Handsworth-born Xhosa Cole progressed through numerous community arts programmes in Birmingham. Having first played the tenor sax at Andy Hamilton’s Ladywood Community Music School, he’s now among a long legacy of Birmingham saxophonists. In October 2018, he won the BBC Young Jazz Musician competition following a critically acclaimed performance in the final at the Queen Elizabeth Hall as part of the BFI London Jazz Festival. Xhosa’s earliest memories of the arts are with ACE Youth Dance group. However, since playing in Holyhead School’s Jazz band with Ray Prince and Sid Peacock he decided to pursue music and joined the Jazzlines Ensemble, Birmingham Schools Symphony Orchestra, Midland Youth Jazz Orchestra amongst others. While studying at Bishop Vesey’s Sixth Form Xhosa attended courses with the National Youth Jazz Collective and National Youth Wind Orchestra. Xhosa has recently moved to London to pick up his studies again at Trinity College of Music  and continues to perform regularly around the UK.

Picture: Xhosa on his regular mode of transport around Birmingham.

“…it did just feel like going out to gigs and it did just feel like connecting with people naturally but over the course of the past seven or eight years…being really present on the scene, getting on my bike and going out to gigs or getting on my bike coming to this room to rehearse with MYJO or getting on my bike going to the Jazzlines workshops, getting on my bike blah, blah, blah, going to places you get to know people and you get to really establish a relationship…”

BH: I wanted to give a flavour of how committed Xhosa is to the music and how he gets about the City. Again although a set-up shot I wanted to get that natural feel and got him to cycle down the street with no other instruction. To catch the movement I used tracking autofocus a high shutter speed of 1/1250th second and a small aperture of f8.0 at ISO400. Focal length was 24mm to allow me to get quite close while including the urban backgroun

Picture: Xhosa shedding (practising) in his lock up in Digbeth, Birmingham.

“If I had a job title which I don’t think I do, it was some ridiculous thing like semi-professional, part time, student, apprentice musician… with this jazz mindset of wanting to push forward respects the fact that regardless of this huge accolade, I’ve still got to be making progress…because if I’m thinking too much about that then I’m not shedding authentically and sincerely.”

BH: While this is a shot of Xhosa playing it is not a performance shot – he is practising in his shared lock-up in downtown Birmingham and reflects the importance of ‘shedding’ to his music. There are some clues in the earphones and in the background which has a cycle of fifths diagram and the other chalked messages reflecting the room’s use by other musicians. I’ve used the 24-70 f4 zoom at f4.5 and 42 mm with natural window light. ISO3200 but f8 (Shutter speed 1/125th second) to focus on his face and horn. I’ve also positioned him so that the background creates sectioned off areas with his profile and horn linking them up.

Picture: Xhosa in reflective and listening mode during a gig at Birmingham Jazz.

“One of the biggest things for me about jazz music is a sense of lineage and a sense of history and a sense of family, spanning across generations and across time. There’s all of our great elders and all the people who are current elders and all the people who are going to be elders. All somehow fit into this beautiful, beautiful timeline and sense of station within the music.”

BH: Unlike most of the photographs in this project this was taken in performance. But it was taken after the interview and I had what he said in my mind. During performances I often look for shots which are not the usual “player blowing their horn” type image. I feel this picture is very redolent of Xhosa’s approach and his immersion in the music and the history of the music. It was shot a Birmingham Jazz gig and unlike most of the images in the project has no background of contextual information – this was deliberate to focus on Xhosa. Shot with the 24-70mm f4 Zoom at 70mm ISO 3200, f4.0 1/160th second. In. performance shooting the new Nikon Z6’s silent mode is very useful and enables shooting even in quiet moments.

Read other musician's stories

Chris Young
Xhosa Cole
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