Nat King Cole

Hall of Fame

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Hall of Fame is a five-CD box set containing 104 tracks and running over four-and-a-half hours, issued by the German Past Perfect label. Like so many continental reissues, it takes advantage of the 50-year copyright limit on recordings in Europe to assemble an unauthorized collection. Although nominally for sale only outside the U.S. (which has much longer copyright terms), it was easily available domestically through mail order at a modest price upon release. Actually, there may be some question about its legality even in Europe, since it contains a few recordings that, while made more than 50 years earlier, were first issued only in the 1990s as well as at least one, "Almost Like Being in Love," the final track on CD Five, that was probably made only 49 years earlier. The annotations do not admit this, of course. All the tracks on the fifth disc are said to have been recorded in 1944 and to feature Nat King Cole on piano, Oscar Moore on guitar, and Johnny Miller on bass. In fact, they were recorded in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and feature Cole singing before big bands and orchestras. If 1953 is the endpoint in the package, it begins nearly at the beginning, drawing "With Plenty of Money and You" from what was probably the King Cole Trio's first transcription session in about September 1938. This track is featured on CD One, which consists entirely of jazz instrumentals played by Cole, Moore, and Miller's predecessor, Wesley Prince between 1938-41. By the end of CD Two, material is being drawn from the trio's tenure at Decca Records, and the rest relies on recordings made for Excelsior and V-Disc before delving into the beginnings of Cole's extensive Capitol sessions. The hits are mostly eschewed, and the chronology goes back and forth a bit, but Cole's evolution from being strictly a jazzer to a pop singer is still discernible, especially when Disc Five presents him as such, full blown. There is a 40-page CD booklet that includes a lengthy biography of Cole, in fact, one that is much lengthier than it needs to be, since it is padded out with song lists and digressions into the biographies of other musicians. The sound quality is generally good, although surface noise is occasionally quite audible. This box presents an inexpensive way of getting hold of a large batch of early Cole recordings, but it is not well organized or presented.