By Sue Moore
“My hope is to connect the world to jazz.” That’s Clayton DeVries, a senior at Vicksburg High School who has amassed many honors playing saxophone. But his musical goal is to bring jazz to places where there isn’t much music to speak of, such as small towns across America. Jazz is his passion.
“Jazz is the greatest musical art form there is. It lets you speak through it by expressing yourself and how you want to play. I really want to perform in these many out-of-the way places, although I’m not so good at teaching what I know,” DeVries said.
In addition to his musical talent, he has been in Boy Scout Troop 254 in Schoolcraft. He is closing in on his Eagle Scout award with the construction of four park benches he has built for the Portage Senior Center. He turned 18 on March 6, the day he will have them installed and the project completed to attain that coveted rank.
He’s auditioning at several colleges hoping to major in jazz; on March 8, he’ll audition at the New School in New York City. Previously, he passed a pre-screening, then sent a video and was chosen to come to the big city to show them what he can do. He has been accepted at Western Michigan University and is considering Michigan State University, University of Illinois and University of North Texas.
The biggest honor so far: He was one of 17 players chosen for the Michigan All-State Jazz band. He had tried out for it as a sophomore and junior but didn’t get accepted. He took a lot of lessons and did plenty of practicing this time, taking second place on tenor sax and honorable mention on alto sax.
Ben Rosier, Vicksburg’s band instructor said that “after transferring from Schoolcraft schools, Clayton has made an impact on our program, especially in the jazz departmenti His passion for the jazz genre has propelled him into the upper echelon of students in the state. Clayton will be featured as a soloist on our Top Dawgs jazz ensemble album along with many of his classmates.”
Studying at Interlochen last summer was the “greatest experience ever,” DeVries said. “I’ve had terrific professors and made some life-long friends there.” He won a first place chair on tenor saxophone in the Interlochen jazz ensemble.
Last fall, DeVries was chosen to play alto sax at the St. Cecilia Music Center in Grand Rapids, going there on Tuesdays for practice and playing lots of older big-band music that he really likes. He played in the Hastings all-star band last year and now helps with the Vicksburg Middle School music program during second hour of the day at VHS.
The fact he can play a large assortment of instruments is a bonus. He is mostly self-taught on most of them. He owns three saxophones – soprano, alto and tenor – as well as flute, piccolo, clarinet and piano. He plays all of them. “I came to VHS for the curriculum. My mom coaxed me to go to one rehearsal for concert band when I was a freshman. I had started playing in fifth grade but didn’t really want to try out for band. It took one rehearsal and I decided to stick with it.”
Now he practices four to five hours a day and has taken lessons that he said help him know what the jazz voice means and how best to implement it.