Salem High grad performs jazz Christmas concert at JP Carr Center

Xavier Gordon, a 2008 Salem High School graduate, is set to perform a jazz Christmas concert at the J. P. Carr Center in Conyers on Friday, Dec. 13 at 7:30 p.m. Gordon will be joined by an instrumental combo and vocalist-actress Chandra Currelley. (Special Photo)

Xavier Gordon, a 2008 Salem High School graduate, is set to perform a jazz Christmas concert at the J. P. Carr Center in Conyers on Friday, Dec. 13 at 7:30 p.m. Gordon will be joined by an instrumental combo and vocalist-actress Chandra Currelley. (Special Photo)

CONYERS — The credit (or blame) for pianist Xavier Gordon’s decision to embrace jazz must go to a girl — but not just any girl.

“Once I started hearing essential jazz, I gravitated to Oscar Peterson and learned his solo to a song called ‘Girl From Ipanema,’” Gordon said of the sultry standard, which Peterson recorded in 1964. “I couldn’t stop listening to it. I listened to it for a month straight. That’s literally what got me started playing jazz.”

The 23-year-old Gordon – a 2008 graduate of Salem High – will celebrate Christmas and his graduation from Georgia State with a holiday concert at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 13 at the J.P. Carr Center in Conyers. He’ll be joined by an instrumental combo and vocalist-actress Chandra Currelley for the performance.

The son of Teresa and Stanley Gordon was aided in his jazz crusade by another Rockdale County native — celebrated trumpeter Marcus Printup – who enabled the young pianist to jam with some of the world’s preeminent jazz players, including icon Wynton Marsalis.

“When I was a senior in high school, Marcus Printup started giving me CDs,” Gordon said. “When the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra played at Woodruff Hall in Atlanta, Marcus got me tickets to sit on the side of the stage and at the end of the show they allowed me to come on stage and sit in with them. The crowd went crazy for my solo. There were a lot of college music professors in the audience that night and they started calling and got me thinking about college.”

Studying with former Printup sideman Kevin Bales, Gordon will receive his bachelor’s degree in jazz piano performance on Dec. 18.

“I owe a lot to my mentors, including Marcus,” he said. “My uncle Adrian Sawyer is a great pianist and Tyrone Jackson was my first jazz instructor. And I’ve spent the last four years with Kevin Bales. And my godfather, Earl Fleming, who was with the Ohio Players and has been musical director for Teena Maree, Rick James and Tyler Perry, has also been a very important influence.”

Kicking off his journey at the age of 7 playing classical and gospel music, Gordon has produced four albums, including two Christmas discs, 2010’s “Just for You” and 2012’s “Junior Recital,” a recording of a performance required to satisfy the requirements for his degree at Georgia State. While he’s a jazz enthusiast, Gordon said he enjoys all kinds of music.

“I listen to everything; jazz is just the latest thing to come into my life,” he said. “As a producer, I worked with a lot of different musicians in a bunch of different styles. When I was a senior at Salem, I held a talent show with a scholarship going to the winner and we had rock, rhythm and blues, country – we had a little bit of everything.”

After creating a pair of Christmas releases, Gordon said he’d been encouraged to play a holiday concert in Conyers and now thinks he’d like to make it an annual gig.

“After I put out those Christmas albums, people were looking for me to have a concert,” he said. “So I did concerts to promote the albums, but I haven’t done one in several years. I decided that if people wanted me to do it, I’d start having the concerts again. It’s really a good time for me to see family and friends again, so it’s something I might start doing every year.”

Gordon – a talented gospel vocalist who also serves as minister of music at Peek’s Chapel Baptist Church (the church Printup grew up in) – will be joined on the bandstand by Covington musician Jairus Hardge (keyboards), Marcus Williams (drums), Maria Montgomery (bass) and DeShon Williams (percussion).

Although vocalist Currelley may be best known these days for her film and television work with entertainment icon Perry, she also enjoyed a long stint in the Atlanta-based S.O.S. Band, which released eight albums (three of them going gold) from 1980 to 1991. Gordon said that he’ll sing a couple of numbers himself in Conyers.

Once he completes his local performance and collects his college degree, Gordon said his plan for the new year is to revisit a recording project he started but never completed.

“I’m going to focus on an album that I started a few years ago,” he said. “It has a lot of great players on it, including John Roberts, who toured with Janet Jackson for like 10 years. It’s just a great lineup of musicians and I’ve been saving these songs, trying to get everything in line to perfect it and release. My first goal is to get that record out early next year.

“I’m beyond blessed and I’m thankful and grateful for all the opportunities that have presented themselves to me. I know, however, that I still have a lot of work to do and I want to work really hard this next year. Since I’ll be done with school, I’ll have extra time to put towards what I want to do.”

For more information on jazz pianist Xavier Gordon, visit www.xmanjazz.com. Tickets for Gordon’s Dec. 13 concert are $20 and available at www.eventbrite.com.

Chris Starrs is a freelance writer based in Athens. To contact him, email cstarrs90@charter.net.