Local Vocalists Celebrate Nat King Cole In State College

Dec 5, 2019

An undated photo of Nat King Cole from the Associated Press.
Credit Associated Press

This Saturday night, December 7, some local vocalists and the Zeropoint Big Band will pay tribute to a legendary jazz and pop artist from the mid 20th century. They’ll cover songs made famous by Nat King Cole at The State Theatre in State College.

(SOUNDBITE OF “THE CHRISTMAS SONG”)

“Nat King Cole is one of the most beloved entertainers of the last century,” says Rick Hirsch.  He plays saxphone with the Zeropoint Big Band, and he’s organizing a concert in tribute to Cole.  

“He seemed to have fairly universal appeal that crossed over demographic, and age and race, and socio-economic lines. And this year happens to be his centennial year.”

Nathanial Adams Coles was born on St. Patricks’ Day: March 17th, 1919 in Montgomery Alabama. The family moved to Chicago, where learned jazz piano and founded the “King Cole Trio.”  The name was a take on the nursery rhyme “Old King Cole.” He soon became well-known by his stage name: Nat King Cole.

(SOUNDBITE OF “FLIM FLAM SAUCE”)

“He was actually a piano-player first,” says Hirsch. “But then I guess someone discovered he was a good singer, too.  And of course, that’s what we know him as, really: just a wonderful vocalist.”

Cole became a successful recording artist and a national celebrity before the Civil Rights Era. He had his own television show in the 1950’s, at a time when that was almost unheard-of for a black man. He died of lung cancer in 1965, at age 45, leaving behind a rich legacy of songs: some he composed himself, and others he made famous with that voice of his.

(SOUNDBITE OF “FALL IN LOVE”)

This Saturday night, local vocalists will dip into the Cole songbook for a tribute concert at The State Theatre. Hirsch says they’ll be backed-up the Zeropoint Big Band.

It’s a 16-piece band, although it will be 17 pieces for the Nat King Cole concert,” Hirsch says. He says Zeropoint is based in State College, but the band’s members come from greater central Pennsylvania.

“Probably half the band is in State College, and half the band is in Harrisburg, and Lewisburg, and Williamsport”

The featured vocalists who’ll sing Nat King Cole songs on the concert include Natty Lou Race of the band Pure Cane Sugar, Andy Tollins, and Tyne Palazzi of Tyne and the Fastlyne. Some of their songs they cover will be in heard in the classic arrangements; others, a bit more innovative.

“The vocalists and I put our heads together,” Hirsch says. “And we looked at some different interpretations, and different ways to present these great songs.”

He says he likes the lighter side of Cole: “I’m drawn to his humorous, kind of novelty songs, I guess. Like a tune that he wrote called ‘Straighten Up and Fly Right.’ The narrative tells this story of a buzzard and a monkey. And it’s a really cute tune.”

(SOUND BITE OF “STRAIGHTEN UP AND FLY RIGHT”)

According to Hirsch, the songs on Saturday night’s concert will include:” ‘Straighten-Up and Fly Right;’ ‘Route 66.’ On some of the selections, we’re really true to either Nat King Cole’s original recordings or the versions that Natalie Cole did in the 90’s which were in this specific, stylistic big-band setting.”

(SOUNDBITE OF “UNFORGETTABLE” DUET WITH NATALIE COLE)

On Saturday night, the Zeropoint big band, and some well-known local vocalists, will remind us why Nat King Cole is still unforgettable.