Recollections of Jazz Organist Everette DeVan
Updated: Sep 15, 2021
The sound of jazz is forever changed by an expanded musical palette brought on by the swinging sound of the Hammond B3 organ.
The recent loss of not only organist Everette DeVan, but the passing of Joe Miquelon, playing B3 and tenor saxophone for The Elders, Ida McBeth, Blue Riddim Band, KC Aces, and many other regional bands brought the music community together to mourn the loss of 2 bright musical lights.
Then, Los Angeles B3 organist Mike Finnigan died. Most Unexpectedly, with plans to play in the area already in place. Mike hailed from Wichita, KS. Most of his time was spent out west, but it was always a celebration when the blue-eyed soul singer sauntered into town to perform with vocalist Kelley Hunt, or Phantom Blues Band, who won a Grammy for their work with Taj Mahal.
Mike Finnigan graced the sound of many beloved recordings.
Like Finnigan, organist Charles Kynard, before him, began his career in the Midwest and migrated to Los Angeles. Kynard was considered the best B3 organist in Kansas City in the late 1960s by guitarist Pat Metheny and others. He even played organ at professional baseball games—a long-lost KayCee tradition that lasted into the 1980s.
Charles Kynard had a successful recording career. He had his uncle. He followed in the footsteps of saxophonist Ben Kynard, who wrote and performed Red Top with the Lionel Hampton Orchestra. Charles served up similar swingin’ sounds for the AME church in Pasadena, California. Brett Kynard has assembled a loving tribute to his family. Find more at www.kynard.com
About the time Charles Kynard left for the coast, the fresh-faced youngster Everette DeVan blew in from Pueblo to fill the void. This was an ambitious musician anxious to grab the spot left by Kynard. Widely considered to be a world class organist, many here and in California said he was on the level of Jimmy Smith, Groove Holmes, and Jimmy McGriff.
Internationally known jazz vocalist Deborah Brown has traveled extensively and was vocal jazz teacher for 7 years at Conservatorium in Hilversum, the Netherlands.
Deborah Brown was attending UMKC in 1972. She grew up at the knee of Kansas City Jazz. Her mother, a rabid jazz fan taught Deborah about jazz by taking her to concerts, hanging out with musicians, and listening to their recordings at home:
“Everette DeVan was one of my first employees.” said Brown. While still in school, I snagged a long-term contract at the Downtown Hilton, located at 7th and Washington. “We played in a rooftop bar,” she said, “overlooking the old downtown airport.” The only airport in Kansas City at the time.
“I was young, working every night and attending school in the daytime. I’d just been handed the job, but I signed the contract!”
“After the nightclub’s manager Tony Moreno—The Mad Greek—had been fired, (I assumed for giving away free champagne every night after the show,) I was leading the band and dealing with hotel management.
This was a wild time.
I knew the job, but I was still underage, and I was assumed too young for this big responsibility. Everette was a part of my band, and he was as professional as they came. He wanted the job for himself, so he turned me in to Local 41-627, for not being a union member.
I got busy. I went to down to the Musicians Union, at 11th and Washington, and I signed up as a tambourine player. In those day, this was what a singer did, to retain a leadership position. We worked for many months there together almost every night of the week.
Many years later, after moving back to Kansas City, I did my duty. I went to a late-night jam session at the old Musicians Union on 18th and Vine. I heard some remarkable organ playing and a guitarist. So, I asked to sit in and neither Everette, nor I recognized one another.
Until the tune was over!
We started playing together again and had a beautiful time. We hung out at his place near the plaza, until he moved on. I’m so sorry to see him go. Everette DeVan is a part of my story, too!”
There was an impromptu night at the Blue Room, a few years back, with Rod Fleeman, Tommy Ruskin, Everette, and Deb. That was beyond words! (Editor)
Lori Tucker, the Friday night vocalist at the Intercontinental Hotel on the Plaza for 9 years, and a Wild Woman of Kansas City remembers Everette this way:
“In 1976, I was working 6 nights a week, with a cover-band at a rooftop Ramada Inn on 87th Street in Overland Park. I could still wear hot pants back then!
I knew of Everette, but I didn’t consider myself a jazz singer. One night, a booking agent named Jerry Plantz came into our gig and approached me about going down to Crown Center and auditioning with Everette DeVan.
I had heard that a girl named Cindy Fee had been singing with Everette. The Top of The Crown was an expensive restaurant on top floor of the brand-new Crown Center hotel, overlooking downtown and with a stunning view in 4 directions.
Cindy Fee did a recording that became a big hit. The agent told me that she needed to leave town immediately to move to Los Angeles and Everette needed a new singer.
So, I dropped by Crown Center and Everette hired me on the spot. I said, “I can’t sing jazz,” and he said, “Don’t worry, you’ll be fine.” When I cleaned house for my mom, she would put on those records and I would sing along, so I tried those songs with Everette.
We had a ball! It was Kent Means on vibes, Rusty Tucker on drums, Everette and me. The guys wore tuxedos and they had me in fancy gowns, after the show we’d all go to Town Topic all dressed up like that and laugh and carry on. Then, on weekends we’d head down to the Mutual Musician’s Foundation and carry on some more!
Everette was so helpful, and I learned the songs, right on stage. He was an excellent teacher. Our 3-month contract lasted a couple of years, and I had the time of my life. Singing 6 nights a week and working 8 to 5 every day.”
Another Wild Woman, Millie Edwards, is the Reading Coordinator/Instructor at MCC
Penn Valley Community College, the former President of Jazz Friends at UMKC, and vocalist at the Phoenix’s long-running Sunday Brunch. She remembers Lori Tucker working with Everette:
“You are correct,” she told me, “I sang with Everette at the Epicurean jam sessions. That’s when Everette’s band was named, ssSlick. Kent Means was in the group, and he worked with Everette almost all his life. Kent used to work a day gig as an electrician. Marvin Jones played the drums, Monte Musa played guitar. He then hired me to work with him at Bobby’s on Broadway in the 1980s.” Bobby's later moved downtown on Main.
We took several wonderful trips with that band, the Charles Earland Jazz Cruise, and events on the island of St. Croix, plus all the jazz festivals locally and many of the national festivals. When we weren’t traveling, we were working almost every night in Kansas City and there were those weekly jam sessions.”
Vocalist Millie Edwards, said Everette told her, "It doesn't matter what's going on in your personal life. You might even be playing to a room of one person, but you need to show up and give a 110% performance. Professionalism and quality are expected. If you're going to call yourself an artist and musician, do and be it.”
“What you bring will last.”
Saxophonist Jim Mair, a Canadian citizen at the time and yet another UMKC graduate, recalls running across something very special in June of 1990.
Jim is the founding Director of the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra, Instrumental Music Director at Kansas City Kansas Community College, a Conn & Selmer Center Stage Artist, and he holds degrees from UMKC Conservatory of Music and University of Mary.
In June of 1990 he ran across Mama Rae’s long-running Saturday afternoon jam session at Harling’s Upstairs. Westport Road and Main Street:
Before it quit running, the elevator at Harling’s Upstairs dropped patrons off in what seemed at the time, a backstage area. If you weren’t expecting it, the band kicking in, especially when Everette was on the B3 could almost bole you over:
This is how Jim recalled the afternoon. “From the first note it was like a freight train! Power and control. Dynamics and nuance with one measure. I played, and Everette invited me to his next session, at Cajun Seafood restaurant that night. Everette introduced me to Richard Ross, Claude Williams, Lisa Henry, and vibraphonist Kent Means. Shortly after, he was calling me for gigs, and subsequently I started my own group with Everette. I had been raised musically, using the Real Book. Everette turned me on to a more obscure repertoire the hip tunes such as SKJ, Rock Candy, Red Beans & Greens, Why Not, Don’t Be So Mean Arlene, and Bluesology. He turned me on to organists Shirley Scott, Don Patterson, and Charles Earland.
He taught me Bluesology on the bandstand. It took me several gigs to get the melody down correctly, and even then, I couldn’t hear the rhythmic aspect of it. But, Everette never seemed to complain. I took a teaching position in Idaho, and we had him out to Idaho on multiple occasions and his modus operandi was always, “I’m here, work me!”
On one of our many trips to North Dakota, our host tried to impress us by having us picked up a limo. When we arrived at the airport, the host didn’t realize, there were 5 of us. And, we had our luggage and some of the instruments. So, we ended up crawling up on top of our suitcases, laying on top of them while riding to the hotel.
I was on my back and Everette was on his stomach, laughing all the way! When it came time to play the music, Everette DeVan was all business. He was always early for gigs, in fact throughout our 15-year association of presenting KCKCC Summer Jazz Camp, he made it a point to show up an hour early. He did this every day, just to be available to help our students.
He was also our jazz accompanist at KCKCC until he took an extended engagement in Japan. He was a great dresser with flamboyant tie and handkerchief combinations.
The gig was Everette DeVan’s business. We played regularly in the jazz club, throughout the 1990s, downstairs at the Plaza III. Now, Everette’s regular equipment list included his 350-pound Hammond B3 organ, not one but two Leslie speakers, the ones that have their own motor, that makes 2 different speakers whirl around. (They are each the size of a small refrigerator.) Added to this, were his Korg synthesizer and his Peavey bass amplifier. (Just for the funk tunes.)
Initially, the Plaza III bus boys would scatter like mice when we arrived. That’s until the bus boys realized, that Everette was a very giving person, and he would tip them generously when they were willing help us out.
When I was Director of the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra, I featured Everette and New York tenor saxophonist Houston Person. I envisioned the two of them playing the arrangements that Oliver Nelson had written for organist Jimmy Smith and Nelson’s Big Band.
Everette was definitely a guy we could count on to be a showstopper!
He built a loyal following of fans, regular folks who followed him around on both sides of the state line. He was the first musician I heard that would go to the b6 chord in measure five of the blues progression. He also loved to incorporate the happy sound of Bird Blues as a harmonic release to high energy blues solo. My first recording session was in 1991 with Lisa Henry, Clive Renfro, Kent Means, drummer Jim Morrison along with Dwight Foster on tenor and Everette.
This was a smokin’ group in more ways than one. Ron Ubel, of the recording studio, Soundtrek told me he had to get a commercial window cleaner in the studio after that session—to clean the residue off the glass between him and that very HOT band! My first album was organ combo on side A and piano, bass, drums on the B side.
Everette with Brian Harman on guitar, Tommy Ruskin and vocalist Richard Ross really captured the energy of a live gig in the studio. As you can hear if you have the recording. Everette and I discussed drummers for the album. I asked Everette how he felt about recording with Tommy Ruskin, he smiled and said, oh yeah! We can hook up!”
(With the intricacies and nuance between an organist and drummer.)
Everette DeVan recorded his first album This is ssSlick in the early 1980s. Other releases include, 8th and Central by Jim Mair, The REAL THING with Bill Caldwell on tenor saxophone and flute, guitarist Danny Embrey, and drummer Todd Strait. This album was produced and Executive Produced by long-time big band leader Warren Durrett on August 11, 1993. Durrett was a big fan of Everette DeVan. East of the Sun was recorded with vocalist Millie Edwards and later the album For the Love of You.
After the turn of the century, Everette continued as a mentor to many prominent Kansas City jazz musicians, including Eboni Fondren, Matt Carrillo, Chris Hazelton, Matt Hopper, and Danny Rojas, who saw him as their “musical papa.”
“I know he loved to share his craft with the world and that was his way of giving back,” Fondren said. “It was always just about the music and doing what you loved.”
B3 organist Everette DeVan was awarded many accolades over the course of his jazz long jazz career. He was inducted as an Elder Statesman of Kansas City Jazz in 2000, he won the Frank Smith Spirit Award, and in 2006 he was named a Missouri Jazz Treasure by Governor Matt Blount. In 2016, he was inducted into the American Jazz Walk of Fame. There, he is immortalized with a 30-inch bronze medallion installed on the sidewalks at 18th & Vine alongside the names of many of the same musicians he admired as a youngster.
Everette DeVan is missed by many loyal music fans.