Sammy Davis, Jr.

The Nat King Cole Songbook

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The Nat King Cole Song Book (1965) was issued as an homage by Sammy Davis Jr. (vocals) to Nat King Cole, whose untimely passing in February of 1965 prompted Davis to document this tribute. Alongside Cole's collaborator, Billy May, and notable jazz arranger Claus Ogerman, Davis and company turned in one of the finest and most underrated efforts. The obvious affinity and respect the artist had for Cole dated back to Davis' work with the Will Mastin Trio in the 1940s. No one can match Cole's refined and sublime delivery however, Davis adds his own unique presence to a variety of pop ballads, early R&B tunes, and all seminal entries in Cole's sizable catalog. While the album contains a total of 14 songs, both "Smile" and "Christmas Song" [aka "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire"] have been repeated from previous outings, leaving an even dozen selections recorded specifically for the project. Davis sticks to classic numbers closely (if not primarily) identified with Cole, many of which were among the late vocalist's biggest hits. In fact, the disc commences with his highest charting single of the 1960s, "Rambling Rose." May's unmistakable score swings on a firm mid-tempo stride and the breezy brass section is efficiently interspersed throughout. Another of Cole's top platters is the bouncy and soulful "Send for Me." Again, May's trademark horn interjections propel the melody, as Davis gives a suitably rousing and lively reading. The sophisticated "Route 66" has rarely packed the punch it does here, recalling Davis' interpretation of Mel Tormé's California Suite. Special kudos deserved of the closing medley of "Mona Lisa," "Too Young," and Cole's signature "Nature Boy." Ogerman's restrained instrumentation allows Davis room to make the melodies his own, while still very much retaining the warm, embracing, and above all gentle style that defined Nat King Cole.

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