Last year, Bay Area guitarist and vocalist George Cole got an unexpected valentine of sorts from Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong, on Twitter: “my friend & old guitar teacher george cole…rad music, amazing guitar player & musician I’ve admired since I was 8.”
In fact, Cole mentored both Armstrong and his Green Day bandmate Mike Dirnt, and while you might not hear much of Cole’s virtuosic vintage-jazz style—he’s often compared to Django Reinhardt—in “Basket Case,” Cole appreciates not only Armstrong’s shout out, but his music, as well.
“Even if I didn’t like it, I would probably say I did,” Cole admits snarkily over the phone. “But I actually do. Green Day’s awesome. I’m a huge fan.”
His former pupils have even turned the tables, Cole says, with their unshakable allegiance to their native East Bay and Bay Area music scene. Cole used to downplay his own roots in NorCal—which, let’s face it, isn’t exactly considered the height of urban sophistication by jazz types—but he’s changed his tune.
“In a way, they’ve influenced me,” he says. “They’re so proud to be from the East Bay that it makes me think ‘wow, I am, too.’ I’m really proud to be from the East Bay and the Bay Area music scene. I think it’s a great place to be from musically.”
It’s certainly provided him with some of his most interesting collaborators, the most recent of them being David “Dawg” Grisman. Cole has been playing guitar in Grisman’s band for two years now, and it was Grisman who gave Cole the idea for the “Cole Sings Cole” show he’ll be performing at the Kuumbwa on Valentine’s Day. Cole and his trio will be performing the songs of Nat King Cole, as well as some of his original songs.
Cole knew and loved Nat King Cole’s hits, but when Grisman loaned him a box set, Cole dug into the jazz icon’s piano trio work, which features what he describes as “amazing interplay between the musicians.”
Cole, pianist Larry Dunlap and upright bassist Jim Kerwin will go for the same interplay as they play Cole’s best-known songs and lesser-known gems. They plan to record an album of Cole’s work—at Green Day’s Jingletown Studios.
“It’s like worlds colliding,” says Cole.
As for doing the “Cole Sings Cole” show on Valentine’s Day in Santa Cruz, Cole says, “It makes perfect sense. Hey, I love Bruno Mars, I love urban funk, but the thing about Nat Cole is these love songs. These songs never go out of style.”
‘Cole Sings Cole’ will be performed at 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 14 at the Kuumbwa. Tickets are $25; 479-9421.