Meet the BBC’s Young Jazz Musician of the Year!

Deschanel Gordon is BBC’s Young Jazz Musician of the Year 2020. We interviewed him about his competition experience, his musical journey and what’s in store for the future.

Twenty-two-year-old pianist Deschanel was born in Hackney and attended youth programmes such as the Hackney Creative Jazz Ensemble and the Julian Joseph Jazz Academy. Growing up he was surrounded by a wide range of music from gospel to reggae, and was inspired aged ten by a video of virtuoso pianist Oscar Peterson. This sparked his love of jazz and he switched from classical to jazz piano training.

Although he has only just graduated from Trinity Laban, pianist Deschanel Gordon is already making waves on the UK jazz scene winning BBC Young Jazz Musician 2020. One of the brightest prospects of his generation he has worked with the likes of Mark Kavuma, Cassie Kinoshi’s SEED Ensemble and US-born singer Judi Jackson.

He has performed at many of London’s best-known jazz venues, including the 606 Club, Ronnie’s Scott's, the Jazz Café, the Barbican and Cadogan Hall. He also travelled widely, playing at jazz festivals in Europe and the USA, including Moods in Zurich, New York’s Winter Jazz Festival, Jazz TM in Romania and Fasching in Sweden.

Tell us a bit about yourself (name, where you’re from, your age)

My name is Deschanel Gordon and I am age 22 from Hackney, London. 

What instruments do you play? When did you start playing?

I am primarily a pianist since the age of 7 having classical lessons and playing in church. I also started playing the saxophone at age 15 but it's mostly been in the background with piano being my main focus.

How did your nomination for BBCYJM come about? Was this your first competition?

The previous winner Xhosa Cole mentioned to me that the competition was running and I realised I was still eligible to apply. Yes this was my first competition, I am usually not a fan of them but the year 2020 had so many things cancelled I wanted to take any chance I had to play. 

Tell us about the pieces you played in the final. What was the experience like for you?

I played a piece called Hayne's Here by Kenny Garrett, Round Midnight by Thelonious Monk and an original called Awaiting.  I choose to play Hayne's Here as I have had to opportunity to open for him the last two years he has played at Ronnie Scott's and Hayne's Here was always my favourite song to watch him perform. Theolonious Monk is a big influence on how I approach the piano and I wanted to display this by playing his classic Round Midnight whilst adding my own twist to it.  Awaiting was a song that started out as a rhythmic idea that I recorded into my phone then left for few months. When I got back to it I further developed the idea, incorporating swing and reggae elements. 

How did it feel to get to play your own music at the final?

It was an amazing feeling to hear what my music sounded like in beautiful space like Cadogan Hall especially in the hands of expert musicians Mark and Mike Mondisir.

What was it like, when you heard your name announced as the winner?

I was really surprised, it didn't really hit home that I had won until about a week later.

How has your life changed since you received the award? Has it opened up any opportunities?

I have had some cool gig offers for later in the year but due to the current pandemic most opportunities will probably come about next year.

What advice would you give to musicians considering entering the BBCYJM competition?

Entering the competition is a great chance to hone your ability to practice skills that you would need to demonstrate at a high level for the competition and beyond. For example being able to improvise in various styles whilst having a grasp of jazz vocabulary and interacting with a band.

Have you been playing during lockdown? What kinds of activities have you been involved in?

I have been doing some livestreams at venues like Ronnie Scott's and Kansas Smitty's. I have also really enjoyed having time to compose and develop musical ideas. Composing is something I started to focus on quite recently as before I spent more time on learning jazz repertoire. I love finding ways to create music that surprises me but also still has its harmonic and rhythmic roots in jazz no matter the direction I take.

Would you like to attach a link to your performances? Soundcloud link or similar? Or perhaps some footage you’d like us to share. Here is a link to my set at the competition.

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