Jazz Profiles from NPR
Freddy Cole
Produced by Joan Merrill

Freddy Cole  

Masterful vocalist and pianist, Freddy Cole captivates listeners with his elegant presence, subtle phrasing, and intimate singing style. Although he has been charming audiences in the States and abroad for over 40 years, Freddy did not find wider acclaim until the 1990s.

Listen to pianist/singer Diana Krall, saxophonist Grover Washington, Jr., and pianist Cyrus Chestnut talk about Freddy's artistry

Having a family member already in the limelight has its mixed-blessings. For much of his career, Freddy was overshadowed by the larger-than-life persona and legendary career of his brother Nat King Cole. He had to struggle to find his own niche in the jazz world.

Listen to Freddy talk about the constant comparisons between he and his brother, Nat King Cole

Lionel Frederick Cole, born October 15, 1931 in Chicago, was the fifth child to bless the harmonious household of Edward and Pelina Cole. By the age of five, under the benevolent guidance of his father, a minister, and his musically inclined mother, he started to play the family piano.

Listen to Freddy reflect on his father

A natural musician, Freddy was also a gifted athlete with professional aspirations. However, when a high school sports injury put an end to his budding football career, he decided to pursue music, issuing his first recording, "The Joke's On Me," in 1952.

Freddy continued his music education, first at Chicago's Roosevelt Institute, and later at the Juilliard School of Music in New York. After earning degrees from Juilliard and the New England Conservatory of Music, he hit the thriving jazz scene of New York City, taking whatever work he could find and learning the ropes from such influential mentors as drummer Sonny Greer.

Listen to Freddy talk about his early years in New York City

During his formative years in New York, Freddy listened closely to the way horn players formed phrases in their solos and cultivated a sparse, swinging vocal style that would become his signature.

My brother was a very talented man and he used his talents well. I am talented and I had to learn to use mine. I had to learn to be strong enough to withstand a lot of temptation and not get beaten down mentally.

-- Freddy Cole  

In the mid 1970s, Freddy built an international fan base with a series of European recordings. His album, One More Love Song went gold in Brazil. Because his intimate singing style resembled that of many Brazilian balladeers, the Brazilians embraced him like one of their own.

Listen to Freddy talk about his rapport with Brazilian jazz fans

Throughout the 1980s, Freddy continued playing clubs and inspiring up-and-coming musicians, but garnering minimal commercial success. Finally, his perseverance paid off when producer Todd Barkan began working with him at Fantasy Records.

Listen to producer Todd Barkan recall the first time he heard Freddy Cole perform

With Barkan in the booth, Freddy recorded a series of stellar CDs throughout the 1990s. With each project, Freddy's popularity in the U.S. gained additional momentum. Barkan also paired the crooner with other celebrated jazz artists such as saxophonist Grover Washington, Jr. and guitarist Russell Malone.

Listen to saxophonist Grover Washington Jr. describe working with Freddy

Today, Freddy Cole feels "blest" to be doing what he loves best - telling stories through music, reaching people with his exuberant warmth and inexorable talent. We should consider ourselves equally as fortunate to hear more from this jazz great with the panache of Duke Ellington and a voice like "raw silk."

Listen to Freddy reflect on his career


View the Freddy Cole show playlist


Read the NPR Jazz Review of Freddy Cole's CD Merry Go Round