Monday Notes

Nat King Cole plays and sings Mona Lisa, a song with an Italian flavour

Italian flag
Leggi in Italiano

[Monday Note 36] Nat King Cole was a formidable jazz pianist, yet he had greater success as a singer. Songs such as Mona Lisa, Smile and Unforgettable made him popular and led to him to be the first African American to lead a television show.

In 1958, Nat Cole recorded an entire album in Spanish. The contact between Caribbean music and jazz was not new; Dizzy Gillespie and other boppers had already played Cuban songs.

After all, from the very beginning of jazz history, an authority like Jelly Roll Morton had already stated that there can be no jazz music without a bit of ‘Spanish tinge’.

Nat King Cole also occasionally sang Italian songs, such as Non dimenticar by Gino Redi. Although Mona Lisa is not a song of Italian origin, the Mediterranean inspiration is clear both in the title and in the music.

The piece has a very simple and linear harmony, the guitar plays counterpoint to the theme and the double bass does not play the classic walking bass but long notes with the bow.

In those years, the Mediterranean as seen from America was an indistinct area where Spain, Italy and Greece were confused in the sound of the guitar, in the open melodies and in a melancholic vein that was actually that of the emigrants who had come to America from those countries.

This beautiful video reveals Nat King Cole in all his splendour: a very big mouth, always wide open as usually recommend vocal teachers to their students, and a cat-like gaze with two asymmetrical, seductive eyes.

At minute 1’50” the camera switches to the hands playing the melody harmonised with block chords. Nat has large hands and long fingers, caressing the keyboard with a fluid and relaxed gesture, thus achieving a legato and elegant sound.

In the few minutes of the performance, Nat King Cole provides an excellent lesson both for vocalists and pianists!

Until next Monday!

Do you want to receive my free lessons?

Sheet music, harmony lessons, music theory and musical analysis.

Help me to spread the love for music