"Review: Freddy Cole is fantastic"
The Topeka Captital-Journal - September 2011
By Chuck Berg
Freddy Cole is one of American popular music's great performers. Like pop icon Tony Bennett, the 80-year-young Cole is a beloved musician's musician and a living link to the Great American Songbook.
While evoking the suave stylings of Earl "Fatha" Hines and Teddy Wilson, Cole is very much his own man, whose toe-tapping forays recall the bluesy minimalism of Count Basie, the urbane sophistication of George Shearing and the uptown swagger of Duke Ellington.
On Sunday afternoon at the Ramada Hotel and Convention Center, Cole captivated a packed house of Topeka Jazz Workshop patrons with a compelling mix of standards and originals. He also sang up a storm, which, of course, stirred memories of his fabled older brother Nat.
Sitting and singing at the piano, Cole served up standards, such as "Our Love Is Here to Stay" that pulsed with bluesy momentum. Actually more jazzy and swinging than his big brother at the height of his postwar celebrity, the younger Cole is an elegant cooker whose down home, after-hours intimacy perfectly fit the upbeat countenance of toe-tappers such as "Getting Some Fun Out of Life."
With hand-in-glove support from his working trio of guitarist Randy Napoleon, bassist Elias Bailey and drummer Curtis Boyd, Cole cast spells from start to finish. Eschewing patter in favor of intimately intoned rubato verses setting up the likes of "I See Your Face Before Me," Cole proved why he is one of music's most venerable sages, a wise man... indeed, an oracle ... whose burnished disquisitions on life and love tantalizingly linger.
Randy Napoleon, Cole's principal foil, is an amazing young guitarist. His dovetailings with Cole and high-flying solos earned repeated rounds of applause. And what a joy to see, as well as hear, four wonderful musicians taking such pleasure and inspiration in each other's work. Waxing with a boppish swing here, and a funky groove there, Cole's well-tuned arrangements and program kept us at ear's-edge.
Time and again, we were reminded of the enduring musical and lyrical essences of such classics as "People," "A Small Cafe" and "It's Impossible." And in originals such as "South Side of Chicago," Cole's hometown was rich in references to Windy City jazz giants, such as Von Freeman and joints that were always jumpin'.
Back to that brother thing. Toward the end of the second set, Cole let loose with the emphatic "I'm Not My Brother, I'm Just Me." At once a loving tribute and a sly declaration of independence, the lyric included "Hey, I'm not trying to fill anyone's shoes/My brother made lots of money, I sing the blues."
In conclusion, let it be said that there's no one who could possible fill the happily worn "shoes" of Freddy Cole, an American original and source of light who at afternoon's end beamed such anthems of optimism as Charlie Chaplin's "Smile" and Louis Armstrong's signature "If We Never Meet Again."
Rousing cheers and a standing ovation signaled that Cole had, in the indelible words of Thelonious Monk, lifted the bandstand. Bravo!.