GOOD TIMES Jazz Bar & Restaurant is gearing up for its inaugural anniversary celebration, and doing it in style. The restaurant and venue has lined up a notable schedule of shows to help mark the one-year anniversary of its opening, and will also feature a unique menu that embodies the same improvisational spirit you see on stage.
Two of the anniversary week’s stars include Chef Joe Randall, a culinary rockstar of sorts who’s been with Good Times since the beginning, and Freddy Cole — a legendary jazz musician who’s known not only for being the brother of music icon Nat King Cole, but also for his own storied career.
“I started messing around with the piano when I was a little boy,” Cole says of his early musical life. “Later on, I started taking music lessons, but I never was deadly serious about music until after I got into high school. One thing led to another, and before you know it, I was out there playing.”
The celebrated pianist, who’s one in a long line of professional musicians in his family, has released a staggering number of albums and continues to perform regularly around the world, but Savannah holds a special place in his heart.
Cole has fond memories of spending time in Savannah, particularly alongside the late, great bassist Ben Tucker. The two were close friends, and played together often.
“I always love coming to Savannah,” Cole says. “Ben and I were good friends in New York before he moved to Savannah. I would come down and be playing in Hilton Head, and our relationship just blossomed from there. I really miss him when I come through there.”
For Cole, much of what keeps him moving as a musician are the same things that got him started — the church. His father was a baptist preacher, and his mother was a piano player who often played in church.
“You just have a certain feeling that you can’t put a finger on,” he says of the spiritual connection that motivates him musically.
“It helps a great bit to know that you have that faith that can keep you going when other things are going wrong. I’ve been around the church all my life. I’ve traveled the world all my life, China and Russia, all those places. I’ve been everywhere, playing the word of jazz music.”
For Chef Randall, the spirit of jazz music that’s alive and well in players like Freddy Cole is what has kept the restaurant going steadily since they opened a year ago.
“There’s a certain amount of improvisation that goes along with both [cooking and jazz music],” he says. “You have to cook with feeling, and put a little love in it. When you play jazz, you do the same thing. Same with gospel music.”
Randall initially came on board as a chef consultant, but quickly became an integral part of getting Good Times off the ground and growing its staff.
“I picked people who wanted to come and be a part of the team,” he tells us.
“I developed all the menus, recipes, everything. A lot of the recipes are ones that I prepared and served at my cooking school for 17 years on Waters Avenue. So the food is a reflection of the Lowcountry and Atlantic coastal area area as I interpreted it in the last 17 years.”
Of course, given Chef Randall’s extensive history and impeccable reputation in Savannah over the years, the menu at Good Times is a big draw for jazz and food fans alike. The anniversary week will feature some things he’s known for, like his crab cakes and gumbo, but he’s also looking ahead to the future in terms of expanding on what’s coming from his kitchen.
“We plan to infuse some items into a future menu that we haven’t offered,” he says. “We want to give some diversity to the menu, and then continue to offer some wonderful jazz.”
The opportunity to have Cole be part of their inaugural celebration was something Randall says he doesn’t take for granted.
“He’s so busy after getting an award from Lincoln Center, and it’s the hundred-year centennial of his brother, so we were blessed to have an opportunity to get him here,” he says.