Nat King Cole was the star, but behind the velvet curtain of Cole's voice, there was Nelson Riddle, whose gift for charts and arrangements steered the singer to heights of popularity only experienced by another Riddle project, Frank Sinatra.
"I think he changed pop singing altogether with the arrangements he did," says Jim Ritz, producer of Collectors' Choice's reissue series of Nat King Cole's entire Capitol Catalog. "It was just his natural talent that he heard something other arrangers just didn't hear. Nelson was a great bridge between artistic and pop and commercial. There's no doubt his arrangements for Nat were beautifully constructed and artistic, but on the other hand, they were very palpable. You hear his arrangement for 'Mona Lisa,' which he ghosted for Les Baxter, or 'Unforgettable,' and the arrangement is as memorable as the vocal or the words, and I think Nelson was as responsible for bringing Nat to the forefront of popular music as he was for bringing Sinatra to the forefront of popular music."
On Nov. 6, Collectors' Choice released a whopping total of 18 Nat King Cole albums as "two-fers," meaning two albums on one disc. Among them was Penthouse Serenade and Welcome to the Club, which were teamed with The Piano Style of Nat King Cole and Tell Me All About Yourself, respectively. Both saw Cole return to his jazz roots and playing the piano, with Penthouse Serenade a moody concoction of sophisticated cocktail jazz and Welcome to the Club a collaboration between Cole and the Count Basie Big Band.
More Nat King Cole reissues are due out in 2008.
In coming up with the pairings, Ritz and company tried to choose records that complemented each other.
"I wanted to make sure they were coherently pleasing to listen to," says Ritz. "In other words, I tried to couple up Nelson Riddle's work with Nat on the 'two-fers' and Billy May's and Gordon Jenkins' ... so that in listening to it, you wouldn't finish the 12th track and all of a sudden you're in another genre, so to speak. We wanted it to be a coherent listening experience."
To learn more about these remarkable releases, go to www.ccmusic.com.