Tell us about yourself and your music
Hello…it’s nice to connect with you. I’m a composer and trombone jazz performer based around Denver, Colorado. With the outstanding vocalist Donna DeVine, I have been leading the group Hines DeVine Jazz for the past five years, and in other variations for over 15 years. Our goal has been to bring jazz music to people who don’t think of themselves as jazz lovers and to bring the best of more contemporary music to people who are in the traditional, straight-ahead jazz audience. While raising awareness and appreciation for what has become a somewhat lower-profile instrument, the trombone.
The breadth of our work represents a liberation from the stereotypical jazz norm: while we are comfortably bringing jazz classic standards to a new generation, we are also embracing quality music of more recent years, including arrangements of some of the most contemporary hits and complete originals. We actively bring today’s tunes to live jazz music.
While rooted in a foundation of jazz trombone players and female jazz vocalists, we play with internationally known trumpet, piano/organ/synthesizer, bass, and percussion artists to create melodic jazz that spans swing, bebop, blues, Latin, gospel, second-line, rock, and pop styles. We feel that the result is accessible, eclectic, and immensely entertaining. As a fan once said: “Hines DeVine Jazz is the only show where you can hear amazing renditions of Mingus, Fitzgerald, Davis, Janis Joplin, and Lady Gaga tunes, plus refreshing originals–all in the same set!”
Talk to us more about your latest release
This new song-suite, ‘Emergence,’ is a completely original work that captures the 2020 pandemic experience in a contemporary, upbeat way. As a time where all public performances were canceled, where people were experiencing a loss (Donna herself lost her father and her job in the same week), and where misinformation was causing chaos and fear–my energy started to be focused inward, and I started hearing chords and melodies. As we settled into the “new normal,” found stronger connections with friends and family, and rediscovered the beauty of what blessings we have, those chords and melodies started taking turns towards more positive, happy directions, and now that we are starting to book live gigs again, towards ultimate Emergence (at least, in Colorado). Hence, the name. It is a journey that every musician, and most people in general, have been taking, and to which they can relate.
I always tend to write towards accessible, strong melodies, and that is the hallmark of this new tune. It has an A-A-B form, with the B section containing a new key and totally different feel. The solo sections take the listener down into minor (but very interesting) chaos for the first half, and then emerges into beautiful, soaring, moving chords and strings. Trombone, electric guitar, and Rhodes electric piano all tell their own stories of emergence. The drum solo is nothing short of amazing as we come back around to repeat the introduction, but this time with supporting chords. And then back to the lilting melody, growing to a beautiful combination of high notes, synth, and strings into the last cadenza that waits till the very last minute to resolve into the major chord (exactly mirroring our wait till the end for this whole crisis to be over).
‘Emergence’ grooves. It soars. It uplifts. It connects. It is different from anything we’ve ever created in the past, and will hopefully be strong enough to stand on its own, and live on well beyond 2020.
What inspired you to write this release?
Going through the 2020 shutdown, watching all public, live music events become something to be feared instead of embraced. Watching so many people struggle with losing their jobs. Watching our daughter graduate in music theater and being launched into a world with no career opportunity. Sitting in the hospital room with a dying father-in-law. These powerful experiences turned into creative energy and a desire to bring ourselves and hopefully others hope via the medium of music.
Describe the writing and recording process
Obviously, the writing process was cathartic. I didn’t want this to be a downer in any way and wanted it to have a lot of pretty elements. But at the same time, I wanted to express the darkness, too–this wasn’t going to be anything sickeningly sweet. I wanted it to have a more contemporary, funky feel. I provided a written bass line that propelled the song forward under the opening melodies and gave a feeling of direction and movement. After writing the core melodies and bass lines and chords, I worked with our pianist, Tom Capek, to dress up and complexify some of the chords further. A great example is a very last chord, which instead of being a straight-up major chord, we decided to add the 13 sharp 11 so that it is major, but still just a tad more unsettling — like where we are in the real world right now. Hopeful, positive…but unsettled.
Then we needed absolutely top-notch players who we knew and trusted. I’ve worked with Jason Malmberg on bass and Tom Capek on keys forever. Fantastic musicians who all bring their own unique perspective and talents. I knew we would need both percussion AND strong drums that spanned out of straight-ahead jazz, so I was thrilled when the fantastic Christian Teele (who I had worked with before on our previous release, ‘You & I,’ and is the top studio drummer in Colorado) signed up for the project. That was our core group that laid down the base track on Memorial Day weekend. A big decision that day was whether to record using electric bass and piano, or acoustic bass & piano. We tried it both ways, and it quickly became apparent that for the song to truly say and feel like 2020, it needed the electric touch for both, which propelled the feel away from traditional straight-ahead jazz.
When we listened, we knew it needed a little bit more, and Christian put his percussion stamp on the tune. It was amazing and kind of hilarious to see him lay out his ‘junk metal’ for the interlude and chaotic section between the B section and the first half of the trombone solo. It added SO much!
When I laid down the trombone solo work, it was an expression of my own personal journey and feelings during 2020, both negative and positive. I think it comes out clearly in a way that makes the solo section more interesting than the melody section, really. This is where it feels like jazz, and captures the energy of improvisation and communication at the moment, from the heart.
Tom Capek and I then started looking for the right additional layers of synthesizer effects and texture pads. A nice example there is a subtle 3/4 pattern on kalimba over the 4/4 of the song, to further set up a feeling of something being kind of off, but incredibly cool for the first half of the solos. We decided that to make the transition from dark to light within the solo sections more dramatic, so we even added strings to the second half of each solo–and the result is glorious without devolving into cheesy.
Finally, I felt that we needed more of a conversation between the trombone and the rhythm section, vs. just an accompaniment. And in what was for me an absolute first, I suggested that I could actually hear electric guitar playing that role. We were so fortunate to be connected with Randy Chavez, the lead guitar for the 90s rock group Opie Gone Bad, who lives in Denver and normally plays with everyone from rock to jazz to symphonies. He makes all his own equipment, which gives him a unique sound, and after listening to our rough mix, he agreed to lend his talents to the project. After laying down his ideas against the various melody sections, it was Randy himself who announced “I want to take a solo on this”, and suddenly we were off, with him playing off what Tom had already laid down on the electric piano, in an immensely satisfying solo exchange that took the song to a whole new level.
At the end, my producer, Kevin Clock, of Colorado Sound Recordings, who has produced all of our previous work and knows my sound and style as well as anyone, pulled this all together into a suite that, quite literally, brings different elements to your attention every time you listen. We have a video of almost every element, which we pieced together into a fun in-studio video of the whole song on YouTube.
I’m indebted to all these talented people who become personally invested in telling the Emergence story, and in making my musical vision become a reality. It is definitely my best work, to date.
Any plans to release a video?
Any plans to hit the road?
We have an ‘Emergence’ live, in-person show booked at Denver’s top jazz club, Dazzle Restaurant, and Lounge (www.dazzlejazz.com):
Hines DeVine Jazz ‘Emergence’ Show
Thursday, October 1, 2020
There will be limited capacity and certain COVID restrictions, but we are excited to play this and our other music again! Hopefully, other gigs will follow.
As an indie artist, how do you brand yourself and your music to stand out from the rest of the artists out there?
First of all, it’s trombone, paired with incredibly strong vocals. Second is the music: We focus on being melodic and accessible, vs. esoteric and “out there.” It is the mix of arrangements of everything from standards to Lady Gaga that makes us different from the traditional. People who come away from our shows always tell us “I had no idea how much I liked jazz!” And this is the most satisfying thing we can hear.
Who have you been listening to lately?
Who are your biggest influences?
I have always admired the sound and technique of Curtis Fuller and had the pleasure of being invited to play with him here in Denver when he toured through.
One of my absolute biggest influences directly was the amazing Hugh Ragin on trumpet. I studied under him, performed with him, and even recorded it with him.
Also, Michael Pagan, piano, who I also studied and then recorded with, even though he moved from Denver (where he was a professor of jazz studies and the University of Colorado Boulder) to Kansas City.
Musically, our influences are varied: Chuck Mangione (the last jazz horn player who actually cracked the pop charts), Pat Metheny for his amazing chords and writing, Dianne Reeves for sheer vocal talent, and Sara Bareilles for strong modern melodies & lyrics.
Tell us about your passions
Living our best lives, staying close as a family, fighting the trend towards the lowest common denominator in thought, conversation, and music which is so prevalent today. No one wants anything to require anything of them, and that shows in so much of the musical trends we see today. Single-chord, electronic music which becomes something you feel vs. something you really listen to. I try to get people to actually listen/be engaged–and when they do, they find it immensely satisfying. It doesn’t mean turning our backs to the audience but instead means reaching out to them even more, finding them where they are, and bringing them to something slightly more involving/challenging.
I’m also passionate about fitness, being active, and treating people with fairness and respect. Fighting the close-mindedness and rigidity which is everywhere today.
What else is happening next in your world?
Donna and I co-lead the amazing Denver Jazz Orchestra, an 18-piece big band which is comprised of some of Denver’s absolute top musicians, rehearsing and performing the best big band music available anywhere. Our book has some of the most challenging charts being played in Colorado, and we have so much fun doing it. The band had a regular monthly gig and was accelerating in its local visibility and proficiency when COVID hit. Because of the age of some of the players (two of them actually played with Sinatra and Nelson Riddle back in the Vegas years), we have held off rehearsing, and of course, the gigs have canceled. The club where we were playing monthly has yet to re-open after the shutdown, and may not re-open ever. So we will be now embarking on re-organizing the band and re-booking it into clubs in the area, as well as re-working the book for a post-COVID era.
As parents of five daughters (yes that’s right…FIVE…DAUGHTERS. None together, but a blended family since they were ages 2, 3, 4, 6 and 8), we have our hands full getting the last one through high school. Meanwhile, I am the Director of Digital Strategy for a high tech data and analytics company, Teradata, and Donna is an executive recruiter, currently looking as her job was eliminated with the onset of COVID.
And now working on writing Donna some original vocal charts as our next project!
Thank you for reaching out and listening.
Thanks for an awesome interview, John Hines & Donna DeVine (Hines DeVine Jazz)
Connect with John Hines & Donna DeVine (Hines DeVine Jazz)
Website: https://hinesdevinejazz.com/Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HinesDeVineJazzTwitter: https://twitter.com/HinesDevineJazzYoutube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCxws-OhXTm1NEnimolIf8uwSoundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/hinesdevinejazzReverbnation: https://www.reverbnation.com/johnhinesfeatdonnadevinehinesdevinejazz