Xavier Gordon: Behind the Beats
Updated: May 4, 2022
Each week we'll take you 'Behind the Beats' to learn more about the artists that play on our airwaves. This week: Xavier Gordon.
You were born around the time of the ‘smooth jazz’ boom! How does it feel to be hitting the smooth jazz charts with your new single “Bridges”?
First, thanks for having me, Allen. As far as “Bridges,” I feel blessed. I’m honored to be an emerging artist sharing the charts with jazz giants that were a part of the ‘smooth jazz’ boom because I’ve been a fan of a lot of these artists for a while.
I’ve been getting great recognition as a producer and songwriter in the music industry, and now the doors are finally opening for me as an artist. I’m just grateful. I’m trying to enjoy the moment and keep my foot on the gas at the same time.
You got started playing piano at an early age. Tell us about your training as a musician growing up.
My training began with my uncle, Adrian Sawyer, sitting me at pianos since I was wearing diapers. He’s a gospel keyboardist in Georgia, and I would try to tag along to all of his rehearsals and learn from him. This taught me how to play piano by ear, and I began playing keyboard at my grandad’s church. I started taking “official” piano lessons at 7 years old, with an amazing teacher named Jimmy Mayo. He taught me all of the technique, scales, how to read and write music, and really gave me the foundation of music theory.
Throughout high school, I participated in anything that involved a piano from musicals to chorus ensembles, and even when professional musicians were contracted, my chorus teacher Mrs. Rose always made sure I was in the piano seat, which I’m so grateful for. Also around this time, my mentor, Marcus Printup, who’s a Lincoln Jazz Orchestra trumpeter, really embraced me and introduced me to Tyrone Jackson, a pianist, who only had one summer to prepare me for my college auditions. He gave me the best crash course on straight-ahead jazz that you could dream, and Mary Jackson, another piano teacher, helped me prepare my classical repertoire. Once I began college, I had the privilege of studying with Kevin Bales for four years at Georgia State University.
Music runs in your family… tell us about that.
My family is full of musicians and singers. In addition to my uncle, who taught me the piano, I have to mention my mom. As a child, she was always directing the church choir, leading songs, etc. My dad sings as well and was a musician. He had a gospel group with my uncles in Atlanta called the Soul Savers in the 80s and early 90s and played the drums at church. He was one of the only people in my hometown who owned a recording studio. Back then, a legit studio setup was hard to come by, so, I have lots of memories in the studio with him and my godfather, Earl Fleming.
Both of my grandfathers have some musical history too. One used to sing in a quartet group, and the other played a little guitar and keyboards. There’s musical talent on both sides of my family. We even had a family choir that performed at different churches around the community for years.
You have collaborated with some popular music legends… Please share some highlights with us.
It’s been so exciting and such an honor to collaborate with so many legends throughout my career as a musician and producer. One collaboration that stands out began early in the morning at about 6 a.m. with some missed phone calls from my friend David Haddon. He’s a phenomenal drummer. I called him back, and he said to “call Jamie Foxx’s musical director, Nisan Stewart, ASAP because he was looking for a piano player.” So, I get in touch with him, and he told me that the gig was in a few hours that day. That gig turned out to be for the first season of Beat Shazam on Fox network. I’ve been blessed to work with Jamie for four consecutive seasons now. You could easily argue that Jamie’s the most talented entertainer in the world, so it’s been a true honor.
Another highlight was a moment I shared with an old friend Jarell Moore, aka Rell. We worked endless hours writing and producing music when I was in high school, so we developed a musical chemistry that’s not easy to find. One Christmas, I was back in Georgia, and we collaborated and created a few songs. One of the songs we created later titled “Humble Pie” ended up on Musiq Soulchild’s album Feel the Real, which was nominated for a Grammy. It was a huge accomplishment to receive a Grammy nod with a legend like Musiq.
We share Norman Brown in our musical history… I played in high school band with him and you performed at an actual professional level. Tell us about your experiences with some of the veteran smooth jazz artists.
Wow, I wonder what you two were like in high school lol. Norman and I were connected through my manager Walter Millsap. It’s such a small world and turns out that we all had the same barber, Kenyatta Khari. I also have to credit Angie Stone, another musical legend, for connecting me with Norman. Norman played on a record for me that features him, Angie Stone and Kirk Whalum. Kirk Whalum is another jazz legend that I’ve been blessed to work with. Norman and Angie also featured me during their set at the Long Beach Jazz festival, and I’m eternally grateful for that opportunity. It’s always special when veteran artists embrace you with open arms
Tell us about the importance of teaching music to young people.
Teaching music to young people is such an important part of child development. Music education has been scientifically proven to strengthen children’s intellectual skills, motor skills, memory skills, and the list goes on and on. I am a product of so many people and educators taking the time to teach me music and grow my talent. There are so many young people with the potential to do amazing things and positively impact the world through their love of music if they only had an environment to nurture and develop their talents.