SARATOGA SPRINGS – Walk past the shop on Phila Street that stands nestled alongside Hattie’s Restaurant and just beneath the legendary performance stage that is Caffe Lena. Here, standing behind the stenciled glass front windows of the woodwind shop that bears his name, there’s a good chance you will find Billy Cole, continuing to do the work just as he has over the past several decades.
What Cole does is he restores wind instruments. Over the past 40-plus years, he figures he has worked on more than 50,000 of them, from the repair of the instruments of teenagers learning their craft in school orchestras, to the sonic sculpting of the musical tools heard atop some of the world’s grandest stages. Many of the stories are shared in his new book, “With The Band: Memoir of a music shop owner.”
Cole opened his first shop in 1977. Today, he writes, “I could never comprehend what a wonderful life I would lead when I started out so many years ago.”
The stories of his tune-filled life date to his earliest days - forging a long-lasting relationship with musician Nick Brignola that was initiated with the repair of a baritone sax, to an insider’s detail of friendships and alliances that includes a community of legendary Woodstock musicians, orchestra members playing with the New York City Ballet and the Philadelphia Orchestra, to Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson and an assortment of traveling luminaries who have graced the Saratoga Performing Arts stage.
He recognized the importance of the work early on. “Pitch, resonance, and sometimes intentional resistance could be shaped within an instrument to enable the artists to express the emotion in their music,” he writes in a 423-page memoir, accompanied by images and poignant glimpses of his family life, “with the help of my lifelong love and confidant Mary Alice, we have raised our family along with our little shop.”
After decades in the business, Cole eventually set-up shop in Saratoga Springs in 2004 to, first in a space overlooking Broadway then on to Phila Street, where Cole’s Woodwind Shop is presently located, and regional readers of his memoir will recognize many local names among the stories that shaped the life of this music shop owner.
Billy Cole, “With The Band: Memoir of a Music Shop Owner,” published by Shires Press, available at Northshire Bookstore Saratoga on Broadway, and online via northshire.com.