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Cool Mr. Cole Wows Them at L.A.'s
Crowne Plaza Hotel

Thursday, August 28, 2008
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The California Jazz Foundation was honored to partner with In-House Music in presenting Mr. Freddy Cole to the Los Angeles area. It was a rare opportunity because Mr. Cole rarely performs in California. The net proceeds of the event benefited both of our organizations, and Mr. Cole said he would like to do it again in 2009. Stay tuned!

The slated August 28 performance of master song stylist Freddy Cole took about two years in the making. In fact, it was his first southland appearance in all that time. Hence, the crowd for the first set nearly overflowed for this special one-nighter. In a span of 2½ hours, Cole and his company of first–rate rhythmists (Elias Bailey–bass, Curtis Boyd–drums, Andy Napoleon–guitar) covered an amazing 30 tunes in two sets. From brilliant balladry to up–tempo swingers, Cole wowed the crowd into polite amazement.

Like his audience, the Cole quartet, age–wise, is half and half: two elder grayhairs and two youthful cubs. The leader is an energetic 77, while his guitarist shows the appearance of a college freshman. Besides keeping in the tradition of period songs that best represent his era, Cole delved into later numbers from the pop arena like Billy Joel's Just the Way You Are. An unexpected twist was ever present in Cole Porter's vintage '34 classic The Continental. This arrangement ended a la Basie's April in Paris with not two but four codas!

Cole can "talk" a lyric besides sing it, which adds nuances to convey a deeper meaning in a song–-something from which any young performer can learn. He does both distinctively and with convincing ease, as if he's lived the experience in every tune. His rapid segues remind one of a Vegas lounge act that is perfectly timed–-only in this case you're surrounded by a group of sensitive, legitimate fans and not a crowd of curiously uninformed spectators.

Being the showman he is, Cole at times will depart from the piano to stand up for songs which require a more personal touch, such as If You Went Away, played with a bossa beat. In mixing up the set, he included movie themes like Morning of the Carnival and the Broadway favorite If I Love Again. The bluesy Watching You Watching Me was a particular high spot (and a tune unfamiliar to most of the crowd). Another highlight was the Legrand–Bergman collaboration How Do You Keep the Music Playing? which ended in a pleasant Poinciana groove.

As expected, there was no material relating to big brother Nat…and although Freddy is inclined to remind folks that "I'm not my brother," still one can't escape feeling that he is channeling his "unforgettable" long late sibling. For instance, Freddy–-as Nat often did–-will glance at the audience instead of the keyboard when playing or vocalizing. The familiar hoarse and hazy vocal timbre and laid back demeanor are there, too.

A bonus was in store by late evening when Cole invited his son Lionel (also a capable pianist) to sit in at the ivories. The generational talent was apparent when the 30–something lad headed straight for the blues with Home Fried Potatoes. Not a soul wished the music to end, but when it did, Senior Cole obliged his fans with not one but two closers: How Do You Say Auf Wiedersehen and I'll Be Seeing You. The emotional intensity was felt throughout the room. After the show, Cole commented to this writer that he'd hope it wouldn't be another two years before his next L.A. appearance. We second that motion and then some.