Monday, September 26, 2016.
Freddy Cole has gotten pretty used to hearing his brother’s name mentioned when he performs.
“People will compare. That’s just a natural thing,” he says.
But he has never let this stop him from making the music he loves.
“I know I’m not Nat Cole,” Freddy says. “I’m just trying to do what my dad used to say, “Do the best you can with what you’ve got.”
He’s had plenty to work with. Known for a raspier, smokier voice than Nat’s, Freddy has developed his own international career as a pianist, composer and singer. He admits he is beholden to a deep passion for jazz – not surprising, after growing up in a musical family where regular visitors included Duke Ellington.
Although his brother’s fame impacted him, Freddy says their careers always remained separate.
“There were maybe a couple of times when I was playing somewhere that he would sit in and play, but it wasn’t on a consistent basis,” he recalls.
Ask Freddy about how he developed his own musical style, and his answer is simple.
“It’s like what Duke Ellington says. There are only two kinds of music, and that’s good and bad,” he says with a chuckle. “I’d rather stay on the side of good. I just keep on trying to do it right.”
Now at 85, his performance approach is simple, too. With no two concerts the same, he simply plays the songs he wants, based on how he feels when he steps on the band stand.
“Most of the things I play are my favorites,” he says. “I’m not one of those musicians who will just play anything.”
Many of his favorites include songs popularized by his brother. Freddy even recently recorded “He Was the King,” a tribute album to Nat “King” Cole. It showcases many of his brother’s major hits, such as “Mona Lisa” and “Sweet Lorraine.”
“I just thought everybody else was doing it, so after awhile, sooner or later I should do one,” he says.
But he believes in making the music his own, noting that no song belongs to one person.
To gently remind audience members of who they’re watching, Freddy often plays his original song, “I’m Not My Brother, I’m Me,” which was inspired by a fan who stood up for him in a bar discussion that was heavily Nat-focused.
All in good fun, Freddy assures, the song includes lyrics like “His name was Nat, and mine’s Fred… I’ll stress the point to make you see – that I am not my brother, I’m me.”
“People seem to get a kick out of that,” he says. “It puts a little humor in the show.”
Focused on promoting his latest album, Freddy says he hasn’t changed his approach to touring as he has gotten older. He just continues to play what he wants, the best he can.
“(Touring) is the same as it was when I was 25, but I know more,” he says. “If I don’t know by now the songs to use, I shouldn’t be doing it.”
Freddy Cole will perform on October 7 and 8 at Cabaret Jazz at The Smith Center. For tickets or more information, visit http://www.thesmithcenter.com/event/the-freddy-cole-85th-year-of-celebration/.
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