Bill Cole is an American jazz musician, composer, educator and author. An admired innovator, Cole successfully combines the sounds of untempered instruments with an American art form – jazz. Cole specializes in non-Western wind instruments, especially double reed horns: including Chinese sonas, Korean hojok and piri; Indian nagaswarm and shenai and Tibetan trumpet; as well as the Australian digeridoo and Ghanaian flute. Cole is the leader of the Untempered Ensemble, a group he founded in 1992. He has performed with Sam Rivers, Billy Bang, Jayne Cortez, Julius Hemphill, Ornette Coleman, James Blood Ulmer, William Parker, Fred Ho, Gerald Veasley and others; at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Town Hall, Symphony Space and venues around the U.S. and in Europe; and has recorded for Boxholder Records (scroll down for discography).
All About Jazz wrote: “Cole has explored the expressive capabilities of Asian double reed instruments in a jazz context for almost four decades. His virtuosity on digeridoo, Chinese sona, Ghanian flute, Indian shenai and nagaswarm infuses his writing and improvising with a pan-global authenticity that avoids dilettantish exoticism.... Cole takes solo after solo that allows a lifetime of immersion in Jazz to reveal itself through the extraordinary timbral resources of his chosen instruments.” (Michael Parker)
Cole’s work as a composer is vast, and springs from jazz and African themes. In the early 1980’s, Professor Fela Sowande gave Cole a collection of 500 proverbs from the Yoruba people of Nigeria. Inspired by their inherent wisdom, Cole has written musical compositions based on more than 100 of these proverbs, many of which are among the Ensemble’s repertoire. Cole also developed major works called the "Seven Cycles" based on the philosophy of the Ibo people of Nigeria, which holds that the human soul reincarnates seven times. Each of the “Seven Cycles” increased in length and size – ranging from the First Cycle (featuring Sam Rivers and Warren Smith) to later Cycles that included as many as 40 musicians, drumming ensembles and Gospel choirs. Cole continues to compose for the Untempered Ensemble and other companies.
Born in Pittsburgh, Cole received a PhD in Ethnomusicology from Wesleyan University. He served as Professor of music at Amherst College until 1974 and then at Dartmouth College until 1990, where he was Chair of the Music Department. He went on to Chair the Department of African American Studies at Syracuse University. Cole has authored two books; “Miles Davis: The Early Years” (1974, William Morrow / 1994, Da Capo Press) and “John Coltrane” (1976, Schirmer / 2001 Da Capo Press); and has published numerous reviews and critical essays (scroll down for bibliography). Cole has recorded seven albums for Boxholder Records and two albums for Shadrack, Inc., including the last recording to feature violin maestro Billy Bang who passed away in 2011, and “Politics” - a tribute to his longtime friend, poet Jayne Cortez, who died in 2012. Each of these CDs has been reviewed with acclaim for Cole's musical vision. Cole serves as Artistic Director of the non-profit organization Shadrack, Inc., which is developing a long range philanthropic plans; as well as composing, recording and performing with the Untempered Ensemble and other groups.
“Bill Cole, a multicultural multi-instrumentalist, is one of the guys at the top of the hierarchy in the improvised music scene, having been at it in earnest since at least the late 70s. Earlier this year I marveled at his mastery of Eastern reed instruments in his one-on-one with violinist Billy Bang. This performance by the Untempered Ensemble at the Vision Festival continues a tradition started nearly twenty years ago by Cole, putting together performers both young and old, established and up-and-coming, to forge music representing Bill Cole’s singular vision of Eastern and African enhanced jazz." (S. Victor Aaron)
"As If You Knew", Jayne Cortez, Bola Press, 2011.
"Untempered Ensemble Live in Greenfield, Massachusettes," Bill Cole's Untempered Ensemble, Boxholder Records, May 2000. Reviews Available.
"The Untempered Trio," Shadrack Inc., November 1992.
John Coltrane, published by Schirmer Books, Inc., December 1976. Translated into Japanese, 1984. Reprinted by Da Capo Press, 1993. Third Edition published Fall, 2001. Reviews available.
Miles Davis: A Musical Biography, published by William Morrow and Company, September 1974. Translated into Japanese, 1975. Translated into Swedish, 1976. Reprinted by De Capo Press, 1994, as Miles Davis: The Early Years. Reviews available.
”Billy Bang – Vietnam, the Aftermath/Billy Bang – Vietnam, Reflections;” International Jazz Archives, University of Pittsburgh, Vol. III No. 3, Fall 2009-2010.
“The path I have taken and the instruments I play”, in All About Jazz, August, 2003
Articles on John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Fats Navarro, and Roy Eldridge; in the Encyclopedia of African American History and Culture; MacMillan Publishing Co., Dec. 1995.
"Julius Hemphill," The Saxophone Journal, Spring 1987, pp. 26-31.
"Wind and Thunder," The Western Journal of Black Studies, winter 1986, pp. 193-194.
"Alice Coltrane," New Groves Dictionary of Music, September 1986.
"The World Saxophone Quartet - A Unique Springboard," The Saxophone Journal, Spring 1986, pp. 43-46.
Review of Jah Music by Sebastian Clarke, published in Explorations in Sights and Sounds, March 1983, the National Association of Interdisciplinary Ethnic Studies, California State Polytechnic University.
"Improvisation in Music - A Black's View," published in Free Spirits: Annals of the Insurgent Imagination, City Lights Books, San Francisco, Summer 1982.
"Giving Programs in School Assemblies in the Mid-West," Campus Magazine, spring 1980, pp. 37-40.
Music Editor of Massachusetts Review, Fall 1973. A quarterly of literature, arts, and public affairs.
Articles of criticism published in CODA, 1972-1973.
Freelance writing for Down Beat Magazine, 1970-1972. Over 45 articles of criticism published. Personal column, fall 1971.