Born William Randolph Coles, 17 October 1906, East Orange, New Jersey
Died 29 January 1981, Columbus, Ohio

Drummer Cozy Cole was a swing/jazz man with a limited relevance for rock n roll, but the chart success of "Topsy" and "Turvy" in 1958-59 showed that the swing band era had at least some influence on the Big Beat scene of the 1950s.

Born in East Orange, NJ, Cole moved to New York City with his family in 1926. There he soon became fascinated with the work of Duke Ellington's percussionist Sonny Greer. Cole made his professional debut as a drummer in 1928 and recorded with Jelly Roll Morton in 1930 (an early drum solo on "Load Of Coal" aka "Load Of Cole"). He was the lead drummer for many swing bands : Blanche Calloway 1931- 32, Benny Carter 1933-34, Willie Bryant 1935-36, Stuff Smith 1936-39 and Cab Calloway 1939-1942. In 1943 he played a wild rhythmic drum solo in "Carmen Jones", a Broadway update of Bizet's opera "Carmen" in an Afro- American setting. The next year he scored a # 10 R&B hit with "Just One More Chance", credited to the Cozy Cole All Stars (Keynote 1300). Around the same time time he enrolled into New York's famous Juilliard School of Music where he perfected his already seasoned approach to the drum kit. By this time his drumming was an essential ingredient in much of the jazz recorded in New York.

From 1949 to 1953 Cole was a member of Louis Armstrong's All Stars. He was extensively featured on the soundtrack of a film, "The Strip" (1951), which starred Mickey Rooney as a drummer with Armstrong's band. In the midst of all this Cole found time to form and run his own drum school, in partnership with Gene Krupa. The school existed for 20 years, until Krupa died in 1973. Cole did a few cameo appearances in music-related films, including "The Glenn Miller Story" (1954) in which he duetted with Krupa. In the late 1950s he became a member of an all-star band co-led by Jack Teagarden and Earl Fatha Hines which toured Europe.

The main reason for his inclusion in "This Is My Story" is his double-sided surprise hit from 1958, "Topsy", on the tiny Love label. Cozy's 70 seconds drum solo (on Part 2) was based on "Topsy" from Edgar Battle and Edward Durham's 1939 composition "Uncle Tom's Cabin". Both sides charted, but "Topsy, Part 2" was the most popular side, peaking at # 3 on Billboard's pop charts and # 1 (for six weeks) R&B, also # 1 for one week on the Cash Box pop charts. "Topsy, Part 1" went to # 27 pop. In the UK it was released on London HL 8750 and reached a peak position of # 29 in December 1958. It was the first instrumental hit of the rock n roll era to feature an extended drum solo, a full year ahead of Sandy Nelson's "Teen Beat". The follow-up to "Topsy", inevitably called "Turvy", utilized the same formula : a long jazzy piece spread over two sides, with a spoken intro from the back of Cole's throat ("Turvy, Part 1") and the drum solo again on Part 2, which climbed to #36 on Billboard's Hot 100. The third single in this trilogy was ... "Topsy - Turvy, Parts 1 and 2", but by then (mid-1959) the novelty had worn out and Cole would never see the charts again. After Love Records, he recorded for King (1959-60), Charlie Parker Records (1961-62), Coral (1962-64) and Samsung (1965). Especially the Coral recordings were unashamedly commercial, and singles like "Rockin' Drummer" (with a female chorus a la "Dance With the Guitar Man") and "North Beach" (with an accordion and a Dixieland band) were light years removed from the legitimate swing of "Topsy" and "Turvy". Of the five Coral singles, only the first one, "Big Noise From Winnetka, Parts 1 and 2", was issued in the UK (Coral Q 72457, 1962).

As far as I know, Cole rarely played on rock n roll sessions as a sideman. He can be heard on "Nothin' Shakin'" by Eddie Fontaine (1958), but I don't know any other examples.

Throughout the '60s and '70s Cole continued to work in a variety of settings, until he died of cancer in January 1981. He is cited as an influence by many contemporary rock drummers, including Englishman Cozy Powell (1947-98) who took his nickname 'Cozy' from Cole.

More info :

Acknowledgements : Joseph Murrells (The Book of Golden Discs), All Music Guide, Spotify.

CD : Cozy Cole Hits! (Love Records). 24 tracks from 1957-64 from various labels. Released 2005. Also available on Spotify.

YouTube :
Topsy, Part 1 :
Topsy, Part 2 :
Turvy, Part 2 :
Big Noise From Winnetka, Part 1 :


These pages were originally published as "This Is My Story" in the
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