Freddy Cole’s distinguished career as a jazz pianist and vocalist spans a half century. As a member of one of America’s most prominent musical families, Juilliard graduate Cole has released 32 albums, is a Best Vocal Jazz Album Grammy nominee, a Georgia Music Hall of Fame inductee and a member of the Steinway Artist roster.
The Freddy Cole Quartet will be in residence at Blue Note Napa for eight performances Dec. 1-4.
The youngest sibling of Nat King Cole, Freddy Cole grew up in Chicago along with middle brother Ike, who was also a successful jazz pianist and composer. Freddy’s niece, the late Natalie Cole, was a major American recording artist for three decades.
On the phone from his Atlanta home, Freddy Cole talked about his limited childhood contact with his brother Nat, who was 12 years his senior. “Oh, he was on his way,” Cole said. “There wasn’t that much musical contact. We’d always be glad to see him when he came home from the road or when he was playing in Chicago somewhere. That’s the way that was.
“As we got older, I started to pay more attention and then I would ask questions. That’s how I learned. Just listening and a lot of times being in the other room and hearing those guys talking. You learn a lot. You learn an awful lot.”
Freddy was four years younger than his brother Ike and more immediately influenced by him. “We both came around at approximately the same time,” he said. “Ike was, in my estimation, the best piano player in the family. He’s the best. He’s a really great musician.”
Despite having two prominent musical brothers, Freddy identifies Billy Eckstine as his most important musical influence. His 2010 Grammy-nominated album was “Freddy Cole Sings Mr. B.”
“He was a great friend of the family,” Cole said of Eckstine. “Whenever he was in Chicago he would always stop by the house. And my mother would cook a meal or whatever for him and a lot of the other guys. I watched the ways he would hold his hands, the way he phrases. He was a great person for me to learn from.”
At age 85, Cole has outlived his musical family members and is still going strong. Prior to our interview, he’d just completed a European tour and was off to Japan for two shows before returning stateside for the Napa performances. Asked about his longevity and energy, he said, “I’ve been blessed and I’ve been lucky.”
Cole said that his passion for golf was at least partially responsible for his energy and upbeat outlook. “Up until recently, like a year or so ago, I’d play a lot of golf,” he said. “I met a lot of people all over the world playing golf. It gives you a positive outlook on life.
“Instead of sitting up in a hotel room all day in these different cities, you had someone you could go and play golf with. You go to the golf course and hit some balls or go to the golf course and have lunch. It’s just a state of mind. Each person has to take it upon themselves to not let themselves become bogged down, watching ‘The Young and the Restless’ and all that stuff.”
A veteran of Blue Note locations around the world, Cole is looking forward to his first experience at the Napa club. “It’ll be a good audience,” he said, “for what I call an invitation to relaxation.”
The Freddy Cole Quartet is Freddy Cole on piano and vocals, Matthew Parrish on bass, Henry Conerway III on drums and longtime sidekick and arranger Randy Napoleon on guitar.
Thursday, Dec. 1 through Sunday, Dec. 4, two shows nightly, 6:30 p.m. (doors open 5 p.m) and 9 p.m. (doors open 8:30 p.m.). $35—$55. Blue Note Napa. 1030 Main St., Napa. 707-880-2300. BlueNoteNapa.com.