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Pianist and singer Freddy Cole—whose performance style frequently was compared to that of his older brother, DownBeat Hall of Fame inductee Nat “King” Cole—died June 27 from undisclosed causes at his Atlanta home, according to WBGO. He was 88.
Freddy Cole didn’t achieve the fame of Nat (1919–’65), or the commercial success of his niece Natalie Cole (1950–2015), but he enjoyed a long, fruitful career.
His longevity is illustrated by the fact that he received all four of his Grammy nominations in the 21st century. His 2018 disc, My Mood Is You (HighNote), earned a Grammy nomination in the category Best Jazz Vocal Album. His other Grammy nominations were in the same category, for the 2010 album Freddy Cole Sings Mr. B (HighNote), a tribute to one of his primary influences, Billy Eckstine; the 2007 album Music Maestro Please (HighNote); and the 2000 album Merry Go Round (Telarc).
The title of his 1977 album, The Cole Nobody Knows, seemed to acknowledge that, as a performer, he then was working in his brother’s shadow. His 1990 album for HighNote had a more forceful title: I’m Not My Brother, I’m Me. In 2016, he embraced his family legacy in a new way, releasing He Was The King (HighNote), a tribute to Nat.
Lionel Frederick Cole was born into a musical family in Chicago on Oct. 15, 1931. He began playing piano as a child, around age 6. By the time he was a teenager, he was performing in Chicago clubs. Cole studied music at what was then called Roosevelt Institute in Chicago.
Later, he moved to New York, where he studied at The Juilliard School before earning a master’s degree at New England Conservatory in Boston.
His first recording was a 1952 single titled “The Joke’s On Me,” followed the next year by “Whispering Grass,” both by released by Dot Records. The label also released his debut album, 1964’s Waiter, Ask The Man To Play The Blues. In addition to an interpretation of Leroy Carr’s “Blues Before Sunrise,” the album also included his original composition “I’m All Alone.”
Other significant albums in his discography include Love Makes The Changes (Fantasy, 1998), Because Of You (HighNote, 2006) and Talk To Me (HighNote, 2011).
In the December 2015 issue of DownBeat, critic Frank-John Hadley’s 4-star review of the Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra’s holiday album, Joyful Jazz (Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild), asserted, “Classy singer Freddy Cole’s presence on three obscure and delightful tunes is a blessing of the season.”
Cole, who lived in Atlanta for more than 35 years, is survived by a daughter, Crystal Cole; a son, Lionel Cole; and several other family members. DB
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