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Freddy Cole Sings Mr. B

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Album Review

Throughout his career, Freddy Cole has striven to maintain a style and tone that don't echo that of his older sibling, Nat, too closely, once even recording an album called I'm Not My Brother, I'm Me (although Freddy did his proclamation a disservice by cutting that album with a trio not unlike Nat's early configuration and including a Nat medley). Still, the familial resemblance has been undeniable, and even several decades after his own debut and the death of Nat, Freddy Cole's music sometimes can't help but bring to mind the more famous relative. Nonetheless, one shouldn't read too much into Freddy Cole's decision to record an album of songs associated with Billy Eckstine, rather than a tribute to Nat King Cole. Like Freddy, Eckstine was a Chicago-bred baritone and the two were close friends from the time Freddy was a youngster (Eckstine often visited the Cole house) up until Eckstine's death in 1993. The influence of Eckstine upon Cole has been significant and well documented, and this collection provides a golden opportunity to understand just how much Cole has absorbed from Eckstine without resorting to imitating him. A case in point is Cole's reading of "Jelly Jelly," which Eckstine co-wrote and first sang with Earl Hines in 1940. Eckstine's take is grittier, a vibrato-infused crawling blues that naturally befits the time and place it was recorded. Cole's remake is no less authentic, although not as jagged and more pop-oriented, more apropos of a seasoned veteran of nearly 80 interpreting what is essentially a period piece for a modern audience. Any affectations that might tie the tune to a more ribald origin are eliminated or smoothed over — the new version would be at home in any sophisticated contemporary nightclub populated by patrons who might be scared off by the streetwise Eckstine-Hines approach. "Cottage for Sale," a hit for Eckstine in the mid-'40s, is here given a casual, shuffling ballad treatment, Cole's voice revealing the slightest cracks as he unveils the story line, sympathetically accompanied by his regular band of John DeMartino (piano), Randy Napoleon (guitar), Elias Bailey (bass), and Curtis Boyd (drums), with Houston Person joining on tenor saxophone on most tracks. For "Ma, She's Makin' Eyes at Me," Cole dismisses all but Bailey for the first minute, focusing the light on his snappy, coolly swinging vocal until the others are allowed to join in. Similarly, the album's closer, "Mister, You've Gone and Got the Blues," leaves it up to guitarist Napoleon to provide the shape to Cole's vocal during its first third, before it all opens up. Overall, Cole succeeds in his mission to remind us of the greatness of Billy Eckstine, but at the same time he reminds us that Freddy Cole, too, is and always has been his own man.


Born: 15 October 1931 in Chicago, IL

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

The younger brother of Nat King Cole and uncle of Natalie Cole, singer/pianist Freddy Cole sounds a great deal like his celebrated sibling, yet has a personality of his own. Cole, whose vocals tend to be a bit darker and slightly rougher, began playing piano at five or six. He was interested in playing football professionally, but decided to pursue a career in music after a hand injury ended his career as an athlete. He debuted on vinyl in 1952 when he recorded the single "The Joke's on Me" for the...
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Freddy Cole Sings Mr. B, Freddy Cole
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