Octogenarian may not be the biggest headliner in this year's but he just might be the smoothest. Not "smooth" in the dread sense of smooth jazz - perish the thought! - but smooth of manner, smooth in performance, and most of all smooth in voice. The man can sing.
Though the obligatory mid-song applause went to his quartet's solos, from cotton-top drummer Curtis Boyd, hyperkinetic bassist Elias Bailey and most of all the spirited young guitarist Randy Napoleon, vocalist Cole deserved an ovation after every verse. His warm voice wrapped around the melody with attention and finesse, coaxing immediacy and urgency from the lyrics without raising the volume.
Through two nearly sold-out performances in the garden behind the , the quartet brought the sophisticated sounds of a New York jazz lounge to town. The musicians, who have played together for years, head for Seattle's Jazz Alley from here, then on to Hollywood, Prague, London and Chicago in the next three weeks.
The Freddy Cole Quartet took the stage only after a heart-felt tribute to the late David Dietz from his widow, Press Democrat Arts & Entertainment editor Joanne Derbort. She drew parallels between his life force with the instruments of a jazz combo - "the physicality and exuberance of the baratone sax... the transcendance of the tenor..." and reminded the audience why they were celebrating his life here.
"He must have listened to jazz in a hundred places, and I am honored to welcome you to where David thought was the best place all off to hear jazz music."
Cole, who earlier had said he had no set list but just played after "feeling out the room," did just that in his first song. He almost phoned in his first verse of "This is a lovely place to spend an evening," surveyed the crowd with slow purpose, and then settled in to play some real jazz.
His voice like granulated honey, he alternated between uptempo songs and ballads for over an hour, bringing the audience rapport along up to the sexy come-on number "What Are You Afraid Of?"
"Take your shoes off, 'cause weren't not going dancing," he sang smoothly, as drummer Boyd hollered out an echo. "Kiss me like before, let the fire roar, and throw another pillow on the floor."
The audience loved it, and enjoyed the sight of an 80-year old man proclaiming his innocence of seductive intent - "What are you afraid of?"
The crowd was doubtless given a cozy glow from the sparkling wine supplied by sponsor JCB Winery and Tasting Room, whose two champagne-style offerings were a generous cut above the usual brut bruited about. A reception for "gold ticket" holders with the musicians was held at the JCB tasting room on Center following the show.
"This is like old time jazz," said ticket-holder Barbara Bozman-Moss. "There's no cynicism."
That's what was missing -- the bane of a self-analytical art form, a self-referential generation. There was no "meta-jazz" at work here, no genre-busting, techno sampling or hip-hopping. Just over an hour's worth of good songs, a top quartet and a great voice.
The Healdsburg Jazz Festival continues the rest of the week, with free events at the and , and a on Wednesday.