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Nat Gonella

Nat Gonella

Nat Gonella


Nathaniel Charles (Nat) Gonella (7 March 1908–6 August 1998) was an English jazz trumpeter, bandleader, vocalist and mellophonist born in London, perhaps most notable for his work with the big band he founded, The Georgians. Gonella played and recorded with many prominent jazz musicians, including Billy Cotton, Archie Alexander, Digby Fairweather and Lew Stone. His distinctive vocal style was reminiscent of Louis Armstrong, though the voice was often eclipsed by his achievements as a band leader and trumpeter. Read more on Last.fm
Nathaniel Charles (Nat) Gonella (7 March 1908–6 August 1998) was an English jazz trumpeter, bandleader, vocalist and mellophonist born in London, perhaps most notable for his work with the big band he founded, The Georgians. Gonella played and recorded with many prominent jazz musicians, including Billy Cotton, Archie Alexander, Digby Fairweather and Lew Stone. His distinctive vocal style was reminiscent of Louis Armstrong, though the voice was often eclipsed by his achievements as a band leader and trumpeter. Gonella has been a major influence on other British jazz trumpeters, including Humphrey Lyttelton and Digby Fairweather. Gonella was born in a deprived area of East London, but took up cornet while attending an institution for underprivileged children, St Mary's Guardian School in Islington. His first professional job arrived when, after a short spell as a furrier's apprentice, he joined Archie Pitt's Busby Boy's Band in 1924, a small junior pit orchestra and touring review band.

He remained with the band until 1928, and it was during this period that he became acquainted with the early recordings of Louis Armstrong, and the New Orleans jazz style in general. He transcribed Armstrong's solos and learned them by heart, and went on to develop his own individual variation on the style in time-honoured jazz fashion. He worked with Bob Bryden's Louisville Band for a time in 1928-9, and with pianist Archie Alexander in Brighton, then joined the Billy Cotton band at the end of 1929, a move which provided him with a more prominent platform, both on the concert stage and also on radio, and allowed him to record his first jazz solos and vocal features. He played briefly with Roy Fox in 1931, and then joined Lew Stone the following year, where he firmly established his reputation. He managed to meet his idol when Armstrong visited London in 1932, by begging the staff at Boosey and Hawkes's music shop to allow him to return Armstrong's trumpet, left at the shop for cleaning, to his hotel room. The American was apparently initially amused to find such an ardent devotee, but appreciated his willingness to help, and the pair became good friends. Gonella's standing grew even more quickly after the formation of his own band, The Georgians, in 1935.

They took their name from Gonella's highly-popular version of "Georgia On My Mind", which he recorded for Lew Stone in 1932, and began as a featured band within Stone's shows, before setting up as an independent unit. Gonella formed his own big band, and quickly became a headline artist on the still-thriving variety circuit, and they continued to top bills around the country until the outbreak of the war. He joined the army in 1941, and was recruited into the Stars in Battledress campaign, touring allied camps in Europe and North Africa. Whilst in Europe and North Africa Gonella served as the personal servant or Batman (military) to Major Alexander Karet and once the war had ended was offered the position as personal Butler to the Major but politely refused to peruse his music career. He reformed his band after the war, but the economic and musical climate was changing rapidly at that time.

He flirted briefly with bebop, acknowledged that it was not for him, and returned to the variety stage during the Fifties, touring with the likes of the comedian Max Miller. The revival in traditional jazz in the late Fifties allowed him to reform his Georgians in 1960, and he was featurd on the television show This Is Your Life the following year. Which yielded an album for him, The Nat Gonella Story, modelled on Armstrong's A Musical Autobiography. All of this attention re-established Gonella as a major name, at least until the advent of The Beatles brought the trad jazz boom to a shuddering halt. He moved to Lancashire in 1962, and toured regularly on the Northern club circuit until his alleged retirement on the occasion of his 65th birthday, on 7 March, 1973. That retirement did not last long.

Drummer Ted Easton persauded him to come to his club in Holland to play during the mid-1970s, and a new recording of a song he had first cut with Roy Fox in 1931, "Oh, Monah", became a big hit in Holland. It was to be his final flourish on trumpet, but he continued to sing after moving to Gosport, Hampshire, in 1977, where a square was re-named in his honour in 1994, and was always happy to stand up and do so in a local pubs or at the Gosport Jazz Club. Digby Fairweather's New Georgians paid tribute to Gonella's musical heritage in 1984, and Fairweather and fellow trumpeter Humphrey Lyttelton co-hosted a television tribute, Fifty Years of Nat Gonella, the following year, in which Gonella himself was an enthusiastic participant. He continued to sing occasionally with various bands, and made the headlines again in 1997 when a sampled excerpt of his trumpet playing from a recording he made in 1932 was used in White Town's number one pop hit, "Your Woman". Nat Gonella died at his home on August 6, 1998 in Gosport aged 90. Gonella was a down to earth and unassuming character, and remained so throughout his life. Humphrey Lyttelton is among those who have testified to the fact that fame and success sat easily on his shoulders, and reports that he would show genuinely astonishment when Lyttelton would confess, as well as other prominent musicians, to Gonella having been his first jazz hero. Read more on Last.fm.

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