Why He’s Interesting: Music has always been a saving grace for Coles. To this day, the Kent State University jazz ensemble instructor uses music to tell larger stories that can not only save others, but also inform and ask questions. After the Charleston church shooting in 2015, Coles began the Nine Lives Project as a way to make sense of the events of that day. While he was part of the Banff Workshop for Jazz and Creative Music in Canada in 2015, the project evolved into an immersive musical and choreographed performance involving different mediums such as dance and animation.
Musical Healing: To capture the traumatic event of the Charleston church shooting, Coles wrote as if he were in the room observing, gathering up the energy during that day. “It sounds like a church service beginning and then there’s this sense of people worshipping, and the climatic point when a pastor is really getting everyone in the spirit and inviting them to the altar, they confess their sins and all this stuff, and then someone opens fire.”
Notes of Wisdom: One of the first times Coles performed was as a saxophone player for the Salvation Army Bandmasters, which was run by James May who ended up being a huge influence. “He was someone who instilled a lot of the values of what it means to do this, to play music and the great responsibility you have as a musician. He instilled that in me at a very young age.”
Nostalgic Power: Along with reading during quarantine, Coles has recently revisited the anime shows he used to watch such as Naruto and found new meaning in them. “Some of the characters in there are interesting, the way they intertwine with things like love, and justice and vengeance. It got me thinking about things that we deal with in life a little differently, like asking the question: What does justice look like?”
Settling In: Coles has aged well. Turning 35 made him feel more comfortable in his own skin and even his zip code. Part of that is rethinking how he can use jazz, music and performance in his life right now. “At 35 I thought I’d be in New York living a jazz musician life and doing all kinds of wild and crazy stuff. But I’m here in Ohio and I would like to think of myself as an arts community leader. I’m trying to do my best to pave the way for the younger ones coming up and make people realize that you can live a viable life as an artist in Northeast Ohio.”
Three And Out
What is your most treasured item?: My saxophone given to me by my high school mentor. It allowed me to progress as a musician.
If you could do one thing over this last year, what would it be?: Everything opened back up in May and I just went crazy. I went out every night and spent $80 on food. That’s because I realized human contact was really important.
How has this last year shaped the way you view the world?: You have to be vigilant. Your job is to do the self-work so that you’re not an awful human being.