Freddy Cole sang most of his show on Friday at A Place for Jazz before declaring, in bluesy fashion, “I’m Not My Brother, I’m Me,” then went earthy with “Jelly Roll Blues.”
Now 80 — his older brother, the late, great Nat King Cole would be 92 — Freddy Cole ironically made this claim right after medleying his brother’s pop songs. Before that, he and his easy-swinging quartet applied old-fashioned elegance to old-fashioned jazz tunes, a nice wrap-up for the series.
He sang mostly at the piano but came to the front at the end of the first set and start of the second. He mostly left the solos to young guitarist Randy Napoleon, who looked about 12 but played vintage Wes Montgomery style. Bassist Elias Bailey looked only slightly older than Napoleon, while drummer Curtis Boyd seemed Cole’s contemporary. The capacity crowd spanned an even wider demographic range, and included just about every jazz player not out playing on Friday.
All the tunes were vintage, mostly love songs, and Cole and company had clearly played them enough to have every nuance and gesture right in place and right on time. They cruised through “I Went and Fell in Love” to start, slid into a Billie Holiday medley, both at mellow tempos, then swung “Them There Eyes,” slowed for “Sometimes I’m Happy” and went even slower in “There I Said it Again,” then re-energized in the brisk bossa of “As Wild as Love.”
After “If I Love Again” and Let There Be Love,” Cole came up front for “A Cottage for Sale” from his Billy Eckstine tribute album. He swung up front in the Brazilian “Morning of the Carnival,” then returned to the piano for “Little Girl” and a zippy break song.
Cole played simple, strong piano, phrasing at the end of “Sometimes I’m Happy” in Count Basie’s distinctive coda cadence and chanting “Count Ba-sie!” with that trademark beat in case anybody missed it. That wasn’t likely: fans were primed for musical antiques, the very high order of cocktail jazz the quartet served.
Cole played ahead of the beat, but sang behind it, and everybody made it swing, Boyd bursting out in fast flurries with brushes, booms and bams with sticks, while Bailey played deep in the pocket and Napoleon skittered and slashed zippy single-note runs with upward plucking fingers, quick chord bursts up and down the neck with his thumb.
The first set was more purely jazz than the second, romantic jazz of love lit by hope or downcast in gloomy despair. They played it straight, never camping it up, and Cole’s mellow voice carried confident conviction. He held steady in this fashion in the second-set medley of brother Nat’s classics, which kicked in after “Mademoiselle,” “You’re Sensational,” “The South Side of Chicago” (the night’s first blues, and they were good on blues), “Paper Moon,” “Lovely Day” and “Straighten Up and Fly Right.” Then they jukeboxed Nat’s “My Sweet Lorraine,” “Mona Lisa,“ “Nature Boy,” “L-O-V-E” and “Unforgettable.”
It was all old school, merry and mellow – and not too slick to be soulful.
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