Freddy Cole – Love Makes The Changes (1998)

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NICK DERISO: Young Freddy Cole had dreams of performing in the NFL. You might understand why the younger brother of Nat “King” Cole would shy away from playing piano and singing.

But a severe injury to one hand led him to listen more closely to the emotions that jazz music stirred in him.

Perhaps it was destiny, anyway. “I started playing piano at 5 or 6,” he said. “Music was all around.”

Cats like Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Lionel Hampton would stop in. Billy Ekstine also influenced Cole. “He was a fantastic entertainer,” Cole said. “I learned so much from just watching and being around him.”

Cole expanded his horizons, with expressive phrasing and an impressively easy relationship with jazz standards, pop tunes and love ballads. And he made his own name. Mature, expressive, Cole is a jazz singer’s jazz singer – and would be no matter who is brother was.

Forced to give up football, Cole enrolled at the Julliard School of Music in 1951.

There, a more modern aesthetic ruled. He started listening to the Modern Jazz Quartet’s John Lewis and the great Oscar Peterson. Later, Cole completed a master’s degree at the New England Conservatory in Boston.

Then, it was back to New York City – where Cole established a career first as a pianist, then later as a vocalist. The same as Nat Cole. So, shaking the legacy of his brother has been harder.

“I’ve done songs that Nat’s been associated with all my life,” Cole said. But who hasn’t?

The difference is the name – and that Freddy sounds an awful lot like him. There are distinctions, though. The beauty in his voice is less grand and more groovy.

Freddy Cole’s style, in truth, owes more to Billie Holiday in that he can’t keep from swinging a lyric a little – even on a sad song. And, like her’s, Freddy’s soul is raspier and his singing smokier than anything Nat could muster.

But, the resemblance is still there. He cops to it with a nightly concert medley of Nat’s music. But Freddy Cole is quick to warn audiences who might crave more: “You did not pay for Nat Cole.”

So, there’s music from the songbooks of Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, Gladys Shelly and others.

There are plenty of originals sprinkled in too, from a recording career that began with 1952’s “The Joke’s On Me,” recorded for the obscure Chicago-based Topper label. Later, he settled into a multi-CD stay with Fantasy.

Even so, it took a while for the younger Cole to begin moving out of the elder’s shadow. He’s easy-going about it all and, yeah, success helps: Cole has been nominated for numerous Grammys and received some acclaim of his own.

“That battle is over with now and I do what I feel comfortable doing,” Cole said. “I’ve really learned to be me. I’m happy with me right now.”

The title of this, his best album, reflects that: “Love Makes The Changes.”

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