[Monday Note No. 152] Freddy Cole, younger brother of the great Nat King Cole, was a fine musician who performed for almost fifty years with his trio, until his death about a year ago at the age of 89. In his song I’m Not My Brother I’m Me, Freddy humorously recounts how he spent his life in the shadow of his famous brother.
In the history of jazz, there are many cases of brothers who have led important musical careers. Examples are the saxophonist Cannoball Adderley and his brother Nat, trumpeter. Or the three Jones brothers, pianist Hank, drummer Elvin and trumpeter Thad.
In the case of Freddy and Nat King Cole it is a bit different because both were pianist-singers, and Nat was so great and famous that it must not have been easy for Freddy to hold his own.
When his older brother Nat passed away, Freddy was 36 years old and consequently he had to live the rest of his life as ‘Nat King Cole’s brother’. This song is an ironic and humorous response to this fate, which Freddy evidently accepted without particular annoyance, so much so that at his concerts it was normal to hear him play the classic songs performed by his brother.
Since it is inevitable to compare the two, we might as well do it now: Freddy is inferior to Nat both as a singer and as a pianist. However, he does not lack some original qualities that make his music very enjoyable.
Hence, let us analyse I’m Not My Brother I Am Me, a typical song in the AABA form that uses the most typical of harmonic progressions, I VI II V in the key of F major.
In part B we observe the classic modulation to the IV degree, the piece moves to the key of B flat major.
If the form is that of a classic jazz standard, the melody is decidedly bluesy. In fact, almost all the phrases are taken from the blues scale. In any case, the piece is more of an entertainment number than a serious piece.
Like many American performers, Freddy Cole is indeed a skilled entertainer, often taking his hands off the piano to emphasise his words with his gestures. It is not common to see a pianist-singer who can be so expressive and communicative in singing while accompanying himself on the piano.
Freddy Cole is not a virtuoso either on the piano or as a singer, but in one thing he undoubtedly excels: he is a fantastic accompanist. The pauses he takes at the piano are often very long, rather unusual. The chords are rarefied, which is also why Freddy can take his hands off the keyboard so easily.
He also plays the piano in a very relaxed way. He doesn’t play anything exceptional, but everything he does has a purpose and a meaning, so listening to him and watching him is a great pleasure.
As he says in the song, Freddy is not his brother, but himself. Let us follow his example by also trying to play in our own way, putting notes and chords in the right place, without trying to imitate pianists who are better and more famous than us. Our music will surely benefit, and we will probably also be much more happy, a quality that Freddy does not seem to lack.
Until next Monday
Download the lead sheet of I’m Not My brother I Am Me, Freddy Cole
Thanks to my friend and student Andrea who introduced me to Freddy Cole!