Obituary: Richie Cole

Alto saxophonist who swung against the tide of funk and fusion in the 1970s

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Alto saxophonist Richie Cole bucked the trend in the 70s when he avoided the lure of fusion and decided to give us his own exuberant take on bebop, an approach he would retain throughout his career. He could run through the changes with the best of them, get down and hard-edged on a blues or alternatively deliver a beautiful take on a tried and trusted ballad.

Like some early masters of the bebop genre, he paid his dues in big bands, joining Buddy Rich’s aggregation after having spent a couple of years at Berklee. After leaving the drummer’s aggregation he furthered his musical education with Lionel Hampton, a port of call for so many fine individuals over a considerable number of years.

After that, he went out on his own and in 1976 he could be found in the studio for the Muse label, co-leading a quintet on the album Battle Of The Saxes, Vol. 1, the first of a number of high-quality releases he would produce for that imprint. He often teamed up with singer Eddie Jefferson and would frequently use the most unlikely of material, as can be heard on the 1979 Hollywood Madness where jazz standards sat alongside the I Love Lucy TV theme and Hooray For Hollywood.

Apart from Muse he fronted numerous sessions on Palo Alto, Milestone and Heads Up, with recent releases being recorded for the Richie Cole Presents label. He could also be heard alongside such diverse talents as Manhattan Transfer, Nancy Wilson, Tom Waits and Mark Murphy.

It was announced that Richie Cole died 2 May 2020, from natural causes.