Primary Instrument: Saxophone
Devin Phillips - soprano, tenor saxophone
There are many musician stories that have surfaced in the wake of Katrina, but the one concerning saxophonist Devin Phillips seems to be wrapped in the proverbial silver lining. He is a positive example of the benefits and consequences of staying focused and keeping unwavering faith in your own talent and ability.
Born and reared in New Orleans, Devin Phillips’ intense affair with the saxophone began at the age of eight. At 14, he was accepted into the prestigious New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, whose alumni include Wynton and Branford Marsalis, Harry Connick, Jr. and Nicholas Payton. There, trained in music theory and multi-styles composition, he graduated in 2000 with top honors. He has also tutored under clarinetist and educator Alvin Batiste. Like many budding young horn players form the Big Easy, he put his time in playing with the local brass bands in a traditional process of initiation in the musical process.
Devin Phillips has paid his dues performing, touring and recording with top jazz artists such as Wynton Marsalis, Eddie Palmieri, The Headhunters, the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, musician Lenny Kravitz, and Los Hombres Caliente, with whom he recorded two award-winning albums. His reputation as a sax man with intricate and rhythmically innovative sounds made him a popular feature at jazz festivals: France’s Jazz de Vien Festival; Tokyo’s JVC Jazz Festival; Itanbul’s The Ruins; Spain’s Barcelona Jazz Festival; the Netherlands’ North Sea Jazz and the New Orleans Jazz Festival.
In 2005, Phillips formed New Orleans Straight Ahead. But in August, Hurricane Katrina muted the music. With all gone, save his sax, and his family scattered throughout the U.S., Phillips evacuated to Portland and reformed New Orleans Straight Ahead with other musician evacuees.
Phillips and took advantage of a program created by the Portland Jazz Festival in partnership with Azumano Travel, which invited jazz musicians affected by the hurricane to come to Portland with their families, either for temporary shelter or for good. The invitation included free transportation to Portland, temporary housing, and access to an active jazz network with performance and workshop opportunities. Over the course of six months, more than 50 New Orleans musicians traveled to Oregon, a dozen musicians, including Phillips, have decided to remain in Portland.
Since arriving, Phillips has performed at a number of local clubs and appreciated the opportunity to be part of the Portland Jazz Festival. Phillips says that opening the festival with “Amazing Grace,” talking with McCoy Tyner and being asked to stand in for one of Eddie Palmieri’s frontline players were high points for him.
Since opening the 2006 Portland Jazz Festival, his signature sound has not only been featured on KMHD-FM jazz radio specials and Northwest festivals, but also in newspaper and magazine articles, as well as online articles. Phillips repeated as one of the headline acts of the 2007 Portland Jazz Festival, his band New Orleans Straight Ahead headed up a sold-out concert. He also played at the Mt. Hood Jazz Festival in August, joining trumpeter Nicholas Payton for a special concert. In September, Phillips and NOSA play at the Anacortes Jazz Festival in Anacortes, WA.
This year saw three special recognitions: (1) Selected by the Jazz at Lincoln Center and the US State Department to brring jazz around the world via the 2008 Rhythm Road American Tour Abroad Program; (2) Oregon Arts Council Grant Fellowship to begin formation of the Oregon Jazz Festival; and (3) cover story for the August 2007 issue of Brass Magazine.
His debut album “Wade in the Water” is now out and gaining momentum. Featuring six originals, four standards and two traditional numbers, the CD, also offers a cool video of the title cut. To quote from the opening lines of the liner notes; “Wade in the Water” is a recording born of immense destruction and tragedy, yet culminates with hope and rebirth.
This could certainly hold true for the musician Devin Phillips as well.