Freddy Cole

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Freddy Cole

Freddy Cole Christmas
with Special Guest Harry Allen

Birdland, NYC, December 22, 2015

Reviewed by Marilyn Lester for Cabaret Scenes

Freddy-Cole-Cabaret-Scenes-Magazine_212Combine a holiday tradition with jazz royalty at the land of Bird, and the result is the enduring Freddy Cole. Just past his 84th birthday, Cole brings a savvy maturity to the table. The vocal power may not be as it once was, but the musicality is very much in tact.

From the opening number, “Jingles, the Christmas Cat,” it was clear that his satiny baritone was in place, along with expressive phrasing and even a certain charming slyness with lyric, such as in the snappy, subtly Latinized, “I’ll Buy You a Star.”

With Cole it’s all about the music: no talking—just singing and playing (and that’s just fine). His piano work is economical—extracting maximum gustoso from the fewest notes possible. As a pure vocalist, stepping away from the piano, he proved strong with “Tender Is the Night” and “I Was Telling Her About You,” the latter with an arrangement by bassist Elias Bailey. Bailey, plus regular sidemen, Randy Napoleon (guitar) and Quentin Baxter (drums), complement Cole with a steady ease—these cats have chops, amply demonstrated throughout the set.

Guest artist Harry Allen on tenor saxophone also shone with a smooth, mellow delivery, especially on “To the Ends of the Earth,” a song made famous by Cole’s big brother Nat. Unlike Nat Cole, who moved from jazz to popular music, Freddy Cole forged his own identity in the jazz idiom. He does, however, pay homage to his sibling with “A Blossom Fell” (a hit for the established Nat when Freddy was just starting out) and “A Cradle in Bethlehem.” It’s the blues, though, that are Cole’s strong suit.

Ballads, such as “Old Days, Old Times, Old Friends” and “I See Your Face Before Me” suffered from a lack of vocal power, but the blues numbers “My Mother Told Me” and “I Hate to See the Sun Go Down” perfectly suited Cole’s maturity, as did his soulful version of “Blue Christmas.” With the encore, “To Say Goodbye,” he exited on a samba note, with a wink and a nod to the adeus.

Marilyn Lester

Marilyn Lester left journalism and commercial writing behind nearly two decades ago to write plays. That branch in the road led to screenwriting, script-doctoring, dramaturgy and producing for the stage. Marilyn has also co-authored, as well as edited, books. It seemed the only world of words she hadn’t conquered was criticism, an opportunity that presented itself via Theater Pizzazz. Marilyn has since sought to widen her scope in this form of writing she especially relishes. Marilyn is a member of the Authors Guild, Dramatists Guild, Women in the Arts and Media and The League of Professional Theater Women.