Feature/Interview

Pianist Deschanel Gordon (606 Club / EFG London Jazz Festival 16 November)

Pianist Deschanel Gordon, it has just been announced, is a finalist in the 2020 BBC Young Jazz Musician 2020. He has been described by one critic (*) as “a percussive player of immense stature with a seemingly unending stream of ideas.” He will be leading his trio at the 606 Club as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival. Interview by Laura Thorne:

Deschanel Gordon. Photo credit: Lisa Wormsley

What were your earliest musical experiences?

I was born and raised in Hackney, London. One of my earliest musical experiences is listening to the music that my mum and dad played. Genres like Gospel and Reggae were a big part of my early exposure to music.

You have cited Oscar Peterson, McCoy Tyner, Chick Corea and Mulgrew Miller as influences. Is there a linking thread between them? 

Even though they have unique approaches they all have an immense sense of swing and harmonic understanding that draws my ear. Especially Oscar Peterson who was the first jazz pianist I listened to.

Would you say you’re a natural pianist? What aspects do you find challenging?

I definitely had a naturally affinity to music from a young age just from being surrounded by it at home and church. As I’ve got older, developing a strong understanding of how to improvise utilising jazz language has been an ongoing challenge for me.

Aside from jazz, what other genres do you listen to? 

I love listening to Gospel and Reggae as it’s part of my musical DNA. I am a big fan of neo soul as I love the imaginative ways that jazz harmony is paired with soul elements. I also love early hip-hop like A Tribe Called Quest as they have taken samples of jazz musicians like Ron Carter and morphed it into something new.

What inspires you creatively?

Anything can be a source of inspiration for me. Everyday occurrences can be a trigger for a compositional idea. And collaborating with fellow musicians always gives me new ideas/approaches to try to assimilate and personalise.

You play with Mark Kavuma’s The Banger Factory and the award-winning Seed Ensemble. Have these experiences helped you to develop?

Playing in The Banger Factory has been an amazing experience as it has opened many doors for me in the London jazz scene. They are so rooted in the hard bop tradition so each gig allows me to delve into that approach of improvisation and accompaniment. Will Cleasby, the drummer in my trio, also plays in The Banger Factory.

Seed Ensemble has been a chance for me to play Cassie Kinoshi’s beautiful compositions. What I really like about playing with Seed is that there is such a wide range of influences in everyone’s playing so we collectively add a unique approach to Cassie’s compositions.

If you could play with any jazz musicians (alive or dead), who would they be?

I would love to play with Wynton Marsalis and Kenny Garrett. They are massive sources of inspiration and embody what a jazz musician should be.

The UK’s vibrant jazz scene has been hit badly by the pandemic. What’s been your story in the past few months, and what does the future look like?

Before the pandemic I was gigging consistently and having opportunities to play in different countries. Now musicians would be lucky to have one gig a month. It’s hard to lose your main source of income as well as not having the feeling of connecting with a live audience. I think it will be a slow return to some sort of normality but I look at how musicians have turned to using the internet in innovative ways to showcase their music and it gives me faith that music will be created regardless of the current situation.

We’re looking forward to welcoming your Trio to the 606 Club as part of the 2020 EFG London Jazz Festival…

I am really excited to be playing with my trio consisting of Will Sach on bass, Will Cleasby on drums and myself. I have written new music which I am looking forward to debuting at the 606.

Any thoughts on an album? 

In terms of recording, I don’t have any plans yet but it is something I will definitely consider in the near future.

Laura Thorne is Marketing Manager of the 606 Club

(*) Jim Burlong

LINKS: 606 Club’s EFG London Jazz Festival Programme

Video of Deschanel Gordon at Kansas Smitty’s 

and with Xhosa Cole at Jazz East 2019

NEWS: Finalists in BBC Young Jazz Musician 2020

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