Doug Cole, who launched Canada’s longest running jazz club in 1956, died this week. The 87-year-old was to receive Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal on Monday at a ceremony in Toronto.
An impresario, Cole opened George’s Spaghetti House – later renamed George’s Jazz Room – in downtown Toronto at the corner of Dundas and Sherbourne Streets. Except for a period in the mid-1960s when American musicians were featured, George’s was the hotspot for Toronto jazz musicians and the site of several CBC music broadcasts and recording sessions. Bright lights such as Moe Kaufman, Phil Nimmons and Rob McConnell of the Boss Brass played at his establishment.
“We owe him a great debt for how much he did for jazz in the city,” said Ross Porter, president of Toronto’s JAZZ FM radio station. “George’s was the finishing school for musicians in the city.”
Guido Basso, a Juno-winning jazz musician and trumpeter who played with the Boss Brass at George’s, said he first met Cole in the early days of the jazz club.
“That was when I moved to Toronto in 1960 and other musicians said to me, ‘If you want to be heard, you go play at George’s,” Basso said.
Basso described Cole as a “casual guy” who always dressed down in jeans and a leather jacket, and was constantly puffing away on a cigarette.
“He didn’t play anything, but he was a real Renaissance man. ... He appreciated the arts, good music, good food, and of course, jazz” Basso said.
He recalled Cole as a table hopper, who would chat with other musicians and peck away at food from their plates.
“Here’s a man who owned a restaurant, and I would say to him ‘Do you want a plate Doug?’ And he would always say no,” Basso said. “It was his way of doing quality control. It cracked me up everytime.”
Cole was invested with the Order of Canada in 2009 for his contributions development of jazz in Canada. He ran George’s until 1983 and upon retiring, moved to Port Sydney. His sons Ken and Jeffrey are expected to accept Cole’s Jubilee medal on his behalf at Monday’s ceremony.