This is one of those Soundies that you’ll want to watch twice, first to see and hear the Nat “King” Cole Trio at work on a fabulous interpretation of “Errand Boy for Rhythm,” with dancer Shirley Johnson out front. (I am pretty certain that it is not Nadine Robinson, Nat’s wife, who is identified as the dancer in a number of sources.) The second time through, close your eyes so you can marvel at the creativity of all three members of the trio.
Many younger listeners, and perhaps some in my age group, recall Nat “King Cole” as one of the greatest balladeers of the last century. And that is certainly true. But in the mid-1940s, Cole was carefully balancing his crooning skills with vocals that were upbeat and jivey. (In this series of five Soundies, two were “jump tunes,” and three were medium-tempo ballads.
Of course, Cole was best known at the time as one of the most creative, forward-looking, and influential pianists in jazz, and there were few pianists who followed in the next decade who were not influenced by him in one way or another. Likewise, guitarist Oscar Moore is a cutting-edge single-string guitar soloist who based his style on Charlie Christian. Having said that, Oscar was a true original who had a sound of his own and always had a story to tell. The trio is anchored by the walking string bass of Johnny Miller, a more than capable rhythm man who was seldom heard after the early 1950s.
In all fairness, the identification of Shirley Johnson as the featured dancer has not been verified, but for various reasons – convincing if circumstantial – she seems like the most likely candidate.