By Cole Waterman
BAY CITY, MI — From Carnegie Hall to Chet’s Corner Bar, the Bay City native known as “America’s pianist” is returning to his hometown for a one-off, Christmas-themed show.

Kevin Cole, hailed as the world’s foremost interpreter and performer of George Gershwin’s compositions along with other famous works, is performing a marathon set at Chet’s, 1001 S. Madison Ave. on Bay City’s East Side from 3 p.m. until the bar closes on Sunday, Dec. 20.

“It’s pretty big,” Chet’s owner Matt Czerwinski said. “He hasn’t played in a bar since he was a sophomore in high school. He said he’s going to play until we throw him out of here. He just said he wants to go back to his roots and jam.

“He thinks it’s a cool bar, and he enjoys coming here.”

Cole lives in Chicago, but his parents still reside in Bay City’s South End.

The pianist said the gig is about two years in the making.

“It came about because I came to town two years ago to take care of my mom. I would stop in and got to know Matt and his wife Amber,” Cole said. “I kept saying, ‘You should get a piano in here.’ ”

Last month, Cole was at the bar and the show was booked.

“At Thanksgiving, I stopped in and said ‘I’ll bring a weighted keyboard and a sound system, and we’ll do an old-fashioned Christmas sing-along.’ It just has turned into this really cool thing,” Cole said. “I’m just going to play until I go numb.”

Cole has performed in a variety of venues around the world from Hong Kong to Carnegie Hall in New York. He is listed not only as an extremely accomplished musician but a musical director, arranger, composer, vocalist and archivist, according to his biographical notes.

The Chet’s show, billed as a sing-along Christmas party, features Cole on a keyboard primarily performing Christmas songs, though he’ll take requests as well, Czerwinski said. The plan is for him to play for an hour and then take a half-hour break. During the intermissions, Randy Howell from 96.1 WHNN is to emcee Christmas-themed trivia.

If you like the bar’s Facebook page, you can enter to win a goodie basket from the Sweet Boutique containing two CDs autographed by Cole.

There is no cover for the soiree.

As for going back to his roots, Cole said playing at Chet’s is perfect.

“I started here, playing in churches and bars. You start out in the places that appreciate you and that’s churches and bars,” he said, recalling his first paying gig.

“I was 12 years old and I got a job playing for $22 at a place called La Chateau,” he said. “It was a restaurant/bar and I played on a beat up piano painted lime green. My dad had to sit with me. He was enjoying the free beer while I played.”

At the time, he was too young to accept tips.

But that won’t be the case at Chet’s.

“I’m working for tips, so I’m hoping there will be some good requests,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it. If you want a good seat, you better get there at noon and mark your seat.

“It’s gonna be packed.”