Nat King Cole’s 10th Anniversary was a momentous release in 1955 because it marked one of the first times a label mined its vaults and released unreleased tracks to the public. Such a practice might not seem like a big deal in the “download age,” but back in good ol’ ’55, it was something out of the ordinary.
Cole was a substantial success since he had signed with Capitol Records in 1943 as the leader of the King Cole Trio. He was skilled as a jazz pianist at that point, but more attention was being paid to his vocal talents. Cole’s tunes started to feature more and more vocals until he pretty much left the piano bench for a career as a full-time vocalist. The collection of music found on 10th Anniversary is culled from his jazz and easy-listening days and highlights a time of growth and transition.
By the time 10th Anniversary came out, Cole had announced to the world that he was going solo and would be leaving the King Cole Trio moniker behind. The album, then, reflected a bit of a shift and gave fans a chance to hear both where Nat King Cole had been and where Nat King Cole was going with the rest of his extraordinary career.
The reissue of 10th Anniversary in 2008, along with the reissue of many Nat King Cole albums, marks this period of transition with solid presentation. Many of the songs from 10th Anniversary have never been featured on CD before, so for Cole fans this collection will be a real treat. In fact, this is the first time this album has been reissued in any form since its first release. For collectors, that’s a pretty big deal.
One side of the album (remember when albums used to come with “sides?”) is dedicated to King Cole Trio recordings from its later stages, mostly featuring material from between 1945 and 1949. The Trio, comprised of Cole on piano and vocal, Oscar Moore on guitar, and Johnny Miller on bass, were among the first jazz groups to set up the now-popular arrangement of guitar, bass, and piano.
The Trio sounds splendid on classics like “Dream A Little Dream of Me,” “The Love Nest,” and “I’m an Errand Boy for Rhythm.” The album features three different configurations of the Trio, as on some tracks Irving Ashby moves in to play guitar and Joe Comfort takes over on bass. Regardless of the formation, the King Cole Trio works like a dream. “Lulubelle,” which features Ashby on guitar, is a grand example of the ability of the Trio to fit together under Cole’s guidance.
The second side of the record features vocal recordings and a more orchestral sound. Arranged by Capitol Records hit-makers like Pete Rugolo, Dave Cavanaugh, and Les Baxter, the second part of the album reflects more of where Nat King Cole was headed with his stellar career. He takes center stage and commands every song with care and his trademark vocal style.
Whether he’s singing a majestic ballad (“Lovelight”) or a big band number (“I Wish I Were Somebody Else”), Cole commands with his ability to adapt to various genres. One interesting little ditty is “The Story of My Wife,” which manages to be sweet and fun without being tacky. Nat King Cole always had a gift for singing with charm and affection that drew people in to the music. That gift is evident all over 10th Anniversary.
Nat King Cole’s 10th Anniversary is a collector’s dream. Featuring a nice compilation of songs that represents a transitional era in his career, this album will be a must-have for lovers of Nat King Cole’s everlasting excellence. Personally, I’ll be returning to this recording again and again.