Story & Photos by Leigh Lofgren (

The Jazz Legacy Project (JLP) attracted another large audience to Festival Hall on May 23, as it presented the story and music of the great Nat King Cole as told by ever-entertaining drummer and narrator Justin Varnes.

Cole built a successful career as a pianist before an accidental decision in which he met fellow piano legend Oscar Peterson and together they became the most popular group in music.

The 90-minute JLP program featured such great songs as “Unforgettable,” “Route 66,” and “The Christmas Song,” which featured guest vocalist and composer Cleveland P. Jones. His voice and the excellence of the Jazz Legacy Project musicians had the audience on their feet and applauding.

A graduate of Morehouse College in Atlanta and Berklee College of Music in Boston, Jones released his debut album, “Ace of Hearts,” which won’s New Artist of The Year award. JLP’s presentation of “Unforgettable” truly lived up to its name, featuring Varnes, pianist Nathanial Smith, saxophonist John Sandfort, and bassist Kevin Smith.

Next, the Jazz Legacy Project series will feature the life and times of “Charlie Parker: Einstein of Modern Music,” on Aug. 22 at Festival Hall. The final program for 2024 will come Oct. 10 as JLP presents “Ella Fitzgerald: From Apollo Girl to Memorex Lady.” For further information, visit online at