Few musicians left such a unique legacy as Nat Cole. While I am not fond of the label, one might claim that the entire “cocktail jazz” tradition, with its piano–guitar–string bass instrumentation, was just another of Cole’s gifts to jazz. Many other leaders adopted this trio format, including Art Tatum, Johnny Moore, Page Cavanaugh, Leonard Ware, and in the 1950s, Oscar Peterson.

Our Soundie today introduces yet another piano-guitar-string bass trio, the Counts and the Countess.

The Counts and the Countess grew out of a Detroit-based group originally led by Ruben Evans. But by 1944, Alma Smith, then only 17 years old, was leading the trio which was based stylistically on the Nat “King” Cole Trio. Working with her was string bassist Curtis Wilder, brother of jazz great Joe Wilder, and John Faire, a fabulous if forgotten electric guitarist who played in the style of Charlie Christian. Although Smith was obviously influenced by Nat’s piano artistry, I hear elements of Art Tatum, and perhaps a touch of Billy Kyle, in her playing, too. Curt Wilder had a long career in music, although he recorded very little in the jazz vein after the trio broke up in 1948. John Faire returned to Cincinnati where he worked regularly and recorded often as a sideman on King Records. While each of the trio members has a chance to solo here, it’s interesting to note how much the trio sounds like the slightly earlier King Cole Trio in its jivey novelty phase.

I was able to interview Ms. Smith at length, and that interview can be found in my Soundies book, available from Amazon and McFarland. (Please note that someone posted a coupon that provides a generous discount from McFarland, effective throughout June.) From the interview with Alma, here is what she’s had to say about her stay on the West Coast.

“When we got to LA, we recorded some sides but they never went anywhere. Our trio was made up of piano, guitar, and string bass, and we tried to sound like Nat King Cole’s group. We were good! We did lots of club work, all over the city during the four or five years I was on the Coast. We worked at Billy Berg’s, Tom Brenneman’s, and a room on Las Palmas, the Swing Club, I think it was, or maybe the Jade Lounge. Anyway, it was kitty-corner from the Suzie Q where I met Erroll Garner. We opened the Stardust, and I remember Johnny Weissmuller used to come in and I would sing ‘The Man I Love’ for him. We also worked at the Venetian Room in Long Beach where we alternated with Mingus and his combo, then back to Hollywood where we worked at Sardis.”

For a complete history of the group, check out Mark Goldberg’s website. When it comes to completeness, no one comes close to Marv: https://www.uncamarvy.com/CountsAndTheCountess/countsandthecountess.html

The tune “Five Salted Peanuts” was written by one Charlie Abbott, and this is probably the former Soundie scriptwriter Charles Abbott who had been a part of the Minoco Productions crew during 1941 and 1942.