Hittin’ the Ramp: The Early Years (1936-1943) Compiles Nearly 200
Pre-Capitol Tracks by the Great Singer-Pianist
Deluxe Seven-CD/10-LP Package is First Collection
Produced in Partnership with the Cole Estate
Includes an Extensive Booklet with Interviews and Statements by Johnny Mathis, Quincy Jones, Tony Bennett, Harry Belafonte, Freddy Cole, and Others!
Resonance Records, the Los Angeles-based independent jazz label noted for its historical releases, will issue its most ambitious release to date, the seven-CD/10-LP Nat King Cole boxed set Hittin’ the Ramp: The Early Years (1936-1943) on November 1, 2019.
Succeeding critically acclaimed Resonance archival collections devoted to previously unheard recordings by Bill Evans, Wes Montgomery, Sarah Vaughan, and other eminent jazz performers, Hittin’ the Ramp offers the first in-depth survey of singer-pianist Cole’s work in the years preceding his long hit-making tenure at Capitol Records.
“This is a really important project for Resonance,” says Zev Feldman, label co-president and the set’s co-producer. “We’ve done some pretty substantial packages over the years, such as our three-disc Eric Dolphy and Jaco Pastorius sets with 100-page booklets, but this Nat King Cole box is truly a definitive, king-sized set, clocking in at a staggering 10 LPs and seven CDs worth of essential early Cole material with enhanced audio.”
The expansive collection — which includes several previously unreleased studio sides, transcriptions, and private recordings — is the first major overview of Cole’s earliest work to be produced in conjunction with the musician’s estate.
“The Nat King Cole Estate is thrilled to be partnering with Resonance Records on this exciting collection of early recordings that showcase Nat’s extraordinary abilities as a jazz musician,” says Seth Berg of the Nat King Cole Estate. “The family is especially grateful for Resonance’s unwavering determination to preserve and present these pioneering recordings to the world.”
The set’s co-producer, writer and historian Will Friedwald – who received Grammy Award nominations for his work on Mosaic Records’ landmark 1992 box The Complete Capitol Recordings of the Nat King Cole Trio and the 1989 album Nat “King” Cole and the “King” Cole Trio – points out in his comprehensive notes to the collection that Cole’s deep and influential jazz roots were often obscured by his towering reputation as a pop singer.
“At the height of his fame in the 1950s and ‘60s,” he writes, “Nat King Cole (1919-1965) was primarily known as a popular singer — the biggest-selling artist of his generation, no less — who occasionally played piano. By that point, only a few older fans and critics remembered that he had been one of the greatest pianists in the whole history of American music, a true spiritual descendent of Earl ‘Fatha’ Hines and Art Tatum, and himself a huge inspiration for Oscar Peterson, George Shearing, Erroll Garner, and many others.”
Beyond Cole’s brilliance at the keyboard, the Resonance set takes in his dazzling work as a vocalist, and includes a new interview with the master pop singer Johnny Mathis, who discusses his debt to and friendship with his great predecessor.
“As a young boy, studying the art of vocalizing, Nat was everything I needed,” Mathis says. “All I did was listen and learn…And then I want [people] to remember that he also, also, also played the piano. Please, please, please remember that. Even as gigantic as a pianist as he was as a vocalist.”
Co-produced by Zev Feldman, Will Friedwald, Seth Berg, Matt Lutthans, and Jordan Taylor, and executive produced by Resonance co-president George Klabin, Hittin’ the Ramp homes in on Cole’s prodigious early career, beginning with the debut sides he recorded with his brother Eddie for Decca Records as a 17-year-old piano phenom in 1936.
The majority of the set’s nearly 200 tracks focus on the first work by the King Cole Trio, the seminal combo that put Cole on the map with a swinging combination of jazz, jive, and pop, with an emphasis on his simpatico creative partnership with the trio’s longtime guitarist Oscar Moore.
In his notes for the collection, guitarist Nick Rossi notes that Moore’s synthesis of such influences as George van Eps, Dick McDonough, Django Reinhardt, and Charlie Christian led to his “groundbreaking style, one which provided a template for how the guitar functions in a modern jazz setting.”
Hittin’ the Ramp compiles Cole’s recordings – among them the first versions of “Sweet Lorraine,” a staple of his ‘40s repertoire, and the R&B and pop hit “Straighten Up and Fly Right” – with his trio and in other studio settings (as sideman and accompanist) for Decca, Ammor, Excelsior, Premier, Mercury, and Philo (including a celebrated session for the latter label, founded by Norman Granz during the 1942 Musicians Union recording ban, with saxophonist Lester Young).
It also contains dozens of transcriptions, mainly by the trio, cut by Standard, Davis & Schwegler, and MacGregor for servicing to radio stations, as well as wartime recordings produced for American servicemen by the Armed Forces Radio Service.
The newly discovered selections include several performances that were not known to exist before research for the boxed set began. These include a privately recorded number, “The Romany Room is Jumping,” a homage to the titular Washington, D.C., club that hosted Cole’s group; the hitherto unheard Cinematone transcription “Trompin’”; and an unreleased 1940 trio rendering of Trummy Young’s “Whatcha’ Know Joe.”
“Although nothing on this package can be described as ‘common,’ these are some of the rarest Cole items known to exist,” Friedwald writes.
He adds, “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, is the incredible but true origin story of a sound and a career that would change the world.”