Playing to praise |

Playing to praise

Barbara Brill

BEAVER CREEK – As a young man growing up in Bay City, Mich., Kevin Cole was told by Irving Berlin after he finished playing a Berlin medley: “Jesus Christ, kid, if I could play like that, I would never have become a songwriter.”This the Kevin Cole, who was introduced to the audience before his seventh performance with the Boston Philharmonic by conductor Ben Zander with these words: “You are about to hear the best living Gershwin pianist in the world.”

This is the Kevin Cole, the renowned Gershwin scholar, who is said to be “the world’s best living Gershwin pianist since Gershwin himself. No one can touch him.”And, this is the Kevin Cole who dazzles his audiences with his passion and technical brilliance, moving audiences to jump to their feet and madly applause and shout.Cole will perform “The Great American Songbook” Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Vilar Center for the Arts at Beaver Creek. “When I first heard Kevin at the piano 11 years ago, I was dazzled by his pyrotechnics, and it has delighted me to find that every year since, I have found in his work greater depth, subtlety and musicality,” said Hugh Martin, the 90-year-old Encinitas, Calif., resident, the last of the Great American Songbook writers who is best known for songs such as “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “The Trolley Song,” and “The Boys Next Door,” all of which were featured in the 1944 Judy Garland film, “Meet Me in St. Louis.””I sincerely believe that Kevin is the most gifted person alive. Like Judy Garland, someone like Kevin comes along once in a century,” said Martin, and he should know, as he was a vocal coach for Garland, as well as for stars such as Lena Horne, Ethel Merman, Doris Day and Tony Bennett.

Martin also praises Cole as a singer. “Everyone knows Kevin plays piano better than anyone else; soon they’ll know he sings better than anyone else and that he’s far and away the top vocal arranger of his day. He’s the only quintuple threat I have the pleasure of knowing – singer, composer, conductor, arranger and brilliant pianist,” said Martin, adding that Cole’s recently released CD, “Cole Plays Gershwin,” is the best piano album he has ever heard. Cole, now a Chicago resident, began playing the piano at age 5. He’s a graduate of the Interlochen Arts Academy, and he has performed in Portugal and England and around the nation, including appearances with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Cincinnati Pops, the Minnesota Orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony, the Boston Philharmonic and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, to name a few.And, he has opened for Doc Severinsen and the Tonight Show Band, he has shared a concert evening with Broadway musical legend Barbara Cook, as well as playing at the requests of people such as Muhammed Ali and members of the Gershwin and Jerome Kern families, and he has won countless awards as music director and archivist.

During the last several years, Cole has been one of the most sought out performers, and it’s not surprising, since he can be described in the same words that have often been used for George Gershwin: “vibrant, dynamic, honest and charming.”Cole’s repertoire at the Vilar Center will feature songs by Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers, Jerome Kern, Harold Arlen, Cole Porter, and hopefully, even a few by Cole himself.Tickets are $40 and available at the Vilar Center box office or online at or by calling (970) 845-8497 or (888) 920-2787.Vail, Colorado

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