Bringing Bebop to Bernstein:
Jazz legend Richie Cole, renowned for his unique “alto madness” bebop style, brought his distinctive touch to Leonard Bernstein’s classic ‘West Side Story’. Born in 1948, Cole’s journey with the alto saxophone began at the tender age of ten. A versatile musician, he performed and recorded with numerous iconic artists, such as Eddie Jefferson, Nancy Wilson, and Tom Waits, among others.
In 1996, Richie Cole introduced the world to his innovative jazz interpretation of ‘West Side Story’. Recorded at Clinton Studio “B” in New York City, the album ‘Richie Cole Plays West Side Story‘ presents a compelling showcase of Cole’s bebop style. It features seven main themes from the original musical, concluding with Cole’s original composition, “West Side Blues”.
A group of talented musicians accompanied Cole on this project. On alto saxophone, we have Richie Cole himself, delivering the distinct bebop style he’s known for. Adding a harmonious blend to the ensemble, Vic Juris played the guitar, Edward Howard was on bass, Tommy Campbell on drums, Lou Forestieri on piano, and percussionist Ray Mantilla. Each musician played a crucial role in bringing Bernstein’s compositions to life through the lens of bebop.
The album was a commercial success and was certified Gold by RIAA in January 1997. It resonates with the saxophone community, offering a unique perspective on a classic piece of American musical theatre. From the opening track “Something’s Coming” to the intricate “Cool & Jet Song,” each piece on the album showcases the mastery of the ensemble and Cole’s unique interpretation of Bernstein’s composition.
Richie Cole passed away on May 2, 2020, but his significant contributions to jazz continue to inspire musicians and enthusiasts alike. His rendition of ‘West Side Story’ stands as a testament to his innovative approach and his ability to breathe new life into classic compositions. It remains a must-listen for any saxophone enthusiast, a stellar example of saxophone jazz capturing the spirit of Leonard Bernstein’s masterpiece.