The career of vocalist and pianist Freddy Cole refutes F. Scott Fitzgerald's famous epigram twice over: he's a second act with his own second act. Blessed (or cursed?) with a set of pipes almost identical to that of his legendary sibling, for years Freddy slipped under the radar as "Nat 'King' Cole's brother." But in the 90s Freddy's finally blossomed, with a series of well-regarded albums (most of them for Fantasy) and a steadily growing audience for his unflappably cool yet frankly emotional blues-inflected balladry. He still sounds almost spookily like his brother--he has the same reedy rasp, faint drawl, exacting diction, and tonal precision that lifted Nat, a glittering jazz pianist, to the heights of popular stardom. In fact listening to Freddy today gives Nat's fans the best possible glimpse of what might've been: the human voice darkens with age, often to great advantage, but Nat died in 1965, when he was not yet 50 years old. At 67, Freddy has now lived two decades longer than his brother, and on last year's dreamy Love Makes the Changes he sounds like my mind's-ear version of an older Nat Cole. That's nothing he should be ashamed of, either: finding fault with Freddy's fraternal fealty quite misses the point. Plenty of other singers have incorporated Nat's innovations too, Shirley Horn being an especially impressive example. And no matter who sings this style, it's a great style. To Freddy's credit, he hasn't made too big a deal out of sounding like Nat, avoiding his brother's signature tunes in favor of his own swanky intimacies. His quartet stars his own understatedly perfect accompaniment and quietly intelligent solos as well as Gerry Byrd's guitar. Tuesday through Thursday, 8 and 10 PM, next Friday and Saturday, March 26 and 27, 9 and 11 PM, and next Sunday, March 28, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473. Neil Tesser
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Steve Manuta.