Sunday, November 10, 2013

Freddy Cole and Hilary Kole perform "Perfect Pairs" Series in Stamford' Palace Theatre

PERFECT PAIRS : Freddy Cole and Hilary Kole 

Freddy Cole photo Clay Walker 2007
Hilary Kole photo Bill Westmoreland

In a continuing effort to establish Stamford's beautiful Palace Theatre, as a serious venue competing for New York caliber entertainment, Darien resident and Stamford Center of the Arts board member, Lynn DiMenna had a revelation. If one entertainer could thrill an audience, why not try to pair artists in a synergistic way, doubling the chance for an interesting evening of music and entertainment. The Perfect Pairs series attempts to do just that and has been running at the Palace Theatre this fall season. 

DiMenna, herself a cabaret singer. was able to lure name talent to participate in this venture and fashion her vision into a reality. The series, started on September 7, 2013 bringing together the accomplished stride pianist/vocalist Judy Carmichael with the cabaret performer Steve Ross who the NY Times called "the suavest of all male cabaret performers." The second of four planned pairings occurred on October 18, 2013 when the Palace showcased vocalist/comedienne Christine Pedi and pianist/singer Johnny Rodgers. The two premiered their new show "Hearthrobs and Bombshells of the Movies," a time capsule spanning from 1920's through the present day, that celebrates the sophisticated men and ladies of the movies and the music they sang.
The program continues on Wednesday evening, November 13th, when the series will feature two entertainers that offer exciting possibilities, the singers Freddy Cole and Hilary Kole. 
Lynn DiMenna and Freddy Cole photo courtesy of Lynn. DiMenna

The veteran crooner/pianist Freddy Cole is a true master of the art of storytelling, and despite his personal distaste for labels, he is a standard bearer for the tradition of the great male jazz singers that have come before him. The lineage includes his brother Nat, Bing Crosby, Billy Eckstine, Frank Sinatra and Johnny Hartman to name a few.

Having grown up in a musical family and in the shadows of his famous older brother Nat "King" Cole, Freddy would not be deterred from a musical career of his own. He studied music at Julliard, receiving a master's degree from the New England Conservatory of Music. Now in his eighty-first year, his resonant baritone is still silken. He has a burnished warm tone with a refined delivery that has been honed over his years as a journeyman musician. His sensuous voice conjures up images of scotch, cigarettes, impeccably tailored threads and late nights with beautiful ladies clinging to your arms. When one hears Mr. Cole sing there is no mistaking the lineage, but he has taken great pains to create his own authentic style. A style  more in keeping with the phrasing and savior faire of Billy Eckstine, his self-professed greatest influence.

After years of leading the life of a working musician with moderate commercial success and over twenty albums as a leader, Mr. Cole's career had a rebirth starting in the late eighties. As he related to me in a recent interview, he was attending church in NY with his niece when a sermon struck him as particularly pertinent to his own situation. "It kind of touched me. I started going to try to right myself. You know going down the path..." "I was doing okay, I was playing around town, but I was on the same road. I was just going round and round in circles...  "You know there is an old saying 'If you don't know where your going you can take any road.' "Until you can get to where your peers respect what you do, that is when you are making progress." One day "When I was playing at Bradley's this one night, who came in but Carmen McRae, Betty Carter, George Coleman, you name it. You know, I said to myself they're all coming to see me! Never knowing that they respected what I did." That was about 1989. 

Since then Freddy has made some great recordings, culminating in his 2011 Grammy nominated album Freddy Cole Sings Mr. B in the category of "Best Jazz Vocal Album." Other fine and recent offerings include Talk to Me from 2011 and his latest This and That from this year.

As Howard Reich of the Chicago Tribune so aptly wrote about a recent performance of the Cole quartet in the Second City " You simply don't encounter phrasing as seemingly nonchalant yet polished as this very often anymore." It is Mr. Cole's ability to make the storytelling so natural and to combine it with a superb sense of musicality and rhythm that makes him a treasure not to be missed. 

The chanteuse Hillary Kole brings her own special appeal. The young and beautiful Ms. Kole is a mysterious mix. Having been one of the youngest artists to have played the Rainbow Room-she was twenty-one when she got a one and one half year gig at this elegantly fabled venue singing in front of the Steven Scott Orchestra. Kole went on to perform a cabaret show based on the music of Frank Sinatra titled Our Sinatra at the famed Algonquin hotel. Later she and her group added an extended run at The Blue Angel. She was just about done with this project when the show landed a gig at the iconic jazz club Birdland. Her extended stay at the club led to an unlikely romance with the owner Gianni Valenti. Valenti introduced her to Oscar Peterson, who was playing what proved to be his last run at the club. It was here that she had the rare opportunity to play with Peterson's group on at least one occasion. Her debut album Haunted Heart was produced by guitarist John Pizzarelli and released in 2009 with esteemed radio host Jonathan Schwartz commenting in the liner notes "Her future is solid. Trust me on this."

She followed this up with her Cd You Are There, a series of duets that Valenti produced, pairing her with some of the best pianists in jazz. Hilary's clear vocals were heard on a series of standards with accompaniment by the likes of Dave Brubeck, Hank Jones, Michel Le Grand and Cedar Walton to name a few. It was on this album that she first worked with Freddy Cole. The two recorded the Jimmy Van Heusen song "It's Always You" in September of 2006.
Ms. Kole has since left Birdland and Mr. Valenti behind, but she continues to perform with one foot in cabaret and one foot in jazz. 

It should prove to be an interesting evening when the two meet once again on the Palace's Harman Stage for this "Perfect Pairs" performance. Mr. Cole's band of Randy Napoleon on guitar, Elias Bailey on bass and Curtis Boyd on drums should make for solid accompaniment for the two singers.  

Mr. Cole, the consummate professional, will undoubtedly be able to reach into his war chest of over five thousand songs to find ones most suitable for the occasion.  Ms. Kole will likely have to adapt on the fly, using her jazz chops as there will be no prearranged set list. Freddy prefers to "read" his audience before choosing the songs he will play on the bandstand on any given night. As he said when we spoke "Fortunately it is jazz music so it gives us a chance to do several things."  Ms Kole has a wonderful voice and an equally elegant stage presence. Her years of experience on the bandstands will undoubtedly help her navigate Mr. Cole's penchant for unpredictability.

It is music in the making that makes the "Perfect Pairs" series such an exciting concept. Two seemingly disparate entertainers coming together using the universal language of music and the extemporaneous nature of jazz as their common thread. It should make for an interesting evening of great entertainment. For more information on the show click here.

For a link to my full interview with Mr. Cole click here.

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