This past summer I went through the process of recording my first album. The whole process took place while I was home, in Atlanta. While I had the music in mind for quite some time, I usually spent my mornings at Starbucks, writing out arrangements for tunes.
One of these mornings, I, quite a procrastinator myself, started browsing the web. When procrastinating - or just on my usual internet browse- I look at sites of favorite musicians of mine. I read Marc Myers' JazzWax blog each day, and I usually find myself on Sonny Rollins' website before long. This particular day, I came across a long time musical idol of mine's website: Mr. Freddy Cole.
I have known for a long time that he is an Atlanta resident, and once even tried contacting him for a piano lesson while in high school. I tried contacting through his site; this means I went through his management, and he most certainly didn't even receive my letter.
As I browsed his page on this particular morning a thought crossed my mind: What if I could get Freddy Cole to sing on my album? After all, he lives in Atlanta.
I seemed at a dead end when I came across the same contact page as I did many years ago, and I almost gave up. But...maybe it was the coffee kicking in, or maybe it was just guts, but I had an idea.
I called 411, and asked for Mr. Freddy Cole's residence.I was immediately connected.
The phone rang, and someone said hello on the other end.
"Is Mr. Cole there?", I asked.
"Speaking." He said.
Part of me was in shock that I had actually connected with him. The other part of me was in shock at how cool it felt saying the words "Mr. Cole."
I introduced myself as a young pianist originally from Atlanta, now in New York for school. I asked him if he'd be willing to accompany me on my upcoming project. He was very nice about it, but basically shut it down right away.
However, for some reason he kept up the conversation.
"What tunes were you thinking about?" He asked.
"'Teach Me Tonight' and 'I Cover The Waterfront'," I said.
"Oh I love those tunes," he said.
He asked a bit more about me.
"Oh. You played at the Blue Note?" He sounded impressed. "Wow," he said.
He knew my piano teacher, Don Friedman well, and suddenly his whole tone changed.
"You did a good thing getting out of Atlanta," he said. "It's a great place to live, but there ain't no good music here."
I tried to change his mind, telling him of a recent group I saw at Blind Willies: Scott Glazer's Mojo Dojo, "But still," he said. "There's nothing like New York."
He asked me a bit more about my project, and we had a nice conversation about music in Atlanta, in New York, and so on.
Then he asked, "So what are you doing?"
"Nothing," I said. "Just getting ready to head back up to school."
"No," he answered. "I meant tonight."
Totally taken aback, I answered, "Nothing."
"You want to go listen to some music and we'll talk?"
"Definately." Shocked I was.
We met at an Atlanta establishment/tourist favorite called "Dante's Down The Hatch" at around 10:30 that night. He walked in and generously approached my Dad and I, sat down, and started conversation. Before long, he was engrossed in the song being sung on stage.
It was deep, he said. He'd never heard it, and asked if I did. I did. It was Elton John's, "Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word." When the singer came off the stage he complimented her on it, noting how "heavy" the lyrics were, and what a beautiful song it was. "Maybe I'll do something with it one day," he said. The vocalist said, "You could have it ready tomorrow," to which he responded, "I like to sit with a song for a while before I make something of it."
The vocalist went back on stage and opened with a tune called "Here's To Life," truly one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard. Freddy was so happy to hear it. He looked at me, sang the lyrics in my ear in a whisper that made it sound like he was speaking the words to me; that the lyrics, oh so poignant and meaningful, were the greatest piece of wisdom he could bestow upon me. However, it wasn't just that he was teaching me something through the lyrics. It seemed that he himself was taking something from this song that he must have heard a thousand times; however, somehow it sounded new this time.
He sang, in that hushed tone, that breathy, speach-like voice, the entire song. With each phrase he'd take a deep breath - not because he needed one, but because the words he was speaking provided him such relief, such peace.
I spoke to him about my frustrations of music school. How everyone was so in to the "modern" thing and how things felt to me devoid of emotion - excluding anger- , but real, tender emotion: the Ben Webster kind of emotion.
"Yeah," he said. "Everyone's got all the chops, but everyone sounds the same."
He got me up on the bandstand to play. During an embellishment on the melody of "Polka Dots And Moonbeams," (I think it was a Paul Desmond quote) he smiled at me.
He turned to my father and said, "He's got my repertoire down."
The pianist then welcomed Freddy to the stage. Freddy looked at me and said, "I don't want to go up," but, being the gentleman that he is, he walked on stage and launched in to two beautiful pieces: "Because of You," and "Blame It On My Youth."
Mr. Cole was as friendly as could be. He couldn't make my record date, but he sure taught me a lot that night - not just about being a musician, but about how to carry myself, how to be a gentleman.
"People often criticized me as a cocktail pianist," he said. "But I always had more gigs than them. You gotta be ready to play anything if you're going to be a real musician."
After the CD came out, I sent it to him and we spoke on the phone. The first thing he asked was, "How's your father?"
In response to the CD he said, "You'll do just fine. Just follow your heart. People may criticize you some day, just as they have me, but don't lose your way. You'll do good."
A true gentleman, I'll never forget that memorable night I spent with Mr. Cole.