Everybody knows Nat King Cole’s “Christmas Song” (aka Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire), and some folks may know that he released three albums in Spanish, but did you know that he recorded one song sung entirely in Japanese? It’s true!
Cole’s “Kareha” (commonly known in English as “Autumn Leaves”) was recorded, but never released, on any of his official studio LPs. It’s a lovely song, as one might expect from Nat King Cole, with a lush string arrangement. Interestingly, it features what appears to be a shamisen, which is a traditional Japanese instrument that is similar to a banjo, but with no frets on the fingerboard (much like the fingerboard on an upright bass). The shamisen is played with a large plectrum that looks similar to a small fan. The instrument has recently become more familiar to Westerners through modern-meets-traditional musical groups such as the Yoshida Brothers.
In case you’re curious to know, Cole wasn’t actually fluent in Japanese or Spanish, and instead learned the songs phonetically. If you’re curious to hear the song, it’s only a Google search away!