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(Photo Caption www.concertwire.com)

“Good afternoon” was the greeting. However, John Pizzarelli felt compelled to add, “That’s a rare greeting since 99% of our dates are nighttime performances!” Understanding what Pizzarelli meant, light laughter floated through the audience at Brooklyn College’s Walt Whitman Theatre as he introduced the Great Ramsey Lewis.

Sunday afternoon’s concert honored one of the world’s greatest crooners – Nat King Cole. And, what a tribute it was. It was named after one of King Cole’s classic tunes, “Straighten Up & Fly Right," and included acclaimed vocalist and guitarist, John Pizzarelli, with Joshua Ramos on bass and Charles Heath on drums.

The chilly rain didn’t dampen the warm reception offered by the audience.

Ramsey Lewis bowed and asked the audience if he could continue without his suit and tie which was still in the van. Of course, the audience wanted him to continue and applauded to show their encouragement.

Nat Cole’s creativity and versatility were now on full display. Pizzarelli’s father, famed guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, who collaborated with such illustrious bandleaders as Hugo Montenegro, Doc Severinson, Glenn Miller, Kenny Burell, etc., urged his son to not only master the instrument, but include vocals in his repertoire. And, what a fine job he did on a medley of Nat’s “This Will Make You Laugh”, “For Sentiment Reasons”, and “Hit the Jive Jack.”

Ramsey and John changed the script on occasion from a spontaneous verbal give-and-take (which was fun to watch as they made their musical progressions) and subtle hand signals.

Little-known narratives were shared throughout the concert. For instance, in 1946 the King Cole trio signed by Johnny Mercer for Capitol Records. Remember “Smile”? It was written by Nat, and was featured in a Charlie Chaplin movie. Ramsey soloed on this tune, and later on the classic Body and Soul. He floated effortlessly on the donated Steinway and warmed the audience for what was to follow.

Another thing you may not know - The Nat King Cole show debuted on NBC on November 5, 1956. He was the first African-American to host a weekly variety show.

The celebrities got real creative when they laid lyrics to established title tracks like “Wade in the Water” and “I’m In With the In-Crowd.”

“Nature Boy," a favorite Nat Cole classic, elicited a response from Lewis, claiming, “I was in high school when I first heard that tune”!

Side men Joshua Ramos on bass and Charles Heath on drums were fine accompaniment for the featured artists. In particular, they were given great solo opportunities to shine. Both Ramsey and John introduced the two musicians several times.

In the late 1940s, Cole began recording and performing pop oriented material for mainstream audience. One of the most popular tunes he wrote is still heard every year, "A Christmas Carol. "

However, we missed hearing another classic favorite, Mona Lisa. There was no opportunity for requests. Well, maybe we’ll hear it at the next concert.

Nat Cole was the recipient of numerous awards. Even though he was considered a leading jazz pianist, in 2000, he was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame. A native son of Montgomery, Alabama, in 1990 Nat was inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame and the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame. Also in 1990, he received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. In 1997, he was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame.

His last major hit was in 1962, two years before his death, Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer.” It reached no. 6 on the Pop chart.

In an interview with Voice of America, Nat King Cole said, “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.” It’s more than fair to say, there’s a large, adoring audience glad that’s the way it turned out. '

Look for the next time Ramsey Lewis and John Pizzeralli come to town, especially if they’re doing a tribute to a music giant like Nat King Cole – you won’t be disappointed.

Support for Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts’ 2015-16 Jazz Series is provided by Con Edison, the Jazz Touring Network, the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation, Steinway & Sons, and WBGO Jazz 88.3 FM.

For more information on future concerts, contact the BrooklynCenter.org or call the box office at 718-951-4500.

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