The fine pianist and singer Freddy Cole died Saturday, June 27, at age 88 at his home in Atlanta. He had been struggling with cardiovascular issues for a while.
His manager, Suzi Reynolds, called him Mr. Magic. "He wove a web of sonic beauty with every note and kept listeners silently breathless with his casual, elegant storytelling...," she reflected Sunday via email.
While working for many years in the immense shadow of his far-famous elder brother, Nat King Cole, Freddy had his own powerful vibe. There were smoky vocal similarities between the two men (Nat was 12 years his senior and died in 1965), but Freddy became a jazz vocal master of distinction. He performed here, there, and seemingly everywhere, for well into seven decades.
I had several opportunities to hear his performances through the years. The Cape May Jazz Festival in 2004, Newport Jazz Festival in 2013 (where he opened for his niece Natalie Cole, and with the Naples (FL) Jazz Orchestra in 2014, come to mind. But the most impactful, for me, were the first couple of gigs many years earlier.
This was back in the mid-1960s. My parents took me to a little lounge on the western fringe of Albany NY. The names of the club and the strip mall in which it was located now escape me. But Freddy was an annual regular there on his performance circuit at the time. A few nights later, or perhaps the next year, I went back with two or three classmates and our dates after junior prom, just to hear Freddy. Not-your-typical after-prom party for a bunch of high schoolers.
Little did I know at the time that this first live jazz exposure, with Freddy performing solo, would whet my appetite for jazz in the way it has.
But it sure did.
Here's a link to my review of his Naples appearance for JazzTimes.
Three months into the pandemic quarantines caused by COVID-19, we have seen our lives changed in so many ways, at least temporarily. And none of us know with any certainty what the "new normal" will be.
What's the future for the intimacy of jazz clubs, or large-scale concerts in performance halls, or outdoor jazz festivals that draw thousands of warm bodies soaking up the sun, the vibes, the music?
Even event planners and producers lack answers or a quick fix, though they're doing a lot of brainstorming and contingency planning.
The current state of affairs has enhanced the technology skill set of many musicians - and fans. Four months ago, a lot of us rarely heard the word "livestreaming." Now it's top-of-mind, as musicians and their fans try to keep some semblance of artful normality in their lives, despite the enormous economic pain many are facing.
While most of 2020's jazz festivals won't occur, a few hope to press ahead. Some clubs and festivals are livestreaming to reach their musical faithful. There will be no 2020 editions of major festivals at Newport, New Orleans, Monterey or Montreal, among others. The 2021 edition of The Jazz Cruise won't happen, but organizers say its scheduled musicians have all committed to a January 2022 sailing.
So we'll see what happens when we emerge from this very long year. Things won't get back to close-to-normal until a COVID-19 vaccine is developed and mass inoculations take place. That's my feeling anyhow.
Let's be thankful for the musicians who have battled COVID-19 and survived it. Those I know about include brothers Dan (drums) and Darius Brubeck (piano), pianist Nachito Herrera, alto saxophonist Bobby Porcelli and trombonist Ron Wilkins. Doubtless there are - or will be - more.
Let's also remember the fallen. As of today, my count of jazz-related COVID-19 deaths is up to 38. And I'm quite sure there have been more.
My chronological listing of those passings is posted in two chapters. You can find them here: Chapter 1, Chapter 2.
Thank your lucky stars that you're still healthy. Let's hope that continues.