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Bassist, trombonist and producer Mark Perna regularly performs regionally with some of the finest performers in Pittsburgh and the surrounding areas and has performed with some of the finest performers in the world including Richie Cole, Emily Remler, Walt Harper, Reggie Watkins, Rodger Ryan, Matt Parker, Joshua Breakstone, Ron Affif, Leslie Smith and Don Aliquo.
He began playing bass in Richie Cole’s Alto Madness Orchestra rehearsal band in the Fall of 2014 which began a musical relationship that has included hundreds of gigs and recordings and many hours of road travel. Perna reports that there are worse things in life than being trapped in a car for hours at a time with a genuine jazz legend who has millions of great stories. In 2015, he began producing new recordings for the now named Pittsburgh Alto Madness Orchestra. The Orchestra currently consists of Reggie Watkins-trombone, Rick Matt-tenor saxophonist, J.D. Chaisson-trumpet (who are collectively known as the Steel Town Horns and can be heard backing up touring bands all over the country), Vince Taglieri-drums, Eric Susoeff-guitar, Patrick Whitehead-piano with Perna on bass. From February through November 2015, the Orchestra recorded enough material for three CDs. The first of which, “The Many Minds of Richie Cole”, is scheduled for a late 2016 local release and a national release in 2017. The as yet untitled second album is currently in the mixing process. In September 2015, the Steel Town Horns received a gig offer for a date corresponding with a scheduled Orchestra recording session. Perna told them to take the gig and then used the time to record Richie with the Pittsburgh Alto Madness Orchestra’s rhythm section minus Whitehead. Perna reports there was no plan going into the session and, in fact, it was expected that the recordings would go into the archives for some future use. After the session, Perna noticed three things: 1. 8 of the 11 songs recorded that night were ballads, 2. the band, working without any pressure, played their asses off and 3. after a quick check of Cole’s discography discovered that Cole had never released a dedicated ballads album. Perna approached Cole with the idea of releasing the quartet recording as a dedicated ballads album; an idea that Cole readily agreed to. Before the next Orchestra recording session, the band recorded three more ballads and Richie Cole Plays Ballads & Love Songs, which is soon to be released on the Richie Cole Presents label was complete. In addition to being Cole’s first ballads album, it is also the first album that he’s made with only a guitar for the chordal instrument; a choice that lends a delicate poignancy to the recording.
Richie started playing alto saxophone when he was 10 years old in his home town of Trenton, New Jersey. Influenced by Sonny Rollins and Charlie Parker, Cole’s talent and dedication won him a full scholarship from Downbeat Magazine to the Berklee School of Music in Boston.
His professional career began in 1969 when he joined the Buddy Rich Big Band. And after stints with the Lionel Hampton Big Band and the Doc Severinsen Big Band, Cole formed his own quintet and toured worldwide, doing a great deal to popularize bebop and his own “Alto Madness” style in the 70’s and early 80’s.
Cole has performed and recorded with the great vocalese artist Eddie Jefferson, the Manhattan Transfer, Bobby Enriquez, Freddie Hubbard, Sonny Stitt, Art Pepper, Tom Waits, Boots Randolph, and Nancy Wilson, to name just a few of his musical collaborations. Notably, Cole has performed at the Village Vanguard and Carnegie Hall as well as gave a command performance for the Queen of England.
Cole has recorded over 50 albums and CDs, including his top hit album “Hollywood Madness” (1979 Muse Records) and his tribute album to Leonard Bernstein, “Richie Cole Plays West Side Story” (1997 Music Masters Jazz). A prolific composer, Cole also finds time to arrange for full big bands, symphony orchestras and frequent performances at jazz festivals worldwide. Moreover, he enjoys sharing his love of music with younger generations and is active recording, touring and presenting university master classes.
Cole was appointed to the Board of the National Jazz Service Organization and the Board for the National Endowment for the Arts where he served as chairman for one year. He is also a charter member of the International Association of Jazz Educators. In 2005 he was awarded the State of California Congressional Certificate of Lifetime Achievement in Jazz on behalf of the Temecula Jazz Society. Richie Cole is recognized worldwide for the sweet sounds of his alto saxophone and the creativity behind his Alto Madness Orchestra.
The Alto Madness Orchestra was developed by Cole in the early 90’s and its continuing popularity is proof of its uniqueness. As Richie explains, “The idea of the Orchestra is the concept and sound of an eighteen-piece big band using only seven instruments, four of which are horns. Not only does this have the big band ensemble sound, it also allows us plenty of room for improvisation as if we were in a quartet setting.”