Yet Freddy Cole, whose voice to this day resembles that of his legendary sibling, seems to have survived the experience fairly well. Though some listeners undoubtedly savor the trademark family timbre, Freddy Cole makes no big deal of it. Nor does he go out of his way to distance himself from the legacy of his irreplaceable brother.
Granted, no one is going to place Freddy Cole among the foremost vocal interpreters of swing tunes and jazz ballads. Even at its best, Cole's work poses no threat to the contributions of titans such as Joe Williams, Johnny Hartman or Milt Grayson.
But the man is no ordinary lounge crooner, either. The distinctiveness of his phrasing and approach to rhythm, as well as the boldness of his pianism, point to the work of a genuine artist. Moreover, the man is comfortable in his own skin, swinging easily from one piece to the next, enjoying his audience every bit as much as it appreciates him.
Beyond the obvious similarities in the vocal work of the Cole siblings (and that includes brother Ike), Freddy Cole's singing has its own, unmistakably distinguishing characteristics. The rough and grainy texture of his lowest register, the generally clipped nature of his phrases and the spoken quality of some of his lyric reading define a personal performance style.
For all his warm appeal as vocalist, however, Cole proves still more enticing as pianist. When he plays bop-tinged right-hand lines, his tone is bigger and his ideas more succinct than one typically encounters in this kind of playing. And when Cole applies both fists to the keyboard, his chords are among the brawniest this side of McCoy Tyner.
During Tuesday night's opening set, Cole steered clear of very fast or slow readings, offering instead incremental variations on a basic, medium-swing tempo. This gave his show the breezy, seemingly nonchalant air that is his specialty.
Consider his poignant, sublimely understated reading of a tune more widely associated with Tony Bennett, "How Do You Keep the Music Playing?" Bennett devotees long have been accustomed to the master's quasi-operatic rendition, built on soaring melody lines and a series of escalating climaxes. Cole, to his credit, took a different tack. His version was so soft-spoken and unostentatious, one easily could imagine him whispering the classic Bergman lyrics to a lover in some private moment. The tenderness of Cole's reading, with its disarming pauses and hesitations, made this the highlight of the evening.
The Freddy Cole Quartet plays through Sunday at the Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand Ave. Phone 312-670-2473.