Grammy-nominated singer and pianist Freddy Cole and his band will take the stage at (SOPAC) Friday night for an evening of jazz, blues, swing and a few Christmas classics.
The 80-year-old Cole is the younger brother of legend Nat “King” Cole and uncle of Natalie Cole, but one need only hear a song like “I’m Not My Brother, I’m Me,” from the 1990 album of the same name, to get an idea of how his spry wit, graceful piano playing and unique personality sets him apart from his talented family, and have made him one of the most respected singers in jazz.
On Friday, Cole will be lending his raspy tenor to a repertoire of songs he likes to describe as “from Broadway to the blues” for its scope and cohesion.
“It’ll be swingin’,” he coolly assured Patch during a phone interview from Atlanta, GA, where he lives. “Broadway music is jazz. Ninety percent or eighty percent of the jazz we [played when I started] came from Broadway, so if you don’t know anything about Broadway, you’re in trouble. But, coming up the way that I did, playing the Lower East Side and playing small clubs and all that, you had to learn how to play these songs; these were the requested songs.”
Born and raised in Chicago, Cole was exposed to jazz and blues from an early age.
“Unconsciously I grew up liking it and when I got a chance to learn how to play it, it was even greater,” he said.
Coming from a musical family, he was neither encouraged, nor discouraged to pursue a career in music. Inspired by his equally talented siblings, and discouraged from a professional football career by a hand injury, Cole further applied himself to music in college, earning several degrees, including a Master’s degree from the New England Conservatory of Music. He worked a lot as a sideman before he began sowing the seeds of his solo career in New York City.
“When it pertains to music, or anything else—any other profession—practice makes perfect,” he said. “You just gotta keep hacking at it and keep playing at it and doing it until it gets to where you’re satisfied.”
Over his long career, Cole has lots of reasons to be satisfied. He has been nominated for several Grammys, including for his albums Merry-Go-Round (2000), Music Maestro Please (2007) and his latest, Freddy Cole Sings Mr. B (2010). Still, the prestigious award continues to elude him.
“It’s always nice to get [a Grammy],” he said. “Maybe if I win one I’ll be a little happier, but the main thing is to do a good job on everything that you do.”
Cole’s band includes drummer Curtis Boyd, bassist Elias Bailey and guitarist Randy Napoleon. After the SOPAC performance, the group will head up to Toronto to perform Saturday and then they will come to New York City on Tuesday, Dec. 20, for a four-night residency at Birdland Jazz. In January, the quartet will head to Japan.
Despite his age, Cole doesn’t mind the extensive travel and has no plans to retire.
“Retire to do what?” he said, laughing. “What am I gonna do? Sit around and play Tiddlywinks? No way. Musicians don’t retire, they just fade away.”
And fading away gracefully is exactly what he said he plans on doing, just not anytime soon.
Tickets are available online on SOPAC's website or by phone by calling (973) 313-ARTS (2787). The box office is located in the main lobby Monday-Saturday 12-6 p.m.