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The Chronicle Interviews Freddy Cole: "A Balladeer With An 'I Told You So' Message"
6/22/2016 12:54:19 PM

“He Was The King” is Freddy Cole’s stirring tribute to some of his brother Nat “King” Cole’s tunes from his great songbook on his latest Highnote CD

Jazz Royalty Mr. Freddy Cole being interviewed by Charleston Chronicle cultural critic Hakim Abdul-Ali at Spoleto Festival USA?headquarters on June 9, 2016. Photo: Sarah Elizabeth Stanley
By Hakim Abdul-Ali

I've known and have been interviewing musical greats for a long time in last thirty or so years. I'm not usually in awe of the stars because to me they are still people at the end of the day. That's how it is in my view.

I have a reporting job to do, but when it came time to truly interview a member of an American royal family, especially an Afro-American one at that, I didn't know what to expect. That's the way that it was with me when I interviewed the renowned balladeer Freddy Cole last Thursday, June 9, 2016, at Spoleto Festival USA's downtown headquarters.

To interview this 84-year-old young balladeer was a super experience because Mr.Cole is one groovy brother, with no sense of uppityness about himself. The man is and was as down to earth as you can get as we entered into a discussion about his fantastic musical life's experiences.

Unless you've been living on Mars for the last century you know that Mr. Cole is the younger brother of none other than the legendary Nat "King" Cole. That alone lets you know that these two brothers, along with his other family members have been at the top of respected musicianship in the jazz world.

Mr. Cole is one classy individual, who I grew to respect more and more as we progressed in our interview. Forever full of paying homage to his Chicago roots, this awesome lyrical interpreter let me that the Cole family's musical talents really stemmed from his mother's side of the family with the key being an uncle named Festus Adams, a piano player, being the mentor for all of the Cole brothers and sisters to emulate.

Freddy Cole, a Grammy nominee, with prolific CDs and celebrated albums, related to me that all of his brothers (Ike, Nat and Eddie) and sister (Evelyn) were also guided in the musical realms by their mother who was choir director in his father's church. The family legacy was further enhanced by Mr. Cole's late niece, Natalie Cole's stellar and brilliant career. She was his brother Nat's daughter who died in 2015.

I mentioned to Mr. Cole that I was introduced to his bluesy style of singing and smooth piano sound by a cultural partner of mine from Philadelphia named Tom Porter. Tom, a serious jazz aficionado and Philly man about town, told me about how "bad" Mr. Cole was about twenty-years-ago, and the rest is history, as I came to find out, as the old folk used to say with truthfulness.

When asked about his style and who influenced him he offered, "I listened to Ahmad Jamal, my main man, and John Lewis of MJQ (Modern Jazz Quartet) among others with equal affection for how they played. There was a Chicago cat named John Young, who most folk never heard of, who was a mean dude on piano. He was good. Those were the ones who come to mind, but there were so many other cats I could name without hitting it on the head though."

From there, I then delved into his intriguing way of presenting a song along with his distinctive and indicative delivery to which he very explicit said, "I'm a storyteller, and I have to convey to the listener the way the composer wants the music to be delivered. You have to know how to present what you do and this is what I try to do."

Upon further inquiry on this point, Mr. Cole said that he was greatly influenced by being around a lot of great Brazilian singers, who he felt they sung as though they are singing to you. "You can feel their music. They sing with a feeling that reaches out and touches their audience, and that's something I learned how to do (better) from listening to and watching them."

I asked Mr. Cole about what his message that he wanted to leave with this year's Spoleto's audience and he surprising said emphatically, "Not to sound like a smart aleck, because I'm having a good time, but all I can say to Spoleto is 'I told you so.' "

He went on to say that he was a little peeved because he always wanted to play here, and after being promised to in the past, he never was invited until this year. "This festival and two others have been denied to me over the many years, even though my body of work was significant compared to some others who may have performed here and at the other venues with somewhat lesser musical resumes.

"But I'm happy to be here and musician Quentin Baxter is 90% responsible for me playing here in Charleston for the last couple of days. I've always wanted to play here because I like Charleston, but, again, until now I never had the opportunity to play here." One of the others that Mr. Cole mentioned that he's been denied performing was the Monterey Jazz Festival in Monterey, California. He never related to me what the last one was.

Concert Review

Mr. Cole's eight Spoleto Festival USA's concert performances (two per day) were from June 8-11, 2016, and I covered the June 8th, 7pm, concert and it was an absolute blast.

The fifteen song menu included the smashing "My Mother Told Me," a romantic tune about the complexities and romantic romps, with the usual interludes between and about the dalliances in romance between a man and a woman that had the audience "grooving" to the words and the beat of Mr. Cole's sophisticated music.

Some of the other expressive musical selections, blending ballads and standards, that were show pleasers were "I Remember You," Billy Eckstine's "Tender is the Night," "South Side of Chicago," and the Brazilian finale, "To Say Goodbye." The show was an unquestioned funky, bluesy crowd pleaser and they loved it.

With Mr. Baxter on drums, Randy Napoleon on guitar, Elias Bailey on bass and Mr. Cole on piano and vocals, "The Freddy Cole Quartet" serenaded an appreciative audience at the Simons Center Recital Hall,located on the College of Charleston's campus, with a marvelous display of Freddy Cole's unique "I Told You So" music.

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