Cozy Cole 1909-1981
by Scott K. Fish
He was born William Randolph Cole in East Orange, New Jersey in 1909. Cozy had studied music from childhood and his career spanned the entire history of jazz with debut records made with Jelly Roll Morton between 1927-1930 continuing to play until the week of his death. Primarily known as a swing drummer, Cozy Cole worked with some of the best big bands including Benny Carter, Stuff Smith, Cab Calloway, Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden, Earl Hines, Jelly Roll Morton, Teddy Wilson, Bunny Berigan, Bud Freeman, Lionel Hampton, and Coleman Hawkins.
Between 1938 and 1942 Cozy was featured with the dynamic Cab Calloway band, on three drum pieces which may be the earliest drum feature recordings. They were Paradiddle, Ratamacue, and Crescendo In Drums. Cole was featured in two Broadway musicals, Carmen Jones (1954) and Seven Lively Arts (1946). He was also the first black musician to work as a CBS Studio staffman. His drumming bridged the swing to bebop gap when he recorded with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie between 1945-1946. In fact, in a 1960 issue of Down Beat, Don DeMicheal noted that Cozy’s “major addition to the jazz drummer’s frame of reference was a technical one: hand and foot independence. He was one of the first—if not the first—to develop and master this coordination, which is such a necessity for today’s drummer.”
Cozy was a part of the Louis Armstrong All Stars in 1947 which was Armstrong’s most musically successful band outside of the Hot Five and Hot Seven sessions. In 1954, Cozy teamed up with Gene Krupa and began a legendary drum school in New York city. Both drummers were mainstays at the club Metropole and in 1958 Cozy became a Top 40 sensation with a recording of an old Count Basie tune called Topsy; Parts I & 2.
The day after Cozy’s death I received a call from Bob Breithaupt, a percussion instructor at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio. Bob had been a close friend of Cozy’s the last few years of his life and told MD that Cozy had entered Capital University in the Fall of 1976 to pursue a music degree “which he said was his lifetime goal. Cozy was studying as a Jazz Performance major. Then, in the Fall of 1978 he began formal study of the percussion instruments, believe it or not with me,” quipped Breithaupt. Cozy was studying tympani, xylophone. . . .he had taken lessons in the past from Moe Goldenberg, Saul Goodman, and Billy Gladstone, who made a snare drum for Cozy. In the Spring of 1979, Cozy received an Honorary Doctorate in Humanities from Capital University of which he was very proud.
“In November ’79, Cozy went into the hospital for the first time and came out in January and had really been living on borrowed time ever since. But, Cozy bounced back over the Summer and actually started studying again this Fall! All of a sudden he says to me, ‘Well, when we gonna start up again?” Breithaupt said.
Besides studying at the University, Breithaupt and many of the percussion students would often be treated to informal lectures by Cozy. Breithaupt said the lectures were “usually just a thrown together studio setting. Cozy spent a lot of time talking about how significant he felt drummer Walter Johnson was. That Walter was the first drummer to get rid of the temple blocks and cowbells; the first to play the hi-hat rhythm, and independently play some left-hand snare drum figures in relation to the continuous hi-hat rhythm that Jo Jones popularized. Cozy said that he thought he actually remembered seeing Johnson play the ride rhythm on an open ride cymbal, playing 4 beat on the bass drum, 2 and 4 on the snare and the hi-hat. This would have been in the very early ’30’s.
“He talked about Kaiser Marshall. About Kaiser’s hand held cymbal technique. Marshall put this gold coin on his middle finger, stuck it underneath the cymbal and opened and closed his hand around the cymbal. Cozy said that this was the sound that guys had in their ears directly relating to the open and closed hi-hat rhythm. Guys remembered the sound and they could emulate the sound on the hi-hat.
“In relation to his own solo style, Cozy talked about how as a kid, he learned to tap dance. But, he’d sneak off with his book and drumsticks and go take a drum lesson. He had to hide them because everybody would make fun of him. As he got older and realized he wasn’t going to get anywhere as a tapdancer, he began to incorporate some of the tap-dancing rhythms onto the drumset. All of a sudden it just came easy to him. What he did between his hi-hat and bass drum were primarily tapdancing things. Then he would just simply play over the top of it! But, in the 1930’s that was pretty significant because no one was doing that. Cozy said that in a playing situation, he had no reason to do that. That explains why his ensemble playing was almost ragtime—certainly swing—but his solo techniques were really amazing. He just found that he could superimpose these rhythms on top of one another and get some real interesting sounds. He experimented with this, worked it out, but it came pretty easy for him. He obviously had some coordination that most people don’t have. And as late as two years ago,” Breithaupt continued, “when he did a performance at the University with Benny Carter, that type of playing was just as sharp as any recording that I’ve ever heard. He kept those gifts of independence really, until he died.
“Cozy was practicing until the day he went into the hospital for the last time. My wife and I were out at his house at Christmas time, and we walked in his back bedroom and there’s this practice set! Cozy said, ‘Hey Bob! Dig this thing I worked out.’ It was really a moving thing. Usually I’d call Cozy and I’d ask, ‘How ya doing?’ And he’d always answer, ‘Chicken one day. Feather’s next.’ And just up to the very last . . . I said ‘Coz’, how ya doing?’ He said, ‘Oh man, Bob. Chicken one day. Feather’s next.’ And he could barely talk! But, he never lost it. He was in the hospital talking about getting out and playing. The guy just never gave up. And when he was here as a student and healthy, he was practicing more than the percussion majors. He’d practice 4 hours a day. He was talking about going back out on tour. He and his wife were supposed to meet Louis Bellson and Pearl Bailey in Cleveland in March, and he was talking about it. Man, not once was Cozy down in the dumps. Man, once he’d get around people it was always a positive outlook. Never, never did I see Coz’ in a negative frame of mine. Not once,” Breithaupt concluded.
Last Spring, Capital University established a Cozy Cole Scholarship Fund designed to award an endowed scholarship for a drummer who shows expertise in jazz drumming; but who also is interested in developing all aspects of percussion in addition to jazz drumming. The family has asked that any remembrances be in the form of a donation to the scholarship fund. The address is:
The Cozy Cole Scholarship Fund, c/o Conservatory of Music, Capital University, 680 College Avenue Columbus, Ohio 43209. (614)236-6411.