With his expressive soloing voice and sensitive accompanying style the Nat King Cole Trio’s guitarist leaves John Wheatcroft in awe.
Oscar Moore was a superb guitarist with a melodic and expressive soloing voice and a sensitive and supportive accompanying style to boot. While his resume includes jazz legends such as Lionel Hampton, Art Tatum and Lester Young was impressive enough, he was best known as a core member of Nat King Cole’s trio between 1937 and 1947 and his playing was, and continues to be, held in extremely high regard from players such as Barney Kessel, Kenny Burrell, Joe Pass and John Pizzarelli.
Moore was raised in Austin, Texas, but was drawn to California in the early ‘30s by its growing session scene. His contribution to the success of Nat’s trio can’t be overstated, with each tune enhanced by one of Oscar’s perfectly-crafted virtuoso jazz guitar solos. Cole was no slouch on the piano himself, and coupled with his velvet voice, it’s no surprise that he and the trio would become one of the most popular jazz combos in country.
In 1947, Nat and the trio were at the peak of their success. They had a Number One record and Oscar had also picked up the Down Beat Guitarist of the Year Award for three years straight. However, disagreements over the direction of the group, both financially and musically, led to Moore’s decision to quit and pursue other musical options. Unfortunately for Oscar, none of these projects ever really came to fruition and he retired from music in the early 1950s.
It’s amazing that Moore’s playing is not so well known. He really is fantastic. While you can hear the influence of both Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt in his style, which could never be considered a bad thing, he has a clear musical personality with an uncanny knack of creating the perfect part to elevate an arrangement with intelligence, clarity and musical ingenuity. You can learn a great deal from studying his recordings and while he does have his moments of flash, most of his lines are accessible for the aspiring transcriber helped by his clear articulation and super accurate time-feel. Moore’s rock solid rhythm was such an asset to the group, especially considering the line-up featured just bass, piano, guitar and no drummer.
What follows are nine of the best Moore music moments, typical of the kind of things he might play with the trio. His rhythm playing was the envy of his peers, so perhaps this is an area we could revisit at some point in the future. In the meantime, revel in the glory of his masterful playing and add a touch of finesse, authenticity and class to your own work by getting these ideas under your fingers and into your imagination.
OSCAR MOORE WAS COMPLETELY DIFFERENT THAN ANYTHING I HAD EVER HEARD BEFORE. I SAID, ‘I’M GONNA STEAL ALL THAT’ John Pizzarelli
NEXT MONTH John introduces the ‘wide interval’ jazz soloing style of the great Joe Diorio
Nat King Cole with Johnny Miller on bass and Oscar Moore on guitar