|A seasoned performer with worldwide appeal.|
Jazz singer and pianist Freddy Cole is a proʼs pro, a natural performer who got his start in the business early – very early. As the younger brother of Nat “King” Cole, he grew up in a household where Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Lionel Hampton and Billy Eckstine were regular visitors. He began playing in Chicago clubs as a teenager, then got formal musical training at Juilliard and the New England Conservatory of Music before settling in as a regular on the New York nightclub circuit and launching an international touring career. At 80, Freddy hasnʼt slowed down a bit; he was in Poland last month, will be going to London after his Prague gig, and has other dates scheduled in Germany, Switzerland, Russia and Chile this year. His enduring popularity reflects the wide appeal of his music, a smart, sophisticated treatment of the American songbook presented with style and an engaging stage presence. Prior to coming to Prague, Freddy talked about his work and career in a phone conversation from his home in Atlanta.
In 2010 you released Freddy Cole Sings Mr. B, a tribute to Billy Eckstine. What was your relationship with him?
I sort of grew up with him. He was very good friends with my brothers, so consequently in time he and I became very good friends. I canʼt tell you how many years I knew him, but it was a long time.
What did you learn from him?
Where should I begin? Just watching him, you could pick up different little things – nuances with your hands, how he approached the music. He was a very classy man.
Did the CD accomplish what you had hoped?
Well, you can never do enough with a person like that, he was such a giant in the business. We looked at a lot of his songs, and found that we were just scratching the surface. There is a lot of whatʼs called the American songbook played on the radio now, but you very seldom hear Billy Eckstine. It puzzles me. But when you start to play his music, it brings back memories for so many people.
Youʼve been playing abroad for a long time. Do you find yourself introducing new material to foreign audiences, or are they already familiar with a lot of it?
Itʼs a little of both. Mostly, what I try to do is play something that they know. Thereʼs no sense in me coming over there to play some avant-garde stuff that has people sitting there scratching their heads. I try to play something that they know within the realm of what I do.
You could have retired a long time ago. What keeps you on the road?
The music. The music keeps me going. As long as Iʼve got the strength, and I can do it, Iʼll continue to do so.
After all these years, how do you keep your sound fresh?
Iʼm always listening to music, and Iʼm always adding stuff, doing something different here and there. You never can tell – I might like the chord structure in one song, or the lyrics in another. Thatʼs the beauty of jazz, you donʼt have to play it the same way all the time.
What can we expect to hear at your Prague concert?
Weʼll be doing several things from the newest album, Talk to Me, and some other things – you can never tell. Our repertoire stretches from Broadway to the blues.
Do you work from a set list?
No, I really donʼt, because to me it kind of gets in the way. If the music is not going over, why continue to do the same thing? Switch up and do something else. It keeps people guessing, keeps them on the edge of their seats. You canʼt do that with a set list.
When you played Prague Spring in 2008, you were at Lucerna Music Bar, a rock ʼnʼ roll club. How do you feel about going from there to the most prestigious stage in the country, at the National Theater?
Iʼll be very, very happy to play there, just like I was happy enough to play in the juke joint. You know, Iʼm a saloon singer. As long as Iʼm singing, the world is all right and everything is swinging.
And what do you hope the audience gets from your performance?
Joy and happiness. Keep hope alive, keep jazz alive.
For a video clip and ticket information: http://www.narodni-divadlo.cz/Default.aspx?jz=en&dk=predstaveni.aspx&sb=4&ic=5832&pr=91371
Photo by Clay Walker