Thursday, November 8, 2012


Freddy Cole
Jazz singer Freddy Cole’s Wednesday night set at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café in suburban Detroit started 30 minutes late with no explanation. The audience was forgiven once Cole and his band—drummer Curtis Boyd, bass player Elias Bailey and guitar player Randy Napoleon—began playing. 

Cole played a soul numbing set of love songs from the American songbook. So far, it was the greatest set of music I’ve experienced this year by a renowned headliner. It surpassed Charles Lloyd’s, Aaron Diehl’s, Cassandra Wilson’s, and Wynton Marsalis’ shows. All memorable shows I would pay to see again. Romantic and debonair jazz singers are hard to come by these days. 

At 81, Cole’s voice is still in good shape. After the fourth selection, I wondered if he was lip-syncing because his voice was that lucid and distinct. Cole is an old-school balladeer and a storyteller. When he sang “I Was Telling Her About You,” “Talk to Me,” and “My First Impression of You,” 

Cole came across as if reciting prominent  works of literature. And his piano playing was sensual as if his fingers made love to the piano keys. Cole didn’t rush through any of the songs he sang. Instead he wrapped his hand around their waist and escorted them around the club. 

Over the years, I’ve caught many jazz shows at the Dirty Dog. Cole’s show was the first I’ve attended where the audience gave the performers their undivided attention. Cole and Napoleon had the audience smitten. 

Napoleon dished out one elegant solo after the next. For five years, Napoleon has been Cole’s leading man. Throughout the set, Napoleon grinned as if he was the luckiest jazz guitar player on earth, lucky to be in Cole’s band. 

Cole’s other band-mates were on point. Coles relied on Bailey to keep the band on course. On ever number, Bailey kept the time and the melody in plain sight. Boyd’s drumming was a case study in tastefulness. 

Several of the classic love songs Cole played are on his album “Talk To Me,” released last year. After an hour of seducing the audience with love songs, Cole played an unsolicited encore Bill Wither’s “Lovely Day,” which may have been Cole's way of making up for starting the set late. 

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