October 27, 2018
First of all, thanks to all of you who recently sent me Happy Birthday greetings on my 82nd.
Hearing from so many of you made adding another year a little easier to take!
I just finished this chapter for the book and couldn’t wait to share it with you.
Hope you enjoy it.
TITLE: “Catching Cole at the Copa”
There are some experiences that are difficult to capture in words, even for the most gifted writer, which I certainly don’t claim to be.
Nonetheless, when the Four Preps arrive in New York city in late 1958 to perform on Dick Clark’s new Saturday night Beechnut Show (“who likes Beechnut spearmint gum, we like Beechnut spearmint gum!”) we experience an evening I’ll try to re-capture for you … sitting ringside at the renowned Copa night club watching the inimitable Nat “King” Cole weave his magic.
That much is easy to convey.
How to convey the essence of watching this peerless, elegant man have his way with a song—and an audience—is the challenge.
In ’58 The Copa is the quintessential Manhattan night club. Glamorous but not gaudy. Smart and vibrating with sophisticated energy.
Our New York “baby sitter” Dan Evans, the suave Capitol Records promotion man, picks us up at the Park Sheraton, which has become our home away from home in NYC.
As the limo pulls away from the hotel, Dan informs us that the Copa folks are looking forward to welcoming us and “Nat is delighted” we’ll be dropping by...
I settle back in the plush leather seat with an incredulous smile as the limo snakes through the Manhattan streets towards one of the world’s most celebrated night clubs, where I will hear a performer I’ve idolized since high school.
Nat Cole’s smooth as silk vocals have captivated America from “Route 66,” “The Christmas Song” and “Nature Boy” to the teenager’s love-struck lament “Too Young,” and the Preps, who have already recorded a half dozen of his biggest hits in our albums, are amped up for the evening.
What a high just anticipating what’s in store as we head across town.
When we arrive, we’re greeted effusively by the maître d’ and escorted to a ringside table.
I take a seat, survey all the glamour around me, and can’t help but think of Douglas, the benevolent stage manager at Ciro’s back in L.A. who snuck me backstage as a teenager just a few, short years ago.
Now, I’ve come through the front door and am sitting ringside awash in the heady night life of New York… and I am eating it up.
My reverie is interrupted by a nice lady from New Jersey who asks for an autograph.
The irony of it all is not lost on this preacher’s kid from West Hollywood.
Then, finally it’s show time.
The opening production number features the stunning Copa chorus line… all long-stemmed beauties who rev up the audience with their high kicks and sexy energy, accompanied by a red hot band comprised of New York’s finest musicians.
They’re followed by the proverbial stand-up comedian who does a powerhouse 20 minutes and then bows off.
The applause fades and the room is now plunged into total darkness.
The crowd hushes expectantly.
Couples move closer to each other and clasp hands.
The Copa’s layout is unique and ingenious.
There are three-tiered audience levels sloping down to the stage below with a long staircase descending through the middle of the tables down to the performing area.
Nothing happens for a long minute… then in the darkness, Cole’s unmistakable cashmere voice purrs through the P.A. a Capella.
“This is a lovely way… to spend an evening…”
A lone spotlight pierces the darkness and fixes at the top of the stairs on the radiant, ebony face of the man himself.
The crowd erupts.
He flashes a dazzling smile oozing charm. Now the orchestra sneaks in beneath him, and he continues to sing while slowly descending the stairs to the show floor which now holds a magnificent black Grand piano.
“… can’t think of anything, I’d rather do…”
His every move, each gesture, is graceful, almost balletic, as he moves down the stairs.
That velvet voice can only belong to one man, and he wields it with absolute mastery.
I watch… and listen… and admire… and envy.
Cole takes his time seizing the opportunity to caress the hand of each beautiful woman he passes.
One lady sighs and playfully falls back in a swoon.
It’s pure magic. An intimacy that can only happen in a night club.
By the time he reaches the stage, we are all captivated.
He takes his place at the keyboard, whispers a warm, low key welcome and the music begins. Soon his artistry has transported us to a place where, for the next hour or so, the harsh reality of the outside world will just have to wait while we luxuriate in pure, rhapsodic pleasure.
Hit after hit, songs we’ve grown up with, float by with his disarming patter in between.
“Mona Lisa,” “For Sentimental Reasons,” “Dance Ballerina Dance,” “Pretend,” “Somewhere Along the Way,” “Answer Me My Love.”
His honey-coated voice is a thing of sheer, supple beauty… his immaculate diction would put a Shakespearean actor to shame… and his personality is so engaging you want the evening to last forever.
And in a sense, it will for all of us who were there that magical night.
“…a lovely way to spend an evening, indeed.”
When I return to my room at the hotel around 4:00 the next morning, it suddenly feels to me like the Royal Suite at the Waldorf.
I smile as I fall into bed and realize Mr. C’s artistry has elevated and enriched everything around me.
And the afterglow of that evening will be with me forever.
A poignant footnote.
We chat with Cole in his dressing room after the show, trying not to gush and enjoying his easy, gracious company.
He lights one cigarette after another while we schmooze—always held in an elegant onyx cigarette holder—and at one point he complains lightly about not being able to shake off a “nasty sore throat” for the last few weeks.
He will ultimately succumb to lung cancer at age 46.
At his memorial service, conducted at the Capitol Tower, we bid goodbye to a once in a lifetime talent and the ceremony is capped by the inscription on the souvenir program handed to each of us.
We file back to our cars, painfully aware that we will not see—or hear—his kind ever again.
The inscription on the program?
Nathaniel Adams Cole
“Where once the angels sang, they now stop to listen.”
None of us at the Copa that night were angels, but that’s as close to Heaven as I ever hope to get.
That’s all for now.
Finished book coming early next year.
Take good care of yourself and each other and let me hear from you.
I’ll be back in touch soon.