 100th birthday on March 17th, 2019. The sophisticated pianist and silky crooner was immensely popular with mainstream audiences in the forties and fifties, while still fascinating genuine jazz fans with his innate class. In the land of royalty, the King (Cole) had earned his place alongside the Duke (Ellington) and the Count (Basie).

There isn’t a hint of ambiguity about Nat King Cole. He’s simply a musician capable of pleasing both general audiences accustomed to crooner pop and demanding jazz experts. Over the span of three decades (1935-1965), he took his fully assumed eclecticism around smoky jazz clubs, television sets and even Hollywood studios. Playing alongside genuine jazzmen, his silky-smooth touch along with impeccable rhythmic punctuation influenced major pianists like Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, Ahmad Jamal, Monty Alexander, Hank Jones and Tommy Flanagan. However, whenever Cole rose from his piano stool to take to the microphone, he suddenly transformed into the Don Juan of easy listening; his syrupy performance was never cringe-worthy, and his voice turned into an instantly recognisable velvety magnet.

Like for many musicians of his generation, music was a family affair for Nathaniel Adams Coles, who was born in Alabama in 1919, but grew up in Chicago where jazz, blues and rhythm’n’blues were considered local religions. His mother played the organ at his father’s church. His older brother Eddie was a bass player. His younger brothers, Ike and Freddy, played the piano, just like him. Notably, the scores of Bach and Rachmaninoff were in his repertoire. Towards the end of the 1930s, Nat King Cole became a professional musician, playing with Eddie, joining various bands, and even performing in the musical Shuffle Along. Alongside guitarist Oscar Moore and bass player Wesley Prince, he went on to found the King Cole's Swingsters, which eventually became the Nat King Cole Trio.