Back in the mid-'70s, when bebop was being greatly overshadowed by fusion, Richie Cole showed that not only was bop not old-fashioned, but it could be quite fun. His Alto Madness was essentially the idea that any tune, no matter how unlikely its source, could be turned into exuberant bop. Through the years, he has successfully recorded such songs as "The I Love Lucy Theme," "Holiday for Strings," "Hurray for Hollywood," "The White Cliffs of Dover," "Come Fly with Me," "The Star Trek Theme," and "La Bamba." Influenced by Phil Woods and Charlie Parker, Cole heard jazz from an early age because his father owned a jazz club in New Jersey. He started on alto when he was ten, attended Berklee for two years, and joined Buddy Rich's big band in 1969.
After a stint with Lionel Hampton, Cole formed his own group, doing a great deal to popularize bebop in the 1970s. Some of his finest recordings were his early ones for Muse, during a period when he often teamed up with singer Eddie Jefferson. His humor sometimes left critics cold, but Cole was one of the top bop-oriented players of the 1980s, and his Heads Up releases of the '90s (after a few years off the scene) are excellent. During that decade Cole founded the touring big band Alto Madness, which he led and arranged for. Among the most notable records he released during that period were Cool Bossa (with Hank Crawford, 1990) Battle of the Saxes (with Sonny Stitt, 1993), and his charting, award-winning tribute to Leonard Bernstein, West Side Story (1996). Cole spent the rest of the decade working as an educator, playing weekly club gigs and touring occasionally.