Over the years, there’s been a ton written about when, where and how Eden Ahbez got “Nature Boy” into the hands of Nat “King” Cole.
Several Cole biographies suggest it came through his manager, Carlos Gaston, whom Ahbez handed off a tattered lead-sheet to at the Orpheum Theater in Downtown L.A. Others say it was Ahbez’s friend Cowboy Jack Patton or even legendary songwriter Johnny Mercer who passed the pre-hippie ballad Cole’s way.
My own research has shown that Cole didn’t play the Orpheum in 1947 until after “Nature Boy” was already recorded in August of the same year.
Cole did, however, have a two week residency at the Lincoln Theater in South Central L.A. in the spring of ’47, and reports from the time when “Nature Boy” was riding high on the charts suggest that it was Cole’s valet, Otis Pollard, who gave the vaunted jazzman Ahbez’s sheet music, not Cole’s manager at all. (Ahbez gave Pollard 12% of “Nature Boy”‘s publishing royalties.)
The L.A. Conservancy must agree, as they’ve recently listed the old Lincoln building on their website as historically significant, mentioning “Nature Boy”‘s having passed into Cole’s hands there in the text.
See it here:
The details on “Nature Boy” are certain to remain mysterious and contrary as years go by. I’m 90% convinced, however, that the Lincoln was the place the sheet music exchanged hands. It fits the timeline most distinctly.