10 Seconds: Xhosa Cole
Enjoyed discussing 10 Second picks with saxophonist Xhosa Cole (2018 BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year). So much so that the transcript could have been three times this long...
1. Larry Young - Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise (0'33" - 0'43")
Larry Young - Unity (1966)
"The name of the album is a reference to the cohesion between these four absolute masters. You've got Woody Shaw, unbelievably energetic, fiery player: not ferocious in an aggressive way Elvin on drums and Larry Young, of course. Joe Henderson on tenor.
I know everyone has their own approach to improvisation, but really, no one plays like Joe Henderson. It's very contour-driven, texturally deep and complex. Plays many different styles of notes - if that makes sense - with different timbres and textures. I remember listening to an interview where someone said Joe Henderson had real mastery and control of the microphone, which is one of the reasons why he's able to produce those different sounds.
This specific 10 Seconds is going into Joe Henderson's solo where Elvin is on brushes and transitions onto sticks. Me and a good friend of mine - this double bass player - we used to listen to this on repeat at The Reservoir in Birmingham. Those are really nostalgic times for me...
If you listen to this transition from Elvin's brushes (he had a very unique brush style which was in the breaststroke) into the syncopated kind of pushes on the ride cymbal...it's just unbelievable. This is what first came to mind when you said 10 seconds. This moment, energetically. They put the nitrous in the car and the gas pedal down to the ground and they just go flying from that point on."
2. Missy Elliot - Joy (3'03" - 3'13")
- The Cookbook (2005)
"Me and my brothers used to bagsie artists. Now I'm the youngest of three, and my oldest brother bagsied Fatman Scoop and my middle brother bagsied Missy Elliot, and obviously when you're young your musical interests are often preceded by what your brothers like so I used to think '"they've taken it, man. There's no more music to like!" Anyway, this was one of the Missy tracks I used to listen to back-to-back and Timbaland is definitely one of my favourite producers.
I've now got this new appreciation for Missy Elliot and what she did artistically and socially as well. Putting a spin on a lot of the content that was coming out of hip-hop at the time, owning her female sexuality and just being that boss ass you-know-what. This particular line "If you wear a size 10, don't cram yo' shit up in a size 6 ladies. Be proud of yo' big-ass feet. We came to party up in this bitch" is simple, but I think it's important as an artist to give your listeners a sense of pride and take away any feelings of shame. I think that is one of the deepest, most pure and sacred parts of being an artist.
In that 10 Seconds she empowers so many people....Ultimately, she's liberating both lyrically and stylistically. The things that she wears and does in her videos. In Get Your Freak On there's a point where she's just hanging off a chandelier screaming! I mean, this is it, man. She's just doing it. When you see that in someone else, you're able to empower yourself."
3. Nina Simone - Mood Indigo (1'10" - 1'20")
Nina Simone – Little Girl Blue (1959)
“Within the context of jazz, Nina Simone is really underrated. Commercially, lots of people know her singing and have an appreciation for what she did but maybe not of her musicianship as a pianist. I think a lot of people know she played classical piano but they don't really understand what that means.
This is her first album and the way she connects the baroque piano, counterpoint, harmony and fugues into a jazz context, into the context of that harmony... and also brings in an aesthetic that we don't hear very often within the genre. You've got Brad Mehldau now who is exploring this thing, but this was in 1959 and I was just utterly shocked when I first heard this album. It knocked me for 6.
You've got Nina Simone singing the Blues but the reason she's singing the Blues is because she has to in order to do the thing she loves which is playing the piano, so there's this oxymoron in that she has to sing the Blues and why she has to sing the Blues, and that is all happening on the top, and in the middle you've got this finesse that only comes with classical piano. I think even if a jazz pianist studies the classical cannon I don't think they're able to access certain timbres and sounds like someone who has solely been classically trained.
There were so many moments that I could have chosen from this track but this encompasses a couple of different bits. She's coming to the end of her fugue playing, they're ramping it up and there's this break for a bar or two then they come in with the swing time and she's singing. It's musicianship at it's finest. I think the other thing with Nina is that she's able to do bigger contours with her music because she's thinking compositionally rather than improvisationally. "
4. Little Dragon - Constant Surprises (0'00" - 0'10")
Little Dragon – Little Dragon (2007)
"My oldest brother left to go to dance school in Leeds at the age of 16 and ended up in this melting pot of people from several different backgrounds. We as the younger siblings got the relay of that, and this was from one of the albums that my brother brought back with him and I listened to consistently for roughly a year. Some of the first produced music that I listened to and I was just blown away by this otherworldly band sound, specifically this intro and the reverse snare drum at the start. It's just so groovy. It's a track that I love and resonate with because I spent so much time with it.
My brother always used to make the distiction that Little Dragon are the band not the singer. Kind of like Hiatus Kaiyote, and in some way these guys are the precursors to Hiatus Kaiyote who changed the whole game in terms of song-writing"
5. John Coltrane - I Love You (0'00" - 0'10")
John Coltrane – Lush Life (1961)
"I'd been playing jazz for a while but this was the first time I found myself fully immersed in the music. Over that period I transcribed entire albums: Sonny Rollins & MJQ, transcribed Saxophone Colossus, Blue Train and also Lush Life.
The whole of I Love You is just burning, and hearing this was the first time I had a true appreciation for the intellectual depth of this music, and in a pure 'number crunching' sense it's unbelievable what Trane is able to do musically with these twelve notes in this given 5 minute bracket. It's just intro, head in, blowing, head out. The reason I chose the intro rather than some of the blowing is that although I realise now that this was a compilation of tracks that did not make the initial studio album - which just blows my mind because it's unbelievable musicianship - I always wonder whether Trane and the rest of the band know what was about to go down. Did they know that the next 5 minutes will be what it was? Because this is groundbreaking human artistry. I would love to know what the energy was in the room which preceded all the chops and all the fire and this sheets of sound business."
6. RuPaul - Call Me Mother (0'50" - 1'00")
RuPaul – American (2017)
"I guess this partly relates to identity: as a Queer Black person, to see yourself reflected is always a huge thing. But the reason I chose this was a lot deeper than that.
The chorus of this particular tune is basically a reincarnation of scat singing and this brings to light so many of the connections that we find within Black music across the board. So if you're listening to this or you're listening to
Clark Terry - Mumbles, it's the same thing. The rhythmic depth of it. The fact that although the syllables don't carry any semantic meaning there is a lot of meaning being generated simply through this idea of syncopation.
For me something that's come up through the resurgence of Black Lives Matter is this idea of intersectionality, so people who find themselves in numerous minorities and this being a much clearer way to see some of the problems that we're facing. When you look at things from a few perspectives you're eliminating the risk of hypocrisy.
Lots of people listening to club music point blank do not realise the connection between the scene now, the ballroom scene in the early 90s and the LGBTQ's contribution to club music from back in that day. This is a reincarnation of it, but actually a lot queer music was black music because a lot of these people were people of colour. Many people don't realise when they're listening to House music - or even their Garage or their Grime - the influence that Queer music had.
I know a lot of people iconise RuPaul and RuPaul isn't perfect. and I know what RuPaul has done for the drag scene isn't perfect but now that we're entering Pop culture - and by 'we' I mean the Queer community - through things like RuPaul's Drag Race, a light is being shone on some of these connections and we can start to be a bit more honest and open...If you do the work to find out who you're connected to, you will be shocked. "
7. Sonny Rollins - St Thomas (4'32" - 4'42")
– Saxophone Colossus (1957)
"I didn't realise until a lot later Sonny Rollins' connection to the Virgin Islands but there are several references to Caribbean folk music on his recordings. Same with Monk who grew up in San Juan Hill where a massive number of the population came from Jamaica in the early 1900s, I think.
I'm mixed heritage. My mum is mixed White British Asian and my dad is Afro-Caribbean. A lot of the time when anybody tries to relate to an art form they connect with but do not necessarily have the same cultural markers towards, i think that's a journey that we all go on and for me I've always had a very profound connection with Sonny Rollins' playing. Musically, Coltrane is the guy for me but instrumentally - in terms of Tenor Saxophone - Sonny Rollins all the way.
This particular tune exemplifies Rollins' Caribbean influence and contextualises the rhythmic quality of his playing. You hear it in the straight bit, when Max Roach is playing. You hear it over the swing after the drum solo and his time feel is basically the same over the two. I've always loved this particular moment because someone - Max, I think - says "more!" in the background, so if you can imagine, they've built up the energy over the first solo, energy is kind of maintained through the drum solo, then they kick it up a notch when they bring in swing time and then they go for it, go for it...before someone shouts "more!" and Sonny just takes it to the next level."
8. Stevie Wonder - Never In Your Sun (0'00" - 0'10")
– In Square Circle (1985)
"My Dad used to make playlists and this particular tune was the first track on one of them, and it's one of Stevie Wonder's more obscure tunes but the beat is so hard! I love the whole tune but that introduction is just mega. The whole production quality of the tune. I think this is something that us Jazz musicians don't often talk or think about because we're so in the moment with improvising we're not necessarily thinking about the production value.
My first love musically was Stevie. I think through my Dad I became very close to his music. I remember on my 10th birthday my parents bought me tickets to see him and it's funny because we'd just come back from a wedding, so I went to a Stevie gig in my three-piece suit!"
Additional mentions to:
"Before I got into the jazz thing I was obsessed with Classical. I didn't necessarily see the things I loved in Classical in Jazz at the time. The rigour of the theory and the harmony, this idea of scales..
I used to play sax in a wind orchestra and that was my first experience of playing in an ensemble that size, and when you're sat in the middle of the woodwinds and you've got this 360 sound thing going on, it's honestly unlike anything. You just feel "this is the deal, man". I mean, at the time we were probably really out of tune and it was probably horrendous to listen to but for my ears at the time it was something else. I ended up playing baritone sax and I was looking over at the flautist thinking "these guys have got the good end of the deal, man. They don't have to bring this massive thing into rehearsal every week plus they don't have to sit in front of the trumpets." So i decided to start learning the flute and this tune was one of the first I ever tackled on the flute in the orchestra.
Because I joined the orchestra a bit late, they put me in the piccolo chair and It was nerve-wracking. I chose the specific part because to this day my heartbeat increases tenfold when I hear it, and it's because the piccolo chair doesn't play anything for the first 3 minutes of the tune. , you've got the violins playing their thing, and the cellos playing their thing. The energy is just crescendoing to it's peak at that point. Everyone drops out and then the piccolo and the flute play a high a-flat and a high-g in the very highest octave. I only ever got it half the time. In terms of an emotional trigger then this is probably the highest one. "
"She's one of my closest friends. We grew up dancing together in Birmingham and both went into the music scene out of the dance thing. She's speaking my truth because we're so closely related culturally.
It's a very strange thing to hear one of your best friends - who you may not have spoken to in a while - coming over the airwaves in TKMaxx! In recent years I've been able to really appreciate her craft - and her graft. I always dig what she does."
"The mastery vocally...when people say that MCs are the natural progression of the jazz soloist, this tune embodies that. The backing singers repeat what Andre raps in a slower format over this melody that ties over the break into the next verse, you've got the samples of puppy dogs when he's talking about puppy love, then the full-on barking, then this idea of weather and the picnic, you can hear the thunderstorm and the birds. Also after about 17 listens I realised that the main wedding theme with that synth is actually embedded in the voicing. This is an orchestrated theme that a lot people listen to but don't hear."