Nat King Cole Still Soothes The Soul

Nat King Cole Still Soothes The Soul

A velvet smooth voice singing “chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose” is always the first thing that comes to mind whenever I see the name Nat ‘King’ Cole. In fact, even though the dapper Cole was often pictured sitting at a piano, and I knew that he had been the leader of a jazz trio, it wasn’t until I came across Nat King Cole by Daniel Mark Epstein that I really understood how important Cole had been to the American music scene.

By the time I finished the book yesterday, I felt like I had added a new wing to the library in my mind. Why hasn’t anyone looked at making a modern day biopic of this man’s incredible life? It’s not just a life story, it is a life of great stories within a storybook life. 

Cole grew up in Chicago, with a piano playing mother and a preacher for a father, in an apartment a stone’s throw from the city’s jazz district. Epstein’s narrative portrayal of the young man kept bringing the childhood of artist Pablo Picasso to mind with his vivid descriptions of Cole’s precocious musical talents as a four year old. The one thing that came back to me, chapter after chapter, is how much Cole worked at learning his craft, forever writing songs and crafting lyrics to sit atop the glide of his lithe hands, hands that always seemed to be resting on piano keys somewhere.

A buzzard took the monkey for a ride in the air The monkey thought that everything was on the square The buzzard tried to throw the monkey off his back The monkey grabbed his neck and said 'now listen, jack'

'straighten up and fly right' 'straighten up and fly right' 'straighten up and fly right' 'cool down, papa, don't you blow your top.'

Straighten Up And Fly Right written by Nat Cole

The first time I heard this song years ago, I had no choice but to imagine just what Cole proposed in his lyrics—an actual monkey riding on a buzzard’s back high in the air. The light but insistent tune carrying the words seemed to have been tailored to fit these simple sixteen lines that catapulted Cole and his trio from being one of the hottest Los Angeles nightclub act in the forties to nationally known stars.

The book was a treasure trove of information about the developments in the twentieth century that illuminated not only the lives of Nat Cole and his family and friends and business partners and band members, but also the work of other prominent African American  

 I read about the dance called the Mess Around and immediately saw where the title of a Ray Charles hit song by the same name had been plucked.

When I came across the brand name “John the Conquer Root”, in my mind’s eye I saw the hand of blues songwriter Willie Dixon penciling it into one of the lines to Muddy Water’s “Hoochie Coochie Man.”

When I read that Rhinegold Beer was one of the first sponsors of Nat Cole’s historic variety show on NBC, the Harlem bars featured in the novel Invisible Man popped into my head.

And when I read the quote by Andrew J. Copp, president of the Hancock Park Property Owners Association, who sent this message to Nat Cole: “Tell Mr. Cole if he will rescind the sale of his house, we will give him his money back with a little profit”, I could hear almost the exact same line in Lorraine Hansberry’s play A Raisin In The Sun.  

Epstein boiled this great musician’s life “down to a low gravy”, as jazz musicians used to say, presenting the very essence of Nat 'King' Cole, a virtuoso whose music still soothes the soul.

Were the ancient Egyptians black or white? Scientists now know

This is the first successful DNA sequencing on ancient Egyptian mummies, ever.


Ancient Egyptian Statues

Getty Images
Surprising Science

Egyptologists, writers, scholars, and others, have argued the race of the ancient Egyptians since at least the 1970's. Some today believe they were Sub-Saharan Africans. We can see this interpretation portrayed in Michael Jackson's 1991 music video for “Remember the Time" from his "Dangerous" album. The video, a 10-minute mini-film, includes performances by Eddie Murphy and Magic Johnson.

Keep reading Show less

Why professional soccer players choke during penalty kicks

A new study used functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) to measure brain activity as inexperienced and experienced soccer players took penalty kicks.

PORTLAND, OREGON - MAY 09: Diego Valeri #8 of Portland Timbers reacts after missing a penalty kick in the second half against the Seattle Sounders at Providence Park on May 09, 2021 in Portland, Oregon.

Abbie Parr via Getty Images
Mind & Brain
  • The new study is the first to use in-the-field imaging technology to measure brain activity as people delivered penalty kicks.
  • Participants were asked to kick a total of 15 penalty shots under three different scenarios, each designed to be increasingly stressful.
  • Kickers who missed shots showed higher activity in brain areas that were irrelevant to kicking a soccer ball, suggesting they were overthinking.
Keep reading Show less

Changing a brain to save a life: how far should rehabilitation go?

What's the difference between brainwashing and rehabilitation?

Credit: Roy Rochlin via Getty Images
Mind & Brain
  • The book and movie, A Clockwork Orange, powerfully asks us to consider the murky lines between rehabilitation, brainwashing, and dehumanization.
  • There are a variety of ways, from hormonal treatment to surgical lobotomies, to force a person to be more law abiding, calm, or moral.
  • Is a world with less free will but also with less suffering one in which we would want to live?
Keep reading Show less
Surprising Science

How to fool a shark using magnets

A simple trick allowed marine biologists to prove a long-held suspicion.