Devin Jones was recently named a recipient of the Fletcher Bright scholarship, awarded to students at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.

When Berklee opportunity arose, Jones didn’t fret

by | Apr 22, 2024 | ALLFFP, King George, Music

While many kids lost educational opportunities during the pandemic or filled their days playing online games, a 14-year-old Devin Jones was practicing guitar for hours on end, utilizing his new-found free time to perfect his craft.  

After picking up the instrument for the first time in a middle school guitar class, Jones improved his skills with the (socially distant) help of master bluegrass guitarist Bryan Sutton. Sutton offers online instruction to students through his ArtistWorks series — recorded lessons that cover every aspect of guitar playing. Sutton allows students to send videos for critique, so Jones decided to give it a shot.  

“One day during the pandemic I thought I might as well submit a video and see what happens,” said Jones, a King George County native. “So, I submitted a video of me playing ‘Nine Pound Hammer’ or something and he responded. It was really helpful for me.  

“He was good at telling me how I should get better in a way that didn’t make me feel horrible about my playing. Some teachers can do that, and Bryan Sutton is really good at doing that. After that video, I started submitting a bunch to him and I was getting better and better from that.” 

Jones,18, is currently in his first year at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston and touring with the Ettore Buzzini Band when he has time off from school.  

Jones came from a lineage of musicians on both sides of his family. His maternal grandfather Neal Anthony Myers played in the house band at New York’s Peppermint Lounge in the 1960s and even shared the same stage as The Beatles. But it was the music of his paternal grandfather Alvin Jones and father Adam Jones that he credits with setting his musical path.  

“I kind of just grew up around all the music,” Jones said. “My dad is definitely the original reason. We would go over to my grandpa’s house and in the mornings they would always wake up and then play together. My grandpa also played guitar so they would play a bunch of Tony Rice stuff and fiddle tunes, just two guitars. That seemed really awesome to me. That was the reason I started playing it.” 

When venues reopened after the pandemic, Jones frequented open mics and jam sessions where audiences were wowed by the sheer virtuosity of his playing. With graduation approaching, he decided to apply to Berklee, which is known for having a very scrupulous and competitive admissions process.  

“After I submitted the application, they sent me an audition date,” he said. “I could have chosen a location in DC, but I went up to Boston anyway with my dad to see what the campus was like; get the tour and the audition out of the way so I didn’t have to do two separate things for that.  

“There was an audition and an interview. For the audition, they ask you to play a piece that you prepared. Then they test your ear. They play chords and you have to tell them what it is. They’ll clap a rhythm and then you clap it back and it gets progressively harder. The audition went fine for me.” 

Jones’ assessment of his audition proved true. Out of thousands of applicants, he was selected to start at Berklee in the fall of 2023. Jones is in the guitar program, which is closely related to Berklee’s American Roots program, which includes blues, bluegrass, Cajun, classic country, early gospel, early jazz, folk, gospel, old-time, polka, spirituals, Tex-Mex, and western swing, among others. 

“My classes now have forced me to get more of a skill set in jazz,” he said. “My private instructor is a guy named Bobby Stanton. He’s a country guitar player, but he’s teaching me how to play jazz more fluently. It’s having a big impact on the stuff I’m doing now. My soloing is different, I have more chord knowledge because of it. It’s very helpful learning all that stuff.” 

Jones has already earned a rare honor at Berklee. He just received The Fletcher Bright Scholarship, which is awarded each year to just two students who play bluegrass music. The endowed scholarship, named for a late Berklee student, provides tuition for one semester at Berklee to deserving students nominated by the faculty.  

Jones plans to complete his studies at Berklee before starting his own band. He has gravitated to a style of bluegrass known as “mash”; a sub-genre that emphasizes a hard downbeat and is played by bands like The Lonesome River Band, Blue Highway, and Mountain Heart.  

“I really loved the band called Mountain Heart,” Jones said. “They used to be a really big mash band. I really loved all the stuff they did with Josh Shilling and Barry Abernathy. And then Bryan Sutton and Alison Krauss and Union Station, also Dan Timinski. I grew up on the ‘Wheels’ album. A lot of the mash genre I grew up listening to without thinking about it.  I just can’t get enough of it.  

“I like traditional stuff too; I love all bluegrass. My dream is to have a touring mash band.” 

Area music lovers can still catch Jones when he returns home from school on break. This year, he’s been spotted sitting in on bluegrass jams at The Sunken Well Tavern and Highmark Brewery. He also played dates with the Ettore Buzzini band along the East Coast. This could be a rare chance to see a rising bluegrass star with a bright future.  

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