Back in the late 1950s, Nat King Cole became the first American star to record an album in Spanish, “Cole Espaol.” It became a huge hit and was followed by two more albums in Spanish.
Last year, daughter Natalie Cole, a Grammy Award-winning singer, followed in his footsteps with “Natalie Cole En Espaol,” a collection of popular romantic songs sung in Spanish. Debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard Latin album chart, it included a duet with her dad on the song, “Acrcate Ms,” which he also recorded.
“I felt the same way about this record as I did about ‘Unforgettable,’ ” Cole told The Boston Globe. “I was looking for classics, beautiful melodies, and, above all, I was looking for romance. I always felt a kinship with Latin culture. It’s just taken forever to come around to doing something like this because it never really occurred to me until a little while ago.”
A superb, stylish and expressive vocalist, Cole forged a successful career as a soulful R&B diva and later as an elegant jazz singer. She returns to the Maui Arts & Cultural Center on Monday. The concert is Cole’s only show in Hawaii after a tour of Japan.
Cole’s career began in 1975 with her spectacular debut album, “Inseparable,” which sold gold and won two Grammys, including Best New Artist. She subsequently released a string of hit albums and singles that included “This Will Be,” “Our Love,” “I’ve Got Love on my Mind,” “Over You,” and a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Pink Cadillac.”
After early successes in the 1980s, with the release in 1991 of the landmark “Unforgettable, With Love,” Cole created her most successful album. Refashioning herself as a modern interpreter of the classic American songbook, “Unforgettable” sold 14 million copies worldwide and earned six Grammys, including Album, Record and Song of the Year. The title track, a digitally enhanced duet with her father, produced a Top 10 hit.
“It was one of the top records of that year, and one of the few records ever to win a Grammy in every (relevant) category,” Cole noted in a Blues and Soul interview. “That one record had such a huge influence in the music industry on many levels.” In 1997, she struck Grammy gold again with another “duet” with her father on another of his classics, “When I Fall in Love,” recorded for her album, “Stardust.”
A couple of years later, she released the superb “Snowfall on the Sahara,” where she interpreted an array of pop and R&B songs, including Bob Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody” (Dylan wrote a new verse of the song especially for Cole) that builds to a roof-shaking climax, and Leon Russell’s “A Song for You.”
Into the 21st century, Cole mirrored her father’s approach to music, giving songs a jazz reading without straying from the popular appeal of ’50s artists like Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington and Ella Fitzgerald.
In 2006, she returned to her R&B roots with the album “Leavin’,” where she interpreted songs by Aretha Franklin, Sting, Fiona Apple, and Shelby Lynne, and included surprising renditions of Neil Young’s country rock classic, “Old Man,” and Kate Bush’s “The Man with the Child in His Eyes.”
“It started off as an idea of wanting to do a contemporary album rather than a jazz album,” Cole reported in The Chicago Sun-Times. “I’ve done a lot of great work in the jazz genre and there’s still a lot more for me to do, but I decided I was bored musically. People started calling me a jazz singer, and I don’t like to be labeled.”
Then 17 years after the multiplatinum “Unforgettable: With Love,” Cole released “Still Unforgettable,” featuring a timeless collection of popular tracks.
“I wanted to go deeper into the American Songbook,” Cole told the U.K.’s Blues and Soul. “Not just getting songs from my father, but also from other singers of his time like Frank Sinatra, Lena Horne, Sammy Davis Jr. and Peggy Lee. There was something about the approach that the writers from that era had to the lyrics and the melodies that was so intentional, so purposeful, which I think is the thing that’s missing from music today.”
Saxophone virtuoso Bobby Watson will headline the fourth annual Lanai Jazz Festival at the Four Seasons Resorts’ Lodge at Koele, which runs Friday through Sunday. Other entertainers performing at the free festival include Skip Martin (of Kool & The Gang and the Dazz Band fame), Fulton Tashombe and Paul Bunuan, guitar duo Damon Parillo, Benny Uyetake, and The Jazz Alley TV Quartet with John Zangrando on sax, Paul Marchetti on drums, Doug White on bass and Tashombe on piano.
A Grammy-nominated saxophonist, composer, producer and educator, Watson in his earlier years served as musical director for the famed Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. He also worked with such notable jazz artists as Max Roach, Louis Hayes and Wynton and Branford Marsalis, as well as vocalists Joe Williams, Dianne Reeves, Lou Rawls and Betty Carter.
A member of the highly acclaimed 29th Street Saxophone Quartet, he has led a number of groups, including the acoustic quintet Horizon, the High Court of Swing and The Tailor-Made Big Band. Watson is currently director of jazz studies at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music.
His acclaimed recordings include “Gumbo,” “Love Remains,” “The Inventor,” “Present Tense” and “Live at Someday in Tokyo.”
Reviewing one of his concerts, All About Jazz raved: “The great Bobby Watson is a seasoned ‘heavy’ on the alto sax whose playing echoes saxophone greats from Phil Woods to Cannonball Adderley, as well as tenor titans Dexter Gordon to Sonny Rollins, yet with his own incomparable virtuosity.”
His latest album, “Check Cashing Day,” with The I Have A Dream Project, mixes jazz and poetry. It was recorded in honor of the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King?Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech and the March on Washington.
In the liner notes, Watson writes, “This is the most ambitious and social musical statement I have ever made. It is my hope that this CD provides for cleansing, and an increased dialogue aimed at moving toward the reality of Dr. King’s dream for equality for all people around the world. We do not have ‘heaven on earth,’ however I believe that there is enough intelligence, understanding, and tolerance in this country to elevate our collective humanity.”
Lanai Jazz Festival kicks off from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday at The Lodge at Koele. Saturday’s music begins at 5 p.m. in the resort’s Great Hall, and the weekend closes Sunday evening with a jazz dinner from 7 to 9 p.m. Additional events will be held at other venues in Lanai City.
For more information and details on festival kamaaina rates at the resort, call (800) 321-4666.
One of the world’s preeminent guitar ensembles, the Brasil Guitar Duo performs a broad repertoire ranging from traditional samba, choro and baiao of their native Brazil to such classical composers as Bach, Scarlatti and Debussy.
Duo members Joo Luiz and Douglas Lora met in So Paulo, Brazil, as teenage guitar students. Carving out a unique niche in the world of guitar duos, Luiz became an arranger, recasting the work of composers ranging from Bach to Argentina’s Astor Piazzolla, while Lora has composed original pieces.
The guitarists have appeared on major concert series and at festivals across Europe and in Asia and South America. The Brasil Guitar Duo performs at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the MACC’s McCoy Studio Theater. Tickets are $35 (plus applicable fees).