FREDDY COLE QUARTET performing as part of the TORONTO JAZZ FESTIVAL at the Courthouse (57 Adelaide East), Friday (June 22), 9 pm, with ELIZABETH SHEPHERD ( midnight ), and Saturday (June 23), 9 pm, with ADREAN FARRUGIA (midnight). $35, adv $30; late shows $10. 416-870-8000, www.tojazz.com. Rating: NNNNN
Had Freddy Cole been the brother of, say, Reginald Cole or Harvey Cole, the veteran jazz singer/pianist might be a household name today.
But because his older sibling happened to be the late, great Nat King Cole, many people have no idea that Freddy has been recording urbane chill-out music of his own since 1952.
In fact, the last decade has probably been the most productive of his lengthy career. Yet the majority of Nat Cole fans aren't even aware that he had a brother who plays music.
That's why Clay Walker made the documentary The Cole Nobody Knows, which through a series of testimonials from Nancy Wilson, David "Fathead" Newman and Monty Alexander intercut with performance clips reveals the soft-spoken entertainer to be a formidable song stylist in his own right.
"I've never thought of myself as working in anyone's shadow," says Cole from his Atlanta home, "and I think it would be terrible if I did. I've always loved playing music, so to be able to make a living all these years by doing something I really enjoy has been a blessing. It's not a given that I would ever have been a big star if I hadn't had a famous brother. You know, if there never was a Nat Cole, there may never have been a Freddy Cole."
Cole speaks with the same easy, rolling flow as his older brother (which carries over to his elegantly smooth song delivery), and the similarites in tone and phrasing are impossible to miss. Yet if you listen closely to Freddy Cole's music, you can also hear echoes of singer/pianist Charles Brown and Billy Eckstine, the archetypal baritone jazz balladeer.
"I got to know Billy Eckstine when I was very young because he was close with my brother Nat, and Mr. B always was my favourite singer. I loved his song selection, but his whole presentation was very inspiring. Over the years, Charles Brown and I became very, very good friends, and I admired his work, too. So if you hear that some of what they've done has rubbed off on me, I'd like to say thank you."
Taking a tip from Eckstine, Cole takes great care to choose material that's right for his voice and personality. Refusing to restrict himself to the typical jazz crooner standards from the great American songbook, Cole's enormous repertoire extends into the overlooked compositions of his singer/pianist contemporaries, and he regularly dips into the bottomless wellspring of Brazil.
"The way I came up, playing small clubs for tips on Manhattan's Lower East Side as well as neighbourhood bars in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens, when someone slaps a dollar on the piano and says, 'Play my song,' you better know it or learn it quick. That's how I built my repertoire, and I haven't stopped."
Additional Interview Audio Clips
Freddy Cole gievs notice that he's just finished a new recording
Always on the lookout for great lesser-known material, Cole turned up a ace tune for his new recording by the late Bobby Cole - no relation - best known as the musical director for Judy Garland and later, Liza Minnelli