Ask A Woman Who Knows (Verve Music Group)

Natalie Cole

Released September 17, 2002

Grammy Nominee for Best Jazz Vocal Album 2003




Courtesy of the Clayton-Hamilton Orchestra, Natalie Cole projects her aura on to songs once recorded previously by great singers like Nina Simone, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, Peggy Lee, Carmen McRae, Barbra Streisand, Diana Ross, Frank Sinatra, and Nat “King” Cole. Natalie Cole’s musical choices include songs that depict the various aspects of love—its joy, its sorrow, its loneliness, and its consolation. Included are two of Dinah Washington’s gems — “I Haven’t Got Anything Better to Do” and the title track, “Ask a Woman Who Knows”—both songs about love gone wrong.

Cole changes the tone of the set with great scatting on the up-tempo swinger “My Baby Just Cares for Me”; big band swing “It’s Crazy,” the hit by her father, Nat King Cole; and the soulful “I’m Glad There Is You,” which features Roy Hargrove on flugelhorn. Natalie Cole sings her engaging musical stories with priceless, nuanced phrasing accompanied by a distinguished core quintet of Joe Sample, Russell Malone, Christian McBride, Lewis Nash, and Rob Mounsey. The added dimension of Natalie Cole performing all background vocals and the backing of the Clayton-Hamilton Orchestra on two songs makes the recording extra special. Overall, this is an exceptional recording that re-teams her with Tommy LiPuma, the producer of her biggest hit, Unforgettable: With Love. “Better Than Anything” is a jazz waltz devoted to “women shopping, guest vocal Diana Krall in perfect agreement that spending money is the best thing in life (“better than honey on bread, better than breakfast in bed” —lyrics by Bill Loughborough), better than anything except being in love. “I’m Glad There Is You,” Latin-influenced ballad from 1941 by Jimmy Dorsey. “Calling You” is an Academy Award-nominated song from the Bagdad Café (1987) film. “My Baby Just Cares For Me,” the only standard here whose title is immediately recognizable, introduced in 1928 by singer Eddie Cantor, best known as the signature tune of singer and pianist Nina Simone.

Track Listing:

1. I Haven’t Got Anything Better to Do (Lee Pockriss / Paul Vance) 4:07

2. Tell Me All About It (Michael Franks) 4:10

3. Ask a Woman Who Knows (Maurice Abrahams / Vic Abrams / Victor Abrams) 4:14

4. It’s Crazy (Al Fields / Timmie Rodgers) 2:10

5. You’re Mine, You (Johnny Green / Edward Heyman) 4:03

6. So Many Stars (Alan Bergman / Marilyn Bergman / Sergio Mendes) 5:16

7. I Told You So (Duncan Lamont) 3:52

8. Soon (George Gershwin / Ira Gershwin) 3:13

9. I’m Glad There Is You (Jimmy Dorsey / Paul Mertz) 5:16

10. Better Than Anything (Bill Loughbrough / David “Buck” Wheat) featuring: Diana Krall 3:35

11. The Music That Makes Me Dance (Bob Merrill / Jule Styne) 4:09

12. Calling You (Robert Telson) 5:00

13. My Baby Just Cares for Me (Walter Donaldson / Gus Kahn) 4:26


Natalie Cole: vocals

Joe Sample: piano

Rob Mounsey: keyboards

John Pisano: guitar (1-3, 7, 13)

Russell Malone: guitar (6, 8-12)

Christian McBride: bass

Lewis Nash: drums

Luis Quintero: percussion (1, 9)

The Collettes: backing vocals (2, 6, 13)

Gary Foster: alto saxophone (6)

Terry Trotter: piano (6, 12)

Jeff Hamilton: drums (8)

Larry Bunker: percussion, vibraphone (8)

Roy Hargrove: flugelhorn (9)

Alan Broadbent: piano (9, 10)

Diana Krall: vocals (10)

Tollak Ollestad: harmónica (12)

The Clayton–Hamilton Orchestra

Recorded at Avatar Studios, New York, NY; Capitol Studios, Hollywood, CA; Schnee Studios, North Hollywood, CA

Produced by Tommy LiPuma

Executive Producer: Natalie Cole

Recorded by Al Schmitt (4-6, 8-12) and Elliot Scheiner (1-3, 7, 13)

Mixed by Al Schmitt

Mastered by Doug Saks

Photography: Kwaku Alston


Ask A Woman Who Knows, singer Natalie Cole’s latest album, has a rather presumptuous title, doesn’t it? But then that’s just it. On this album, Cole absolutely knows what she is doing. Despite the fact that the title track is actually a song about love gone wrong, it makes an apt title for this album, and she’s sure to make waves with its release. The singer, whose distinct voice continues in the tradition set by her father, the late great Nat King Cole, is one of the few artists who can effortlessly swing between the different musical worlds of jazz, R&B, soul and pop. 
Since the release of her last album Snowfall On The Sahara in 1999, Cole has completed her move to the Verve Music Group label. Ask A Woman Who Knows is her first release on Verve. The album reunites Cole with producer Tommy LiPuma, with whom she created the Grammy-winning album Unforgettable: With Love in the early nineties. For this album, Cole and LiPuma carefully handpicked a set of songs out of almost one hundred, some well known, others not, to which Cole applied that unique voice, capturing the poignancy of tracks like “I Haven’t Got Anything Better To Do” and the joy of others like “Soon” and “You Are Mine You.” 
In fact, the album is a stellar compilation of Cole’s finesse, prowess and presence. She takes on tracks that have been performed by jazz greats and stamps her own authority on them too. Some, like “So Many Stars” by Sergio Mendes with lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman and “The Music That Makes Me Dance”, made popular by Barbra Streisand, may be familiar. Others like “I Haven’t Got Anything Better To Do” and the title cut (first recorded by Dinah Washington) are described by her website as “rare gems”. There’s delight in her voice as she performs “Soon” and “It’s Crazy”, both done big band style. 

She duets joyously with label-mate Diana Krall, somewhat overshadowing her on “Better Than Anything”, a song that celebrates the sheer beauty and importance of love. It also proves that when two women get together, they will talk about shopping and shoes (“Say, Diana, is love really better than shopping??”, goes Cole). You can also feel the sincerity in Cole’s voice on the Michael Franks track “Tell Me All About It”, and the acute longing in her voice on “Calling You.” Cole is accompanied on her musical journey by piano legend and label-mate Joe Sample, along with Roy Hargrove on flugelhorn, Christian McBride (bass), John Pisano (guitar), Rob Mounsey (keyboards) and Lewis Nash (drums) among others, as well as the Clayton-Hamilton Orchestra.
If you love vocal jazz, and are an incurable romantic as well, this is the album for you. Not even the presence of songs like “Ask A Woman Who Knows” and “I Haven’t Got Anything Better To Do” will spoil the magic of the album. If anything, they do well to remind the listener that love sometimes has its fair share of casualties. The album is sure to become a favourite for Cole’s jazz fans and with good reason too.

Ask the woman who knows.

Philip A. Songa (All About Jazz)