Freddy Cole booked his first gig at the age of 12. He was hired to sing at a wedding.
"I made $25," the musician recalled. "I was rich."
He cut his teeth singing in the choir and, he said, one thing led to another. Now 82, Cole continues to travel the country with his jazz quartet. The group will perform Sunday, Nov. 10, at Lancaster's Ware Center. He got a call from another venue in the middle of a recent phone interview.
"You just keep plowing away," he said.
Music might just run in his blood. Born Lionel Frederick Cole in 1931, he was the youngest of the Cole boys. His older brothers -- Eddie, Ike and Nat King Cole -- were all accomplished music men who came up in the Chicago jazz clubs.
"My brother Nat was a great musician, and the whole world learned from him," Cole said, adding that Nat actually got his start in Eddie's band.
Back then, Cole was too young to get into clubs, but he could see his siblings perform at theaters and concert halls. He was soon trying to soak up music wherever he went.
"You keep your antennas up," Cole added. "You go and hear music and you try to incorporate it into the way you play."
With formal training at Chicago's Roosevelt Institute and The Juilliard School, Cole started to cultivated his own singing style, which differed from Nat's elegant baritone. While he had too many influences to name, Cole said John Lewis, Billy Eckstine and Oscar Peterson are near the top of the list.
Through the years, Cole has produced a large catalog of albums. His 2010 album "Freddy Cole Sings Mr. B" -- a tribute to Eckstine -- earned a Grammy nomination.
His most recent CD, "This and That," was released in June. Cole said listeners might recognize an Isley Brothers cover and a rendition of "Everybody's Talkin'" from the film "Midnight Cowboy."
"Selection is important," he added. "That's the fun part. (These) tunes are songs I've known over the years."
He'll bring a few ideas to the recording studio, as will the session musicians and the producer. As a group, they'll select the best ones.
The same informal style applied to picking his quartet, which has been together for quite some time, Cole said. In the jazz world, friendships are forged at gigs or through mutual friends.
On Sunday, the quartet will perform several songs from the new album, as well as some other tunes from the catalog. Cole, who is based in Atlanta, said he's looking forward to getting back to Pennsylvania, where he found a strong jazz following in the past.
And even though most would consider him a seasoned jazz vet, Cole said he's still a student.
"I went out the other night just to hear from friends of mine," he said. "I'm blessed to be around this long. The only thing I can say is: Thank God. Glad to be here."
Contact Erin McCracken at 717-771-2051.
Details on the Freddy Cole Quartet show
Freddy Cole will perform with his quartet 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 10, at The Ware Center, 42 N. Prince St., Lancaster. The Central Pennsylvania Friends of Jazz hosts the event. Tickets are $28 for adults, $24 for CPFJ members and $10 for students. For details and tickets, call 717-872-3811 or visit MUTicketsOnline.com. For details about Cole, visit www.freddycole.com.
List of players in the Freddy Cole Quartet
Elias Bailey, string bass
Randy Napoleon, guitar
Curtis Boyd, drums
Freddy Cole, piano and vocals