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Tribute to Nat

I’ve not yet seen saxophonist Martin Eaton live.  I had my chance last month at the Jazz@The Hub session at Sheringham’s Little Theatre up on the Norfolk coast.  But going by an upload of ‘The Nearness of You’, with just piano accompaniment, Eaton brings to mind the warm and soulful tones of those big tenor players of the late 1950s – Dexter Gordon, or some of those Coltrane ballads.  This month he valiantly takes the New Year’s Day slot at the Milestones Jazz Club in Lowestoft (Hatfield Hotel).  And although we again have a ‘playing the music of…’ billing (we also have the Jazz of Dudley Moore in Diss this month), Eaton’s tribute to ‘the jazz side of Nat ‘King’ Cole’ prompts some debate. 

Was Nat a Crooner?  Tribute singer Mark Antony commands an audience at the same Diss venue with Nat’s music.  Was Cole a Swing Sensation?  Just twenty years old he formed the King Cole Swingsters.  Was he a jazz vocalist?  His ‘Route 66’ makes half way down a list of greatest jazz vocals, behind Johnny Hartman and Chet Baker, according to radio stream www.jazz24.org (see last month’s column); so, ‘yes’ to all of the above, to some extent.  But before his jump-jive and lusher vocal hits of the late 1940s and thereafter, Nat King Cole had been a leading jazz pianist and was also known to pair inventively with guitarists.  There are parallels with George Benson, from the 1980s in particular, when popular hits obscured his solo-n-scat jazz guitar.  Much later, in a Voice of America interview, Nat King Cole acknowledged: ‘I started out to become a jazz pianist; in the meantime I started singing and I sang the way I felt and that’s just the way it came out’.

As I found back in April and again last month, Lowestoft can be a windswept destination of a dark Sunday night.  But from stage side at the Milestones club I can now vouch for the audience’s bonhomie and the jovial welcome of the club’s Stephen Mynott.  So for your heart walk this New Year’s Day head for Lowestoft’s beach and prom and stay on for the jazz!  Martin Eaton’s tenor sax will be joined by Phil Brooke’s guitar, which in recent months has paid tribute to Cole’s guitarist Oscar Moore among others.  An interesting collaboration is in store.  Andy Doyle on bass and Norwich Jazz Club luminary Brian McAllister on drums complete the line-up, while Eaton himself will also take to the vocals mic for some Nat King Cole favourites.