Jazz Musicians Remember Freddy Cole and Johnny Mandel

The jazz world lost two pillars of the American musical tradition this weekend with the passing of vocalist Freddy Cole, a pianist and composer who, along with his brother Nat “King” Cole, perfected a lush and radiant approach to jazz standards; and composer Johnny Mandel, whose contributions to the jazz canon include “The Shadow of Your Smile” and “Suicide Is Painless,” the theme song from M.A.S.H.

In the wake of these losses, musicians took to social media to express their grief over the passing of these custodians of the Great American Songbook, and to share their gratitude for the music they left behind. Below is a collection of remembrances from artists who knew, worked with or simply admired these two titans of popular song. These excerpts were originally posted on Facebook and Twitter.

Freddy Cole (1931-2020)


Allan Harris, vocalist

“Down in the Atlanta underground scene there was a vocal sage, a mentor to those who ventured there on their nights off to listen, learn and really try understand what it meant to deliver a lyric and learn how to tell a story through song. My wife Pat and I would spend countless nights there listening and enjoying the seasoned and mature vocal musings of the wonderful singer and pianist Freddy Cole. He would set the mood of the night and read his crowd, playing songs that captured the mood of the evening. Freddy was a master, not of manipulation, but of soothing persuasion. He left us vocalists with a feeling of admiration tempered with a desperation of how we could ever achieve such a level of mastery of our craft. Freddy understood that the audience knew he was Nat Cole’s brother, but as the evening with Freddy Cole unfolded, it became more than obvious that his talent in no way rested on the laurels of his famous sibling. Through the years I have had the extreme pleasure of being his friend and I can say with an open heart a long-distance student and admirer, I will truly miss the great Freddy Cole.”

Dee Dee Bridgewater, vocalist

“Just found out our beloved Freddy Cole transitioned yesterday. Although my heart is saddened, I am comforted by all the many times I had the opportunity to share a stage with him, or sit in an audience and be awed by his musical mastery. We often spoke about all the songs and lyrics he knew, so impressive. Thank You Freddy Cole for sharing your music with adoring fans around the world. RIP Freddy. My sincerest condolences to your family and friends around the world. My heart weeps.”

John Clayton, bassist

“Freddy Cole, Nat’s brother, has passed on. He always created an intimate, ‘lounge vibe’ (said with no sarcasm) that allowed him to develop a performer’s relationship with the audience. His voice left no doubt that he came from the Cole family. Like one of his hanging buddies, Harry “Sweets” Edison, he had a hundred-million-thousand stories about jazz and colorful artists. His quartet with drums, bass and guitar, was always swinging. Always! I’m proud of Elias Bailey for all of the growth he experienced by playing bass with Freddy for so many years. And none of us will forget that autobiographical tune of yours, Freddy, “I’m not my brother, I’m me!” Anyway, RIP, dear friend. Freddy’s Club is closed. But not really. Thanks for leaving so much music behind.”

Jon Regen, pianist

“What a loss. Freddy Cole was a beast of a piano player, the smoothest singer on the planet, and a total laugh riot. I’ll never forget 68-year-old Freddy knocking on the hotel room door of 30-year-old me in Gijón, Spain, with Sunny Jain and Kyle Eastwood saying, “It’s only 11:00 o’clock, Regen. We’re going out!” And we did. It was a joy to know him, and his records still teach me about touch, time, eloquence and swing. Nobody did it better. Godspeed, Freddy.”

Tony DeSare, pianist/vocalist

“Freddy Cole was always so kind to me. We first met at Jazz St. Louis very briefly when he caught the end of my second set there years ago. The next time I saw him was probably at least 3 years later and someone introduced us and he said: “I met Tony in St Louis!” It seemed improbable to me that he would remember me because how briefly we met and how long ago it was, but he did!”

Emmet Cohen, pianist

“Freddy Cole … was one of the great storytellers of all time, and a veritable repository of musical knowledge. I first heard him about ten years ago on The Jazz Cruise and was immediately enamored. There was an assured authenticity in his delivery— he really meant every word he sang and every note he played. And man, he could really play the blues. We developed a friendship through the years, and he was always so kind and supportive towards me (and other young musicians). It’s certain he knew more songs than anyone else on this earth, and always shared new ones that my peers and I should learn. I had the honor of joining him on bandstand a few times, one of which was at the Velvet Note just outside of Atlanta, about a year and a half ago. It was a magical night— with Tootie Heath on drums— and both Mr. Jimmy Heath and Mr. Cole came to hang out. Freddy sat by the stage the whole night listening and laughing at Tootie’s playfully vulgar antics on the microphone. He finally got up to join us on the last number, and sang “I’ll Be Seeing You.” The room was suddenly transformed, people were laser-focused, hanging on each phrase, and he had the room in tears by the end, all in typical Freddy fashion.”

Champian Fulton, pianist

“I’m very sad to hear of the passing of my friend and fellow pianist/singer Freddy Cole. I met Freddy when I moved to New York and he was always a friend to me; eager to talk about music and gigs. When I moved here I was always playing a lot of restaurant gigs & private parties .. and Freddy always wanted to hear about those, because he played so many of them himself, when he was younger. Last year Freddy and I both played at Birdland, he upstairs and me downstairs in the theater, and that was pretty cool. He even came down & sang “It’s Easy To Remember” with us … I didn’t really know the song but Freddy wanted me to try it anyway!”

Geoffrey Keezer, pianist

“RIP Sir Freddy Cole. Honored to have had the chance to get to know him and hang a bit. One night in Chicago after his gig, he took a bunch of us ‘kids’ across town to catch Von Freeman’s late set, and hung till the end! Always a kind and encouraging, sweetheart of a human being and a musician of the highest order. Every gig he gave was a masterclass in repertoire and hipness.”

Ron Carter, bassist

“Waaay too many people leaving the concert these days. Another dear friend and fabulous pianist, Freddy Cole has left us. I will miss his voice, his sense of humor and great trio arrangements…”



Johnny Mandel (1925-2020)


Christian McBride, bassist

“I first met Johnny Mandel on a 1994 David Sanborn recording called “Pearls,” which was produced by the late Tommy LiPuma and engineered by Al Schmitt. I was in total awe of the maestro, as I knew that he’d written or co-written standards like “The Shadow Of Your Smile,” “Emily,” “A Time For Love,” “Suicide Is Painless (aka the Theme from M*A*S*H*)” among so many others. He also was the arranger on one of my top five favorite Frank Sinatra albums, Ring A Ding Ding. But that’s just scratching the surface, of course. During that Sanborn session in 1994, what I was not aware of was his hardcore jazz pedigree. I didn’t know that he had played trombone in the Basie band in the early ’50s and also in Buddy Rich’s band, among many others. When I finally introduced myself to him at the studio, he said, “Christian! So glad to finally meet you. I’ve been listening a lot to you. I know you’re very close with Ray (Brown), but I hear a lot of Paul (Chambers) in you, too. Especially when you play arco. I can tell you’ve studied classical bass, but you can actually swing with the bow. Now, when you start playing extended harmony, I can hear you’ve checked out a lot of Ron (Carter), too. But you also have the soul music thing, too. In fact, I can hear….” The man gave me a dissertation on my own playing in five minutes! I was stunned! It was an honor to work with him and he will always remain a seminal figure in American music. May Johnny Mandel RIP.”

Tony Bennett, vocalist

“If Johnny Mandel had just composed ‘The Shadow of Your Smile’ – one of the most beautiful songs I have been honored to record – it would have been enough to earn his standing as one of the finest composers of our time. His legacy of Oscar and Grammy-winning music has been extraordinary and he was a dear and wonderful friend who I will deeply miss.”

Diana Krall, pianist/vocalist

“I was so sad to learn this evening that we have lost Johnny Mandel, a great and unique arranger and beautiful songwriter who I am so fortunate to have been able to call a friend. There are many more words and memories that I might share on another day but for now I can only feel gratitude and love.”


Stacey Kent, vocalist

Stacey Kent“Sad day, we mourn the loss of Johnny Mandel, a great composer and arranger, who brought so much beauty to the world, who has left behind a legacy of glorious melodies and lucid, pastel arrangements. His theme from the Sandpiper, ‘The Shadow Of Your Smile,’ won an Oscar in 1965, and he was nominated the following year for ‘A Time For Love.’ The sonic universe of my orchestral album, I Know I Dream, was thoroughly inspired by Mandel.”

The Manhattan Transfer, vocal group

The Manhattan Transfer Release First Studio Album in Nearly a Decade“Our hearts break to hear that Johnny Mandel is no longer with us.
Every musician’s hero… a brilliant composer… a magnificent arranger who brought out the very best in every musician that had the honor to play with him. The Manhattan Transfer is grateful to have worked with him and to call him a friend. A very sad day for the music world… Johnny was a warm, down to earth, funny human. We hope his spirit is at peace and happy, reunited with some of his swingin’ colleagues.”

Michael Bublé, vocalist

I was so sad to learn that a hero of mine, Johnny Mandel, passed away. He was a genius and one of my favorite writers, arrangers, and personalities.
He was a beast. RIP Johnny.


Join Our Newsletter
Join thousands of other jazz enthusiasts and get new music, artists, album, events and more delivered to your inbox.

The Authoritative Voice in Jazz