If you want to appear cool among jazz cats, just refer to "Nat Cole," without using the famous entertainer's nickname. Nat Cole began his career as a very talented jazz man behind the keyboard. Later he began singing jazz vocals, and then made the transition to stardom. I don't believe he ever seriously played jazz piano again. The jazz world regards this as great loss, though it is rare to hear the term "sell out," as you would later hear of Miles Davis when he went hippie. It was as hard not to love Cole as it was hard to love Miles.
I do not regard Nat Cole's singing career as a sellout. He gave a lot to jazz and then served as an ambassador from the jazz world to a larger audience than straight jazz would ever attract. And he had an unforgettable voice (if you will pardon the joke).
Tonight I attended the last Aberdeen showing of "Straighten Up And Fly Right: A Tribute To Nat King Cole." The show is produced by Bob Pontious, a keyboard player from the Twin Cities, and stars Maurice Jacox. Jacox stood in for Nat Cole without ever really playing him, which I think was the right idea. Jacox's voice was nothing much like Cole's, except on maybe one or two of the ten numbers they performed. Pontious and Jacox were backed up by a bass and guitar for the first several numbers, in imitation of Cole's original drumless trio. The guitar player, Blaire Krivinek, was very good, as was Pontious. Then a drummer and sax player came on, and two female vocalists, including Aberdeen's own Jennifer Rott. The show was sponsored by the Aberdeen Community Theatre, at the Capitol Theatre.
The show was quite good. There was a little narration between the songs, but just enough to give the audience a sense of Nat Cole's life in time. Against the story of Cole's confrontation with the race problem and then with rock and roll, it was about the songs. The playing and singing were delightful. It was a splendid evening, and if you get the chance to see the show, don't miss it. My straw hat goes off to the ACT for bringing it here.