By Bob Fowler, Roane State staff writer
Ask Roane State alumnus Devan Jones about working full-time in the music business, and he’ll pull no punches. “It’s a hustle and hard work 24/7,” he says. “It’s a tough business.”
“Sometimes it feels like it’s moving in slow motion, but things are getting better all the time,” says Jones, who credits educators in Roane State’s music department for helping inspire his career.
Jones grew up in Kingston, attended Roane State and the University of Tennessee, and performed at several Knoxville venues. He now lives in Austin, Texas, where he says there are “many different opportunities to play music that inspires me.”
While in Knoxville, he put together a band, “Devan Jones and the Uptown Stomp.” That moniker reflects his love of blues, as well as jazz and swing music of the 1940s and 50s.
Jones, now 29, began his musical odyssey while attending Roane County High and learning the guitar. He discovered his fondness for certain older musical genres “that I was really starting to hear for the first time.”
Starting at Roane State’s Harriman campus in the fall of 2006, Jones said he had been encouraged by his parents to pursue a math degree.
But music increasingly captured his interests, he said, thanks in large part to music department educators Harold Nagge, Brenda Luggie, and Geol Greenlee.
“There are a lot of prestigious four-year universities that have great assets for potential students. However, those programs don’t necessarily facilitate one-on-one instruction that can lead to real breakthroughs like a smaller program such as Roane State can,” Jones said.
“I saw my instructors all the time and they were always there to help when I hit a roadblock. I saw those instructors as mentors and friends by the end of my time at Roane State.”
Jones said Nagge “opened my ears to all the ‘50s and ‘60s jazz.” Nagge “had everything to do” with his gaining proficiency on the guitar, Jones said. “I fought tooth and nail for a while, but he stuck with me and really helped me out. He introduced me to a lot of new music.”
“He (Jones) has really developed since his days at Roane State Community College and continues to get better each time I see him, and his audiences keep growing larger,” Nagge said.
Another music department educator, Professor Brenda Luggie, also had kind words for her former student. “Devan was an incredibly dedicated student, a very deserving Music Department Alumni award winner, and continues to be an impressive professional musician,” she said.
It was during his Roane State days, as music became his passion, that Jones realized a math degree “wasn’t for me.”
He used a third year at Roane State “really working on the music side of things” so he would have the music program credits to transfer to University of Tennessee-Knoxville.
Nagge recalled that while he was at UT, Jones developed problems with a hand tendon and had to stop playing for about a year. “During that down time on the guitar, he did a lot of intense listening, transcribing solos by the masters of jazz, singers and instrumentalists, very focused listening.”
“It was during that time that he more fully discovered his abilities, he found his voice. When he returned to playing, his whole approach had really transformed and evolved to a higher degree,” Nagge said. “He had developed a very discerning ear, and now only plays vintage instruments from the ’50s.”
Nagge said Jones “uses tube amplifiers from that era, and no sound processing or effects, for that pure sound.”
Jones’ musical evolution continued as he became involved in a blues band in Knoxville. After forming “Devan Jones and the Uptown Stomp,” he became a well-known performer in Knoxville, playing in a number of venues, from the Knoxville Museum of Art to the historic Bijou Theatre on Gay Street.
A long-distance relationship that tugged at his heartstrings prompted Jones’ relocation to Austin. Besides, he said, “Austin seemed like a place I really wanted to try.”
“And with the types of music that are played here, I fit right in.”
Learn more at www.devanjones.com.
This story and photo were submitted by Owen Driskill.