Members Of Atlanta’s Jazz Community Remember Freddy Cole

Freddy Cole died in June.

Nick Ut / Associated Press

Jazz vocalist and pianist Freddy Cole died on June 27. Cole was a world-renowned musician who distinguished himself from his older brother, Nat King Cole, with a down-to-earth demeanor on stage and by following his own musical path. Cole also called Atlanta home. To honor the life and legacy of Cole, five members of Atlanta’s jazz community shared what made Cole and his music special to them.

WABE’s H Johnson recounted a time when Cole called to ask about a song Johnson played on his weekly jazz program, Jazz Classics. Cole told him he had never heard the song, “But for Now,” and that he was going to put it on his next album.

Sure enough, Cole recorded the song and released it on the album “This Love of Mine.”

Johnson explained that Cole admitting to being unfamiliar with the song showed his honest and down-to-Earth character despite being world famous. It also demonstrated his love of music overall.

“That showed me that Freddy was open to any new music he could hear,” said Johnson.

Trumpet player and singer Joe Gransden said he will never forget having the opportunity to play with Cole on stage at Cafe 290. Gransden’s big band asked Cole to sing a song with them, and he obliged. They played “If I Had You.”

The energy in the room changed as soon as Cole got on stage.

“Right before he came up the energy in the room was so great because the band had just played ‘Love for Sale,’ Buddy Rich’s ‘Love for Sale,’ which is a real high-energy song,” recalled Gransden, “and Freddy came up and sang this ballad right after that and instantly the room just got real quiet and real still.”

Gransden said that Cole’s ability to mesmerize a room was a real gift.

“I don’t think that’s something you can learn in music school,” said Gransden. “I think that’s something you’re kind of born with, and you learn how to craft it.”

Former WCLK jazz DJ Carl Anthony also described Cole as having a mesmerizing presence on stage.

“The way he phrased a lyric and told a story was unlike anybody I have ever seen before,” said Anthony.

Anthony remembers that off-stage Cole was the same as on: Humble, elegant and thoughtful.

Tamara Fuller is the owner of The Velvet Note jazz club in Alpharetta. She said that Cole played a role in her life long before she ever met the man.

Fuller’s previous job required her to travel nearly every day. As part of those travels, she often saw drivers holding signs with people’s names on them at airports, which meant someone was waiting for them. No one was ever there to meet her. Until she discovered Cole, that is.

“I put this one specific recording on my stereo system, so when I would get home at the end of the trip, I’d walk into my place and click the button, and there was Freddy’s voice to greet me,” said Fuller.

As far as Cole’s contribution to the Atlanta jazz scene, Fuller said his support made all the difference.

“Having Freddy Cole in your audience was bigger than life,” said Fuller, “Freddy would get out of the house and make the trip and come and support.”

Cole was also happy to share his love of jazz with other music aficionados, even if they were a total stranger as pianist Joe Alterman discovered.

Alterman was in college when he first met Cole. While working on a demo, he thought he’d like to include a recording with Cole singing “I Cover the Waterfront.”

“I can’t believe I actually did this,” remembers Alterman.

He looked up Cole in the phonebook, gave him a call and pitched the idea. Cole turned down the offer, but kept talking with Alterman about music, eventually inviting him to watch a show at Dante’s Down The Hatch.

“I was shocked that he was even cool to me after that phone call,” said Alterman looking back on the event. “What I’m going to miss the most is that feeling in the room when he’d walk on stage and sing one or two notes, and the whole vibe of the room would change.”