Story by TERESA CUELLAR and ADRIANNE MURCHISON/Photos JASON GETZ
As much as Atlanta is heralded, the city gets a bum wrap when it comes to jazz artists. The truth is Atlanta is home to a number of musicians who play alongside acclaimed names in concerts around the world.
There are even legendary musicians who have planted roots here, such as Freddy Cole, who recently performed at The Velvet Note in Alpharetta.
The jazz singer and pianist was born into a large musical family in Chicago in which the two other most famous names include his late brother Nat and niece Natalie, who passed away in 2015.
Growing up, Cole was exposed to and influenced by Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Billy Eckstine, among others.
Today, at age 86, Cole is more dedicated to his craft than ever, he says, releasing a new album titled “My Mood is You” and performing in gigs around the world.
“I love it better than I did before because I know my time is running short,” he says, adding that jazz has a universal audience. “Even back in the times of communist Germany, there were still people that would slip away to listen to Duke and Louis [Armstrong].”
Tamara Fuller, owner of The Velvet Note, describes Cole as pure authenticity and admires how he did not leverage his family name or try to impersonate Nat King Cole in his work.
“Freddy’s lyricism, compositions and collaborations, his humor, just who he is as a person is so phenomenal,” she says. “In part because it is original to him. There is no one like Freddy Cole.
“As a venue owner, I am stunned at the number of people who consider Freddy to be personal friends and who will leapfrog over all adverse conditions to come out and see him.”
In 1971, Cole moved to Atlanta from New York City, where he studied at Julliard. (He has a doctorate in music education from the New England Conservatory.)
He has fond memories of his first trip to the Big Apple at age 12. He traveled alone by train to visit brother Nat, who was staying at The Hotel Teresa.
“There was a guy who had a shoeshine stand right on the corner,” Cole recalls. “Every time I would go to New York until he died a few years ago, he would laugh and make fun of me. I had a brown, pin-striped suit [that he remembered me wearing]. I was sharp!”
Cole has become an honorary member of the Atlanta Jazz Listeners Club, a local group of serious, longtime fans of the genre that meets once a month to share recordings and jazz appreciation.
“It’s such an honor to have Freddy Cole be a part of our group because he brings so much knowledge and understanding — and history,” says member Monroe Banks. “We try to pick his brain. He tells us stories like how he was an athlete playing ball and had ambitions to go further, but was injured and started playing the piano and never stopped.”
Cole also introduced the club to Jimmy Heath, another legendary musician residing in the Atlanta area. As part of the Heath brothers and individually, the saxophonist performed with John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and most headliner names that would come to your mind.
“They were very happy that I put them in touch with Jimmy because he tells stories after stories,” Cole says.
Freddy Cole is scheduled to performs this year at several New York City venues including Birdland Jazz Club, The Blue Note, Blues Alley and the Jazz Standard. Be sure to see Living Northside’s New York Jazz story in this issue. freddycolemusic.com
The Atlanta Jazz Listeners Club
The late Willis Scruggs and his best friend Thomas Hammond started the Atlanta Jazz Listeners Club in 1945. Members meet each month at the host’s home or a suggested location and listen to music, sometimes into the wee hours of the morning.
“It’s so much fun,” says president Monroe Banks. “I can’t imagine not being a part of this club. All of our collections of music are basically alike but each person has their own special thing that they like. I might like what a member is playing but I don’t realize how great it is until I hear them play it.”
Group members will go near and far to see musicians perform. They’ve seen saxophonist Eric Alexander play in New York City, as well as at The Velvet Note. A particularly special event was drummer Jimmy Cobb at the Alpharetta club. “He is the last living guy on Miles Davis’ ‘Kind of Blue’ album,” says John Glenn, a club member. “It was really something seeing how he’s still got it.”
The club is currently small in number. Banks encourages prospective members to attend a gathering to see if it’s a good fit for them. Email Banksmonroeg@att.net
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