Judge Bill Gibron became so engrossed in this retrospective about the legendary entertainer that he didn't notice his chestnuts getting a little too crispy on the open fire.
You will fall in love with this maestro of musical perfection.
Everybody talks about Sinatra. Now, there is no denying Frank's legend. His was a gift truly mastered by the Maker Himself. With timing so flawless and a tenor so strong he made bobby-soxers swoon and tough guys cry, the awkward kid from Hoboken became the standard bearer for almost all aural bliss. Besides, he had the whole 'drink in the hand," cigarette-dangling dimension down to a sweet science before anyone else could clamor for a highball. When compiling a list of the greatest song stylists of all time, Sinatra jumps to the top of the heap.
Then there is Mel Torme, the Velvet Fog, a man with a voice as soft as a soothing summer breeze. Combining cool jazz jive with a spectacular sonic range, his work both before the mic and at the composer's table can't be matched. When putting together a register of the most meaningful musicians of all time, Torme's name moves head and shoulders above all others. From the faultless crooning of Bing Crosby to the heartfelt "San Francisco" swing of Tony Bennett, the inventory of sensational soloists just goes on and on.
But none were better—not in talent, taste, or timbre—than Nat "King" Cole. While others can champion the Chairman for his phrasing and persona, or point to someone like Sammy Davis Jr. for a stronger vocal bravado, no one can top His Royal Highness. Cole manifests everything that is regal and rich about the art of performance, both as an instrumentalist and songster. Long after Ol' Blue Eyes has faded from the limelight and Torme becomes an arcane reference for fans of Night Court reruns, Cole will continue to linger. His gift was as timeless as the concept of music itself.
Unless you could technologically craft a way to bring Nat "King" Cole physically back into your living room, or unless you immediately run out and purchase his remarkable sonic catalog on CD, Eagle Eye Media's DVD presentation of When I Fall In Love: The One and Only Nat "King" Cole is perhaps the best way to experience this amazing man and his music.
Cole is the very definition of a one-of-a-kind vocal anomaly in the grandest, greatest tradition. With a tone so mellow it's like fine aged brandy, and a swagger that suggests sophistication and sex appeal, no jazz singer before or since has managed his magnificent, mannered approach. Give Cole a song and he worships it, embellishing syllables to heighten their impact while breathlessly caressing each single, sensational note. He doesn't just sing—he lives each of the standards he croons. As nimble on the keys as he is with a lyric (many don't realize that, aside from being a fabulous vocalist, Cole was also a brilliant jazz pianist), Cole represents the Renaissance man wrapped up in the aura of cosmopolitan erudition. The result was, and is, an amazing iconography, a portrait of urbanity and charm interwoven with the aural ambrosia that was his signature.
Even if he hadn't made broadcast history as the first African American performer with his own prime-time television show, Cole would be a benchmark in the world of entertainment. He was an artist with that rare ability to aesthetically improve on already-defined greatness. Had Karma or fate decided not to take him so soon from the world (he died in 1965 at age 45!), one could easily see Cole standing alongside the grand old masters of music. While his myth may be questioned, his artistry is unsurpassed.
When I Fall in Love is best described as a pleasant Q&A documentary accented with several Kinescope clips of Cole in his element. It features members of his immediate family (wife Maria, daughters Natalie, Casey, and Timolin, and brother Freddy) along with Bob Henry—the man responsible for Nat's television stint—talking about the celebrated figure (and father). They offer anecdotes and opinions about his life and legacy. Interspersed are musical moments from his 1956 series The Nat "King" Cole Show, along with a little voiceover narration. Had the disc simply been comprised of these 20 snippets with no interlocking story or insightful interviews, When I Fall In Love would have been perfectly fine. But thanks to the emotional, moving testament of those closest to the late, great man, we gain information, and a real feel for his life, career, and personality. Naturally, Cole's family is forthright in their faultless commendation, and we wouldn't want it any other way. Just listening to them choke up as they discuss hearing his voice echo through a store while they shop is very poignant. While not an in-depth biography by any means, this is still a substantive look at a truly extraordinary performer.
As for the music itself? Well, it's magnificent. Offered for our listening and viewing enjoyment are 20 all-time classics, including:
• "When I Fall in Love"
More so than the musings, it's the compositions that justly sell this collection. Though the music is offered in tinny, shallow Dolby Digital dimensions, and was recorded under less than technically proficient circumstances, the amazing talent of Cole still manages to shine through. Whether he's working a beautiful ballad like "Mona Lisa" or "When I Fall in Love," or be-bopping along to a jaunty jazz standard like "Zing Went the Strings of My Heart" or "Opus One" (a truly amazing performance piece featuring the all-but-forgotten Mills Brothers), Nat is a natural. His throaty, serene song styling truly mesmerizes you, both audibly and emotionally. This critic dares anyone not to well up with misty-eyed memories when Cole croons "The Christmas Song." Not that his image is any less impressive. Cole was an impeccable dresser, a natty bon vivant locked in a jet-setter's fashion sense. The combination of cool and calculated is stunning, making Cole that much more enigmatic.
The added element of outstanding songs, in combination with the iconography, makes this a perfect multimedia scrapbook. If you go in expecting to learn everything about the man and his music, you will come away at least partially disappointed. But if you understand that this is meant as a statement regarding Cole's importance as an artist, father, friend, and human being, then you will be instantly entranced by When I Fall in Love. It is a great sampling of a truly amazing talent.
Eagle Eye Media's DVD presentation is equally evocative. While the Kinescope image—a very early forebear of today's videotape technology—looks a lot worse for wear, this company has managed to uncover some of the better versions of this volatile visual element. This means the archival footage of Cole in full sonic swing looks very good, especially for its age and prehistoric parameters. The 1.33:1 transfer is first rate, with the modern interview footage seamlessly incorporated throughout. There is one mysterious moment in the set, though, something that goes unexplained: During "Mona Lisa," Cole's monochrome visage suddenly springs to colorful life. Whether or not this was a purposefully pigmented clip (either from an old or new digital tinting process), it tends to stand out from the rest of the black and white material.
As stated before, the audio elements are less than pristine, but there is no denying the gravity and grace in Cole's voice. Even in ersatz Dolby Digital 5.1 (there is also a PCM stereo mode), the music is a little flat and lifeless. It is only because Nat "King" Cole was such a substantial performer that any real resonance comes across.
Eagle Eye is cautioned for failing to provide a single bonus feature. While the enclosed insert with information and a song list is nice, it really doesn't add up to something of substantive complimentary content. A discography, episode guide for the TV show, or some manner of composer acknowledgement would have helped flesh out what is otherwise a very fine presentation.
Perhaps Eagle Eye thought Cole needed nothing more than his own magnificent voice to carry him along. Maybe they deemed this DVD full, simply because it offered up a tantalizing taste of his instrumental acumen. Frankly, they'd be right. When I Fall in Love: The One and Only Nat "King" Cole is a very special, very entertaining experience. For over an hour, your aesthetics will be adrift on amazing waves of melodious rapture. Cole was truly the greatest singer of all time, and this digital package proves that point. It truly is "Unforgettable."
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