Award winning jazz prodigy pays tribute to parents and Hackney school

Deschanel Gordon performs at BBC Young Jazz Musician Final 2020. Pic: Doug Peters/PA Wire

Award winning Hackney piano prodigy Deschanel Gordon has paid tribute to his school and parents for inspiring his unusual blend of jazz and reggae.

In an interview with Eastlondonlines he said: “I found jazz on my own, but because my parents are Jamaican, reggae was part of my upbringing. We were listening to it all the time. So it didn’t feel unnatural to fuse them together.”

Gordon, 22, was speaking to Eastlondonlines after winning the BBC Young Jazz Musician Award. Judge and film composer Orphy Robinson said it “felt like the sun came out” when Gordon played his 15-minute set, as part of the BBC4 Young Musician series.

Gordon, who studied at Mossbourne Academy in Hackney, told Eastlondonlines he has been “overwhelmed” with attention since his win was announced. He said: “I rewatched [the award ceremony] and I don’t look happy at all, but I was shocked.”   

The five finalists were selected after two gruelling rounds of auditions. In the final they performed alongside one of the UK’s leading jazz trios, choosing pieces from the standard jazz repertoire as well a new composition. 

Gordon accepts his award. Pic: Doug Peters/PA Media

Gordon said his original piece, Waiting, which combines jazz with elements of reggae, was inspired by Jamaican jazz pianist Monty Alexander, as well as his music-obsessed family. 

While he started out playing classical piano in church as a child, he first discovered jazz aged 10 through a documentary about jazz legend Oscar Peterson. “I didn’t know who he was, but I found the music so enchanting,” Gordon told ELL. “Later on, I found out it was jazz he was playing. From then on I was on YouTube all day looking at videos.” 

Mossbourne’s “really supportive” music department pushed him to play with the Hackney Creative Jazz Ensemble and the Julian Joseph Jazz Academy in Haggerston as a teenager. He graduated from Trinity Laban conservatoire in Greenwich with a first-class degree this year. 

And despite his young age, Gordon has already been making waves on the London jazz scene. Before lockdown, he regularly performed with his own trio at clubs across the city – including Ronnie Scott’s in Soho – and in Europe. Mercury Prize-nominated SEED ensemble and Mark Kavuma’s The Banger Factory have tapped him for collaborations. 

Performing during lockdown. Clip: 606 Club

Gordon is keen to work on composing more music – but is looking forward to performing again. Although he has played on a few livestreams during the pandemic, it does not measure up to a live gig.  

“I miss the transference of energy between jazz band and the audience,” he said. “Jazz is an improvisational genre, so any slight shift of mood in the room can affect how you play.” 

Gordon has no plans to stop any time soon, he added: “It was always gonna be music. Once I started learning I couldn’t see any other way.”

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