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ASU Kerr Cultural Center partners with The Nash to honor Nat King Cole

The Nat King Cole Centennial will feature renowned vocalists and reflect on the famous jazz musician's impact


Dennis Rowland performs at the Herberger Theater at the Motown revue show in Tempe, Arizona, on Monday Feb. 27, 2012.

The ASU Kerr Cultural Center and The Nash are co-presenting the Nat King Cole Centennial on Feb. 6 as part of their “Jazz in Concert” series.

The event will feature performances by Joe Bourne and Dennis Rowland to pay homage to the influential musician.

Joel Goldenthal, the executive director of The Nash in Arizona, said musicians Bourne and Rowland perform with a similar style and sound of Cole's, but with an added unique creative twist.

“It’s going to be a very high caliber show with people who are talented musicians in their own way,” he said.

The show fits well into the overall goal of the “Jazz in Concert” series, which strives to produce quality shows that resonate with a wide audience, Goldenthal said.

“Our mission is to produce shows that are unique to the market in Scottsdale, and have a multigenerational appeal,” he said.

The show will highlight Cole's ability to appeal to a broad audience and remain popular to this day.

Pete Pancrazi, a jazz guitarist and vocalist who obtained his bachelor's degree at Berklee College of Music and his master's degree in jazz performance at ASU, said Cole was impactful due to his ability to incorporate his jazz roots into different, more popular genres.

He also said that Cole's stylistic format had an immense influence in the audiences he was able to reach. 

“Whenever a jazz musician is accepted, it is important because more people are exposed,” Pancrazi said. “People who heard his voice were drawn into it and brought into the marketplace.”

Yet, Cole was able to stay true to himself even as he dipped into various genres, he said.

"Even in more pop stuff there was always a sensibility of phrasing and swings that you could trace back to his roots," Pancrazi said.

Dennis Rowland is a jazz singer from Detroit who studied music education at Kentucky State University and teaches voice at Scottsdale Community College

Rowland, a renowned musician who has worked with many artists including Tony Bennett and Sarah Vaughan, said he was happy to be invited to honor a pivotal movement for jazz and an artist who influenced his musical journey.

“When I was young I heard his music and I think it just appealed to me all throughout my life,” Rowland said. 

He said he is hopeful the event will impact students and new musicians in a positive way.

“He had a great, smooth voice, and we could all learn something from him,” Rowland said. 

Michael Kocour, a director of jazz studies at ASU’s School of Music, said he was elated to see the partnership between The Nash and ASU Kerr Cultural Center commemorating the influential musician. 

“He’s an easy artist to celebrate because we all owe him for his contributions to American culture and what he has done to define American song,” Kocour said. “I would say, whether they know it or not, musicians today are all impacted by the work of Nat Cole.”

Cole was a storyteller that everyone can relate to, Kocour said.

“His intonation, his timing and his phrasing are undeniably compelling and persuasive,” he said. “When he sings a song you have to listen and that’s art.” 

Goldenthal said he hopes people who might not normally listen to jazz approach the Nat King Cole Centennial with an open mind. 

“In a perfect world people would approach music just as an experience and not be so hung up on the genre,” Goldenthal said. “People have preconceived notions of what something is like and they’ll be turned off to jazz, but it’s such a broad genre with so many different interpretations.” 

Reach the reporter at or follow @ziacrespo on Twitter. 

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