Article: Freddy Cole keeps jazz in the family

Here’s my latest article for The Island Packet:

Freddy Cole keeps jazz in the family
By JASON CRANE
Special to the Guide
Published Friday, February 1, 2008

Yes, singer Freddy Cole is Nat’s brother and Natalie’s uncle, and no, that’s nowhere near the end of the story.In fact, the New York Times has called Cole “the most maturely expressive male jazz singer of his generation, if not the best alive.”

There’s no question that Cole is a pianist and singer with impressive chops: He’s got a warm baritone voice that melts over his words and makes them go down easy, and he’s got a swinging piano style that can drive a fast number or lope along lightly on the ballads. Island audiences can check out his style at a series of performances over the weekend at the Jazz Corner.

Freddy Cole was born in 1931, the last of five children in the Cole family. “I started playing piano at five or six,” said Cole. “Music was all around me.”

He had three older brothers. Eddie Cole was in a band called the Solid Swingers that gave brother Nat his first shot at recording. Ike Cole also played piano and sang, after starting out on the bass drum in a military band. And Nat — well, Nat “King” Cole, of course, became one of the most influential and admired pianists and singers of the 20th century.

With all those musicians at home, it’s no surprise that casa Cole was filled with famous names of the swing and big-band era — names like Duke Ellington and Count Basie, and another famous singer and bandleader, Billy Eckstine.

Cole said Eckstine “was a fantastic entertainer. I learned so much from just watching and being around him.”

Freddy Cole had a shot at football stardom, but a hand injury took him out of NFL contention and into the nightclubs of Chicago, where as a teenager he played piano and sang.

But unlike many club singers who hone their craft in piano bars and juke joints, Freddy Cole seasoned his style with stints at two of the great American institutions of music: first at Juilliard in New York City starting in 1951, and then at Boston’s New England Conservatory, where Cole earned his Master’s.

He spent some time on the road with bandleader Earl Bostic, then settled back in New York to work the clubs and expand his repertoire. He also spent time in the studios, recording music for television and writing radio jingles.

Cole’s recording career spans more than 50 years. He made his first record in 1952, and he’s continued to turn out albums ever since. His most recent recording is 2007’s “Music Maestro Please” with pianist Bill Charlap’s trio. Other standouts from the Cole discography include “A Circle of Love” (1996), “This Is The Life” (2000) and “I’m Not My Brother, I’m Me” (2004).

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