Q&A: Jazz musician Eric Xavier

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Jazz musician Eric Xavier plays saxophone. (photo courtesy of National Folk Festival)

Eric Xavier is a jazz saxophonist from Kinston, NC, a hotbed for jazz, soul, funk and R&B. This weekend, he will speak on two panels about folk music and, alongside his band, will perform two afternoon sets at the National Folk Festival in downtown Greensboro.

Why did you gravitate towards the saxophone?

I grew up around music; my father was a [jazz and R&B] musician and would have little jam sessions at the house… and I would play keys and try to teach myself. Then I got into [my dad’s] record collection and he had a lot of Grover Washington. I was like, This is the coolest dude on saxophone. I told my dad I wanted to play saxophone in the fifth grade and he bought me one the next year. I immediately took that thing home and tried to transcribe everything Grover Washington played.

How has growing up in eastern North Carolina influenced your music?

There [were] a lot of older musicians around [and] as a kid, it’s amazing to hear people right around the corner that can sound like the stuff you hear on the radio. Growing up down here… you have this impression that everybody has got to be from [a big city] to be a great musician [because] that’s all you see on TV. When you’re seeing that [in your hometown] that’s a different experience than just being at church and seeing a piano player and a rhythmic section playing gospel music.

You’re associated with African American Music Trails. How is that partnership meaningful to you as a professional musician?

It’s an effort of the North Carolina Arts Council to recognize the musicians from certain eastern North Carolina counties that have represented the music well, whether it’s gospel, R&B or blues. I really appreciate this because… even though it’s not the ’20s, or even the ’70s, you do see an overrepresentation of white musicians as if African-American musicians never existed…. To see an organization make efforts to recognize that and give opportunit[ies] to play means a lot, [and] the effect of that long term is more diversity of programming in all types [of] festivals.

Learn more about Eric Xavier and check out the National Folk Festival schedule at nationalfolkfestival.com.

What is unique about live jazz performances?

The record really isn’t fair to jazz musicians or to the live musician, period. Think of the song as the subject of a conversation. No matter how many times we have that conversation, we’re not going to talk about it the same way…. The song title is an open-ended question and everybody’s personalities are mixing in the space. As long as there’s a sense of unity and happiness on the stage… people are drawn in. [Jazz] is a very inclusive and personal type of music.