Born in Welwyn Garden City in 1970 Jonathan Cole started composing at a young age soon after beginning piano lessons. He went on to play the viola and organ whilst attending Christ's Hospital School and had a number of composition lessons with Malcolm Williamson during this time. Studies continued jointly at King's College London (with David Lumsdaine and Arnold Whittall) and the Royal Academy of Music, followed by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (with Simon Bainbridge) and Royal Holloway, University of London (with Peter Wiegold and Simon Holt) where he completed a PhD in composition. He also attended courses with Magnus Lindberg, Oliver Knussen, Colin Matthews, Louis Andriessen and Lou Harrison.

The works and ideas of Luigi Nono, John Cage and Pierluigi Billone have all had a huge influence on the music of Jonathan Cole, as have the films of David Lynch and Werner Herzog, and the writings of Elias Canetti and Georges Bataille. Cole's music also draws much of its inspiration from the environmental sounds we hear in everyday life and during a two year sabbatical in 2006–08 his musical thinking underwent many changes which are beginning to be realised in the most recent pieces.

Since winning the Royal Philharmonic Composition Prize in 1999 Cole has built up a continuing relationship with the London Sinfonietta who have premiered three pieces: Ouroboros I, Ouroboros II and Assassin Hair as well as giving performances of Marble Arch 4.30, Penumbra and Testament (British premiere). They have also toured Cole's work in Sweden and Switzerland and have recorded Testament with conductor Oliver Knussen. Both Ouroboros II and Testament were nominated for RPS awards. In 2003 George Benjamin chose Cole to be the recipient of a commission from the London Symphony Orchestra as part of the By George! Festival at the Barbican in London, and in 2006 Mark-Anthony Turnage programmed Temporale Distante as part of a festival with the BBC Philharmonic in Manchester.

Many ensembles and orchestras have programmed and commissioned Cole including the Asko Ensemble, BBC Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Italian Radio Orchestra, London Sinfonietta, London Symphony Orchestra, Nash Ensemble, Philharmonia Orchestra and Tokyo Sinfonietta; he has written for and worked with many solo musicians including Richard Benjafield, Claire Booth, Stephen Gutman, Rolf Hind, Robert Keeley, Zoe Martlew, Melinda Maxwell, Sarah Nicholls, Craig Ogden, Jean Rigby, Gabriella Swallow, Ryan Wigglesworth and Roderick Williams.

Many of his works have been broadcast on BBC Radio 3 as well as in Belgium, Japan, Sweden and USA and  recordings include Caught (Composer's Ensemble on NMC), Testament (London Sinfonietta) and tss'k'haa (Roderick Williams on NMC).

Jonathan Cole is a professor of composition at the Royal College of Music where he is leads the postgraduate programme. He has also taught at King's College, London and the Purcell School and is much in demand as a leader of education projects. His pieces are published exclusively by Ricordi and he has written educational works for the ABRSM and the GSMD. He is composer-in-association with the London Contemporary Orchestra.