While many jazz musicians from the British West Indies immigrated to England, beginning in the early '30s, this prolific Trinidadian recording artist did things differently. Rupert Cole, who would eventually be able to build a medium-sized raft simply out of the Louis Armstrong sides he appeared on, went to New York City instead. His departure from Barbados took place in 1924, a few years ahead of the players who headed for merry old England. Cole had learned clarinet in his homeland but began to double on the alto sax upon arriving in New York, finding this horn to be somewhat more attractive to the city's bandleaders. His major job through the '20s was with Bill Brown & His Brownies, followed by a short stint with Horace Henderson.
In 1932, he began what would be a long-range collaboration with the fine bandleader Don Redman. His connection to this outfit was so strong that it took an offer such as the formation of Louis Armstrong's Big Band in 1938 to lure him away. It turned out to be no fickle move, as Cole stayed put in this new Satch batch until 1944, only to go back to Redman once Armstrong grew weary of carting such a large group around. In the mid-'40s Cole moved over to a big band fronted by trumpeter Cootie Williams for several years. Lucky Millinder and Wilbur De Paris were among the leaders Cole worked with in the '50s, a decade in which also began his gradual backing off from full-time musical status. Cole could be heard in a trio led by George Wettling in the '60s, but rarely outside of New York City. He is the father of the drummer and vibraphonist Ronnie Cole.