I met Richie Cole in the Fall of 2014. I was asked to play in his Alto Madness Orchestra rehearsal band that met on Wednesdays on the North Side of Pittsburgh. Richie had moved to Pittsburgh earlier in 2014 to be with his daughter and grandkids. After the third session, we were sitting around BS-ing and he said to me, "y'know, no one in this town will give me a gig." I looked at him and said, "are you free next Tuesday? I've got a gig for you." I introduced him to my friend and drummer buddy Vince Taglieri who at that time was part owner of an Italian restaurant called San Lorenzo that was located in the Lawrenceville section of Pittsburgh. Our other buddy, guitarist Ron Wilson and I had been helping Vince out by moving our weekly jam session down to Vince's restaurant for the traditional "Jazz Night" so common in your better Italian restaurants. I had just invited the world famous Richie Cole down to join our cheesy little combo. Great friendships have started from less.
In early January 2015, during one of the sessions at San Lorenzo, I asked Richie if he'd wanted to record the Alto Madness Orchestra. I knew the Orchestra was Richie's baby. He'd written about 6,000 charts over the years for it. Quickly, we assembled Reggie Watkins on trombone, Rick Matt-tenor sax, Joe Badaczewski on trumpet, Patrick Whitehead on piano, Vince and myself and set out for George Heid's studio in the Pittsburgh suburb of Aspinwall. The original plan was to do two sessions and put out an album. After the second session, everybody was just getting into the groove and we extended to a third session. Pretty soon, it was two or three times per month from February 2015-November 2015. When engineer Jim Barr and I started mixing the first album in November 2015, we had almost 50 songs recorded but that's another story.
Our story begins in August, 2015. Reggie approached me and told me the Steel Town Horns had gotten a fairly big money gig offer for one of the days we had scheduled for recording. The Steel Town Horns is Reggie's group with Rick Matt and J.D. Chaisson who had by this time replaced Joe Bad as the trumpet player. Joe had a great opportunity to go on the road with Brandon Flowers and left the band in July 2015. They work as a horn section for touring bands around the country. I, of course, told them to take the gig. We had the studio booked so I asked Richie and the rhythm section (minus Patrick Whitehead who was out of town) which by this time had added guitarist Eric Susoeff if they wanted to just go in and record some tunes. Everyone was up for it and we went in completely without a plan. Usually, you have some plan going into the studio. Songs picked out. Maybe rehearsed or at least talk about basic arrangement. We had nothing. Richie just called out tunes as if it were a gig. I really didn't have a goal for the session either. I figured we'd get some material for the archives and maybe put it out someday possibly as bonus material for an Orchestra album.
After the session, which went very well. We were totally relaxed because there wasn't any pressure at all on us. All first takes. No edits. The next day, as I was listening to the rough mixes, I made a couple observations: 1) 8 of the 11 tunes we played were ballads, 2) we kicked ass and 3) after a quick check of Richie's discography, I confirmed that he had never released a dedicated ballads album. I went to Richie and told him we had most of an album of ballads and what did he think about recording a couple more and releasing it as Ballads album? It was kind of a dumb question because Richie has never met an album he didn't want to release. The man releases a new CD just about every time he takes a dump. He assented but was more interested in finishing the Orchestra album. So we recorded 3 more ballads prior to the next Orchestra recording session and we quickly mixed it and put it aside to finish the first Orchestra album.
And there it sat for 6 months while Jim Barr and I worked on the Orchestra album. Every Tuesday from November through May, we worked on this thing. I'm going to make an album someday and call it "Tuesdays with Jim". We brought in people for overdubs (George Jones on conga and Mark Lucas for some rock guitar for example). We mixed and we mixed. We tried different combination of songs. We came to some startling discoveries while mixing that made us go back and remix everything we had done to that point. It was a LONG process. Finally, we finish it in May. I called everyone up and told them it was done. I've made a lot of albums and the one thing that is completely common to all of them is this: you never finish an album, you just stop working on it at some point. We stopped working on it.
I contacted super publicist Terri Hinte about representing the albums. I sent her both the first Richie Cole's Pittsburgh Alto Madness Orchestra CD now titled The Many Minds of Richie Cole and the Ballads album now titled Richie Cole Plays Ballads & Love Songs (we added the "& Love Songs" because one of the songs wasn't technically a ballad although it was still a love song; buy the album if you want to know which one it is). A couple of weeks later I get an e-mail from her. She says the Ballads album is "just gorgeous". A few more weeks go by and I call her. She says she loves the Ballads album but the Orchestra album just wasn't for her. To be fair to Terri, Richie is a very funny guy and I loaded the Orchestra album up with humor. Richie's kind of humor. It wasn't Terri's kind of humor. We did a quick reverse, now the Ballads album is the Prime album and the Orchestra album is in second place. We set up release date for the Ballads album of October 21, 2016. That's the day it drops and by that time, you'll be able to buy it directly through this website. We have some CD release parties scheduled for around that time as well. The Orchestra album will be released locally in the Pittsburgh area around the same time and then we'll do a national push after the first of the year in 2017.
In the meantime, I still have about 30 PAMO tracks to mix of which about 15 of them will end up on the second CD. And Richie continues to write so we'll reconvene the band soon and start recording again.