With “Mr. B,” jazz singer Freddy Cole remembers a master

On his new album, Atlanta jazz pianist and singer Freddy Cole pays tribute to an old friend.
As a kid growing up in Chicago, singer Billy Eckstine used to drop by the house to visit Freddy’s older brother Nat who proved to be no slouch in the vocal department either.
But since Eckstine’s death in 1993, selections from the singer’s songbook and his contributions to popular music have drifted off the pop culture radar.
With his new tribute, “Freddy Cole Sings Mr. B” on HighNote Records, Cole aims to remedy that.
“You’ve nailed my true feelings about why I made this record,” Cole tells Intel over lunch at Baraonda in Midtown. “To me, it’s a damn shame that Billy’s work has gotten lost over the years.”
“Here’s a guy, who along with my brother, helped to change an entire industry. When ever I run into young people, I always try and turn them onto Billy’s work. I tell them, ‘Check out what Billy was doing’ because he was really a master. With this new disc, I’m hoping to spread the word a little further.”
Some of Eckstine’s best known tunes, including “Tender is the Night,” “A Cottage For Sale” and “Pretty One” are included on the romantic, ballads-oriented set.
Cole, along with his regular band of pianist John DeMartino, guitarist Randy Napoleon, bassist Elias Bailey and drummer Curtis Boyd collaborated with tenor saxophonist Houston Person to help achieve the disc’s delicate flow.
“We were looking for that smooth George Shearing [Quintet] sound,” Cole reflects. He smiles and adds: “I think we found it too!”
Aside from the Eckstine standards of love lost and found, everyone in the band came in with one additional tune on their recording wish lists as well: “Ma, She’s Making Eyes at Me.”
“That one surprised me a bit,” Cole says laughing. “But it turned out we all loved it. You have to remember back in the day, you needed to work a little humor into the act to keep things fresh. And Billy Eckstine was a real showman.”