Bobby Cole (musician)

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Bobby Cole
Birth name Bobby Cole
Born (1932-09-18)September 18, 1932
New York City, New York, U.S.
Died December 19, 1996(1996-12-19) (aged 64)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Genres Jazz
Instruments Vocals, Piano
Years active 1954–1996

Bobby Cole (September 8, 1932 – December 19, 1996) was an American musician, known for his jazz singing and piano playing. He was also a jazz composer and arranger. He worked as a musical arranger for The Judy Garland Show hosted by Judy Garland and succeeded Mel Tormé. He also conducted the orchestra for her 1967 "Palace" concerts and album, and was the conductor and musical director on her last tour.

Frank Sinatra was known to call him "my favorite saloon entertainer." and used to listen to Cole frequently at Jilly's where Sinatra was a regular. He mainly played in New York clubs, though he also played at venues in Las Vegas, Miami Beach and Atlantic City and was featured at such top casinos as the Sands Hotel and Caesar's Palace.


Bobby Cole was born in New York on September 8, 1932 and grew up in the Ravenswood section of Queens. After service in the Third Cavalry during the Korean War, he returned to New York to begin his career. Bobby worked for years with professional jazz drummer Tony Lupo.

Although best known as soloist, Cole periodically worked with a bassist and a drummer as well. The Bobby Cole Trio premiered in New York at The Living Room in New York in 1960. His friend, Frank Sinatra was under contract with Capitol at the time and through him, Cole was offered a deal at Capitol. Cole wasn't able to conform to the playlist demands of big record labels, or the compromises that producers wanted.

In 1960, Cole agreed to a record deal with [Columbia Records] on less restraining terms and the same year produced an album. The album was called "NEW NEW NEW" and it featured a traditional jazz trio setup and traditional jazz arrangements but it was Cole's youthful voice that had a smoky burr that made it extraordinary. One of Cole's trademark tunes "The Lady's In Love With You." was on this album as well.

In early 1964, Bill Colleran, the then executive producer for The Judy Garland Show fired Mel Tormé and Cole was appointed as the musical arranger for the show. Judy Garland had recently met him in New York and allegedly a relationship had started between them. Later on, Garland called upon Cole to conduct the orchestra for her 1967 "Palace" concerts and the album that accompanied these concerts.

Cole eventually made a solo album in 1966. "A Point of View" was published through Concentric Records which was started by Cole's friend Jack Lonshein. Lonshein was working for Mainstream Records and was a friend of Cole's. Lonshein tried to get Bob Shad, the founder of Mainstream to release an album of Cole’s original material, but Shad failed to show interest. Frustrated by this setback, Lonshein started his own record label, Concentric Records, in 1966. When Cole’s "A Point of View" album was finally released on Concentric in 1967, it sold quite well in the New York City area, where he had earned a following mainly through his performances at Jilly's. The album was a remarkable disc of original songs that was an underground sensation for its brash, jazzy up-tunes and some dark ballads including the somber closer, "Growing Old."

At about this time, after hearing author Jerry Jeff Walker play a yet-to-be recorded composition called "Mr. Bojangles," in a light, folk style at a Greenwich Village club, Cole decided to cover it as a contemplative ballad. A recording of the song was later released on Concentric in 1968. This would be the label’s only 7-inch release. Lonshein licensed the master to Date records as well for better distribution and it began to take off. Unfortunately, the single came out at exactly the same time as Jerry Jeff Walker’s version. Cole's single "Mr. Bojangles" was released in the summer of 1968 on Columbia Records. Cole and Walker's versions battled to a draw inside the Top 100. But it would be Cole's arrangement later used by everyone from Sammy Davis, Jr. to George Burns.

As both versions were slowly creeping up the charts in the summer of 1968, a frustrated Bob Shad, thinking he had missed out on an opportunity for a long-awaited hit, hypocritically chastised Lonshein for not releasing the single on Mainstream. Lonshein left Mainstream as a result of this incident and took a job at an all-night record store and awoke early each morning to produce tapes with Cole. Lonshein brought the tapes to the attention of his old friend Phil Picone who at the time was working for MGM. The label expressed some interest, but the contract was too strict for the alcoholic Cole.[1]

A skilled arranger and composer, he sometimes tried a change of pace. Between 1973 and 1975 he toured Europe with the Louis Falco Dance Company. Ruggedly attractive, possessing an imposing Brando-like set of wry frowns and challenging smiles, Bobby was married and divorced several times. His trademark was his strong, jangling piano style (Erroll Garner being an influence) and his unique, rasping delivery which was evidence of his cigarette habit and the nearly forty years spent in smoky nightclubs.[2]

When Bobby turned up in 1992 for what would be a four-year tenure at Campagnola, the New York Times commented that he was the type of singer/pianist who could "create the kind of romantic aura generated in films like Casablanca."[3] As mentioned on the, Bobby's rugged lifestyle included too much smoking and drinking, which was a factor in his death. As there was no autopsy, next of kin were told that the probable cause of death was a heart attack. He did not fall on a sidewalk and hit his head as has been erroneously reported.


Bobby was probably one of the best singer/pianists to ever perform on the circuit. He was a great arranger and interpreter of both pop songs and standards as well as a composer. He had many opportunities to become a major star because of his connections with Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra and others, but his headstrong and self-destructive personality prevented him from achieving the success he deserved. Unfortunately, he performed before the advent of YouTube, so there is no video record of his club performances. His insight into music in general and in particular standards and pop music was quite extraordinary and could be considered to display a certain genius.

    He had a brilliant mind and could be extremely funny and sarcastic. He basically smoke and drank himself to death.  In addition to working with drummer Tony Lupo (who was also one of his best friends) he also had a seven year working relationship with drummer Arnold Wise.


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