Happy Birthday to the “Father of Jazz Dance,” Jack Cole April 27, 1911

Jack Cole (originally John Ewing Richter) was born on April 27th, 1911 in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Following his parents’ divorce, Cole ran away from home to study dance with Rush St. Denis and Ted Shawn. He quickly joined the Denishawn Company and also performed with the Humphrey-Weidman Group before leaving the modern dance world to pursue a commercial dance career.

Cole choreographed for the nightclub scene, Broadway stage, and silver screen throughout the mid-twentieth century. He founded a troupe of twelve dancers (which included the likes of Gwen Verdon, Carol Haney, and Matt Mattox) to serve as the core ensemble in much of his highly technical work. Some of Cole’s Broadway choreography credits included ALIVE AND KICKING (1950), KISMET (1962), A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM (1962), and MAN OF LA MANCHA (1965). In Hollywood, Cole worked on such iconic films as “On The Riviera” (1951), “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” (1953), and “Some Like It Hot” (1959) and coached starlets like Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth, Jane Russell, Mitzi Gaynor, and Betty Grable.

Cole, who is now known as the “father of theatrical jazz,” drew upon East Indian, Afro-Cuban, and American Lindy dance styles as the foundation of his sensual, vigorous, and incredibly meticulous choreography. Signature movements included grand, bounding leaps from a deep plié, upper body contractions with strong port de bras, long knee slides across the stage, and isolations of the head, hands and individual fingers. Cole’s powerfully theatrical and informed work inspired the next generation of choreographers including Bob Fosse, Jerome Robbins, Michael Bennett, Peter Gennaro, and Alvin Ailey, and his legacy continues to inspire dance today.