Jeff Perks was born and reared in Savannah and learned to play piano here. 

"When I was about 4 or 5 years old, I'd run up to church to see the lady play the organ," he says. "I was so drawn to it. The organist at the church told my parents that was a sign," Perks says. "Now, as a music teacher myself, I can see it in a kid's eyes." 

That early interest turned Perks' talent into a career in music. He will return to Savannah for a concert Oct. 20 at White Bluff Methodist Church.

Perks' mother, Dorothy, started him on lessons. 

"I could play by ear, so I didn't learn to read the music," he says. 

"My first piano teacher told my parents I didn't have the talent for this because I wasn't learning to read music. Instead of realizing I was gifted, she thought I was stupid."

So Perks' musical endeavors languished for a while. 

"But God had his hand in it," he says. "One day when I was 8 years old, a woman knocked on the door and said she was a new piano teacher.

"I got on my bike and went down there and said I wanted to learn piano. That lady immediately knew what I'd been doing when I told her to play a song for me and I'd go home and learn it.

"She never would play a song for me," Perks says. "She made me learn the music and I started progressing. In fact, I progressed through three years of music levels in one year."

The lessons ended when the teacher's husband was transferred, but Perks began studying with Suzanne Woodrum, organist at White Bluff Methodist Church. 

"She was an awesome teacher," Perks says.

At 13, Perks began performing at church services. A graduate of Windsor Forest High School, he attended Armstrong Atlantic State University for two years, where he studied organ. 

"I was thinking if I was going to make a living, I'd have to be an organist playing for a church," he says.

Perks majored in piano performance after transferring to the University of South Carolina at Columbia. In 1983, he was a finalist in a concerto competition. 

By 1989, Perks had begun recording and traveling throughout the South to perform dual piano concerts. In 1995, he was selected as one of eight pianists to perform on a recorded tribute to Barbra Streisand.

"I moved to Charlotte, N.C., in 1992 to play at a big Baptist church here," Perks says. "I was also doing restaurant gigs along the way. 

"I got hooked up with a restaurant that had singing waiters and waitresses as its musical director," he says. "I did that for several years for two different restaurants. When one went bankrupt, I found myself without a job."

Starting in 2002, he worked for Carnival cruise lines. 

"I ended up being their No. 1 rated pianist," he says. "Any time a new ship came out, I was the piano player on it."

For four years, Perks was able to visit the Mexican Riviera, the Caribbean, Hawaii, Alaska and Canada through his work. 

"I relocated to Vancouver for the summer and did the Alaskan run," he says. 

But eventually, Perks wanted to get back on land. 

"I was looking everywhere and still going to Charlotte to see friends," Perks says.

When a church in Denver, N.C., needed an organist, Perks did interim work. 

"They kept raising their offer and made it enough so it was a good base income that I can supplement with teaching," he says.

"I now have my own music school," Perks says. "I teach 40 lessons a week and I'm still at the Denver United Methodist Church."

Over the years, Perks has made nine recordings. 

"I started recording when I was in Columbia at USC," he says. "I would sell those CDs in concerts, and I doubled my income."

Audiences can expect the unexpected at concerts. 

"I usually start with a big religious number, then do popular music and a comedy skit," he says. "I tell a couple of funny stories - that's part of the comedy act." 

In Savannah, there will be three guest soloists, including Christina Richiger, an opera singer. 

"I think people are always surprised," he says. "When you say 'piano concert,' they think I'm going to play one song after another. 

"But they find comedy, some guest singers and it's really fun," Perks says. "It's so different than what they thought it was going to be. People say, 'I had so much fun, I could have listened for an hour more.'"