Cozy Cole is best known as drummer for The Cozy Cole Combo (they recorded Topsy among other songs). Cole also worked with Jelly Roll Morton (Load Of Cole), Stuff Smith, Milt Hinton and Cab Calloway's Orchestra (Paradiddle and Crescendo In Drums).
Cozy Cole was the definitive example of a drummer who directly applied the rudimental approach to jazz, and among the very few whose style evolved and spanned a number of eras. Through it all, listeners could hear virtually all of the 26 rudiments--flam taps, five-stroke rolls, paradiddles and more- applied directly to jazz drumming.
Cole was born as William Randolph Cole in East Orange, New Jersey on October 17, 1909. He was a life-long student of the drums as well, studying at Julliard in the mid-1940s, with the New York Philharmonic's Saul Goodman, and opening his own drum school with dear friend Gene Krupa in New York in the mid-1950s. Most of his long career was as a sideman for such leaders as Willie Bryant, (the suave, Un-Official Mayor of Harlem), Cab Calloway, Lionel Hampton and Louis Armstrong. Even before these, Cozy had played with Benny Carter's first (and un-successful) band. That band also had such un-known names as Teddy Wilson (piano); Chu Berry (tenor sax) and a young trombonist named Dickie Wells.
Almost with complete silence, Cozy broke many of the racial barriers in music. He was the first black musician on a network musical staff. CBS radio hired him to work with Raymond Scott in 1943. In 1985, Scott recalled, "Cozy was the most professional musician I've ever worked with."
Cozy played a wildly rhythmic drum solo in the stage show "Carmen Jones" in 1943 saying, "I think I'm the only drummer to have been featured in a big Broadway show with his name on the program."
In 1944, Benny Goodman and Cozy lead a small group at the Onyx Club in New York. His band began to tour and occasionally recorded. In the short times between the touring, Cozy also went off as a soloist to tour Europe along side Jack Teagarden and Earl Hines.
In 1953, Gene Krupa and Cozy formed The Krupa And Cole Drum School in New York. "The more you study," Cozy said, "the more you find out you don't know; but the more you study, the closer you come." The school was a great success and remained in operation until Krupa's death in 1973.
The Cozy Cole Combo played the Metropole in New York and recorded a million selling version of "Topsy" in 1958. His group also recorded other notable tunes such as, "Jersey Jump-Off," "Willow Weep For Me," and "Night Wind."
During the 1960's Cozy Cole joined up with his long time friend Jonah Jones. Jones and Cozy played with Stuff Smith and Cab Calloway in the early days and reunited to tour and record. The team remained active throughout the 1970's. In 1978 Cozy was given an honorary degree of Doctor of Musical Arts at Capital University in Columbus. After his retirement, Cozy gained his degree at the same college in lecturer studies. Cozy Cole died at the age of 71 in Columbus on January 31, 1981.
"Cozy was like my brother. He was the most wonderful person I ever met. I first met him in 1936. I was new to New York and Cozy, being from New Jersey, showed me all around. In those days Harlem was full of great musicians and I was having a difficult time, because no one knew me. But old Cozy, he saw to it that I was offered jobs. One time Teddy Wilson offered Cozy a gig to record with some new singer. Cozy told Teddy that he would only take the job if Teddy hired me. That was how nice Cozy was. When Cozy and I got down there with Teddy, we met Johnny Hodges and that young singer's name was Billie Holiday. Cozy was one of a kind. There'll never be another Cozy, that is for sure."
-Jonah Jones, 1996
Cozy Cole performed with Henry Allen & His Orchestra, Louis Armstrong, Buster Bailey, Count Basie, Bunny Berigan, Chuck Berry, Barney Bigard, Billy Butterfield, Don Byas, Cab Calloway & His Orchestra, Cab Calloway, Benny Carter, Sidney "Big Sid" Catlett, Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie, Arlo Guthrie, Lionel Hampton, Clyde Hart, Coleman Hawkins, Earl Hines, Milt Hinton, Johnny Hodges, Billie Holiday, Jonah Jones, John Kirby, Velma Middletown, Jelly Roll Morton, Allan Reuss, Charlie Shavers, Rex Stewart, Sarah Vaughn, Ben Webster, George Shearing, Jack Teagarden, George Wettling, Ben Webster, Teddy Wilson, among others.
Cozy Cole is cited as an influence by many contemporary drummers, including Cozy Powell, who admiringly named himself after Cole.
Cole was extensively featured on the soundtrack of the film, The Strip (1951), which starred Mickey Rooney as a drummer with Armstrong's band.
Cozy Cole appeared in a number of films including The Glenn Miller Story (1953), in which he duetted with Gene Krupa.