Richie Cole Cannonball The alto madness of Richie Cole celebrates one of its chief inspirations with the release of Cannonball (Richie Cole Presents). An inveterate bebop stalwart, Cole leads the Pittsburgh Alto Madness Orchestra and several special guests in paying tribute to his hero, the legendary alto saxophonist Julian "Cannonball" Adderley. The album comprises a dozen tunes closely associated with Adderley (including his own "Sack o' Woe"), as well as a brand-new Cole original ("Bell of the Ball").
While Cole often uses ideas from Adderley's arrangements to formulate his own, no one could mistake either of the altoists for the other -- nor would the stubbornly individual Cole want them to. "I didn't try to play like Cannonball, I focused on how he tells a story," says Cole. "You have to tell stories if you're going to connect with an audience and there was no one better at that than him."
Richie Cole Reggie Watkins The eight-piece ensemble, too, drawn from Cole's home base of Pittsburgh, is very different from Adderley's famous quintets. Cole's frontline partner on Cannonball is trombonist Reggie Watkins (pictured at left with Cole) -- a surrogate for cornetist Nat Adderley, his brother's longtime brass foil. Two more horns, tenor saxophonist Rick Matt and trumpeter J.D. Chaisson, join in for four of the album's 13 tracks. Guitarist Eric Susoeff, keyboardist Kevin Moore, bassist/producer Mark Perna, and drummer Vince Taglieri fill out the rhythm section.
In taking on Adderley's repertoire, Cole finds ways to evoke his hero, though often with a twist. Where Nancy Wilson traditionally joined Adderley on "Save Your Love for Me," Cole brings in the vocalist Kenia, who sings his bossa nova arrangement in Portuguese. The altoist recreates Adderley's 1961 solo on "Toy," but not before letting Watkins have his uproarious way with the song. Meanwhile, a rendition of "Dat Dere" closely resembling the version on Adderley's 1960 album Them Dirty Blues is subverted with a newly devised arrangement for all four horns. "It's like where did this big band come from?" Cole says with a laugh.
Cole keeps it tight on Cannonball; most of the tunes stay close to the five-minute mark. "I could stretch out and play my ass off," Cole says. "But then you lose the thread of the story, and the audience. . . . I want to play melodies that regular people, working people, can enjoy."
Richie Cole was born in 1948 in Trenton, New Jersey. His father, a big band enthusiast, ran a local jazz joint called the Harlem Club. Young Richie met any number of great jazz performers there, including Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey, and Freddie Hubbard, and at 10 took up alto saxophone on a horn someone had left at the club.
He played in various school bands and, at 16, attended a music camp directed by alto legend Phil Woods (with whom he would record the 1980 fan favorite, Side by Side). He went on to study at Boston's Berklee School of Music, then continued his jazz education in the big bands of Buddy Rich, Lionel Hampton, and Doc Severinsen before forming his own bebop quintet.
Unswayed by jazz-rock trends, Cole in the early '70s began a long association with the great vocalist Eddie Jefferson, with whom he worked until the vocalese innovator's 1979 death, recording among others the popular album Alto Madness. Cole thrived on '80s encounters with Sonny Stitt and Art Pepper and spread his alto madness with pianist Bobby Enriquez and saxophonist Boots Randolph. He turned out a flurry of albums through the '90s with his seven-man Alto Madness Orchestra.
For years, Cole lived the life of a wanderer. Following a romantic breakup, he was talked into moving to Pittsburgh by his daughter Annie. "She had to drag me there kicking and screaming," he says. But as his song "I Have a Home in Pittsburgh" tells you, things have worked out well for him in the Iron City.
"Pittsburgh is like an oasis, an island," Cole says. "There are fantastic musicians here." One of them -- bassist Mark Perna -- helped him create his own label, Richie Cole Presents, on which Cannonball is the sixth release.