Devon Yesberger was only looking for tour dates on Jamie Cullum’s site – he was already a big fan – when he found out about a little contest called “The Big Audition.” Figuring he had nothing to lose, he submitted his group’s video for “More Than Once.” Little did he know just how much he’d be liked: The Yesberger Band finished second in the competition, with Devon being told by Cullum himself during a masterclass“You don’t need to know anything for me. You’re great, man!” It was the latest accolade in a career that’s already seen these three young Berklee students open for world-renowned acts like the Temptations, Bobby McFerrin and the Yellowjackets.
The Yesberger Band bring their upbeat energy and accomplished musicianship to the Cisco Bella Mia Stage 4pm Saturday and Metro Market Stage 10pm Friday for Summer Fest. Don’t miss this opportunity to catch them with special guest JJ Kirkpatrick, who will be sitting in with the band on trumpet for both sets. Speaking with Devon Yesberger by phone, I found out about how they arrived at their sound and what advice they picked up on the road.
How did you and the Yesberger Band arrive at your sound, which mixes jazz musicality with a pop sensibility?
I’d say it came out of my writing. Spencer [Stewart, Yesberger bassist] and I go way back. We met in high school and played a lot of the all state, all Northwest jazz things, so we started there and found that we really dug Brad Mehldau covers and some covers of more contemporary tunes. We brought that to Berklee and got together with Gabe. I finally admitted “I have a couple tunes we could maybe try” because I was definitely shy as a writer at that time. Eventually, we kind of settled into a pretty consistent performance of each song, but we definitely can be a spontaneous band and allow for things to happen in the moment and kind of jump outside of what’s written down so that we can surprise ourselves and surprise the audience. .
What’s the atmosphere like at Berklee College of Music, where the Yesberger Band was formed?
There’s such a collaborative mindset at Berklee. Once you’re there a couple semesters, jamming is less frequent, but that first semester was like jam here, jam there, jam here . . . It’s really just this environment where everyone starts out eager to get something going. Once you finally settle into a niche and you find your guys you start to play with a lot, you start to kind of ease out of the jams. That, I suppose, is kind of the road out of Berklee in a sense, because Spencer and I have one more year and we’ve really done a lot with this band. It’s almost like the course of a life. You’re crazy in the beginning and then you kind of settle down. You find your direction, at least to some degree where you want to go, and it’s cool because [your] voice is influenced by every person that you play with or learn from.
You three have performed nationally with acts like the Temptations and Bobby McFerrin. Was there any worthwhile advice you and the band picked up while touring with them?
The tour itself was such a huge learning experience. I remember explicitly the moment in southern Oregon the first night we opened for Bobby McFerrin and the Yellowjackets. We were backstage speaking to the owner of the venue. [He was] just a really nice guy, telling us what the audience responds to and how they just want to see who we are and have us be honest and not put on any fake show but just be really true to our sound and true to who we want to be. Somehow that really touched us and I remember opening up more than I feel like I had ever done at a concert. It was a huge turning point for us.
You’ve got a full length album you’re currently working on, slated for release in the fall. Have those recording sessions been a departure from the sound found on the Bad Weather EP?
In terms of sound, yes, it’s definitely gonna be different, which is exciting. It’s taking on a much more refined sound, because this time we have a producer, a good friend who’s out there in the the live room with us when we record. There’s so much space in what we’re working on, but it’s a much more healthy way to start than just playing live and then trying to deal with all this space that you already filled. Instead, it leaves room for seeking out cool new textures that can fill the space, cool new parts and stuff. It’s just made way for a more mature sound. We’ve grown a lot out of it.
Your music is quoted as “fashionably unfashionable” on your bio on the Summer Fest site. What’s your take on that label?
I think it fits to some degree. I thought it was definitely a clever way to put it when we performed at “The Big Audition,” seeing as how we were the only crossover band. There was one jazz band and then the rest were kind of doing contemporary stuff and we were right there in the middle. I do think it still might stigmatize the jazz side, saying that it’s unfashionable. The [jazz] audience might be shrinking, but I think it could also be growing if it’s approached in the right way. In that sense, it might not be the most appropriate, but I do like that kind of contrast, that we’re taking music that is less common for this kind of instrumentation and performance and putting our hearts behind it, trying to bring it back and make pop music live again, and make jazz a little more relatable, kind of take both ends and pull them into the middle.
Is there anyone that you or your band mates are particularly excited to see at Summer Fest?
I’m excited to see Dianne Reeves. We’re excited to see her because she goes back to the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival. I used to go there a lot for high school and she was almost there every year. Ben Flocks as well. I’ve kind of kept tabs on him a bit.
For those who might be checking you out for the first time, what can they expect to see if they’ve never seen you before?
I think there’s a lot of youth to our live performance. We just let go and have fun but also have that respect for the art that I think is deeply ingrained in us in jazz. It’s definitely a very uplifting set usually. We have a few downer songs, but he majority of them are all happy and positive and thoughtful. Also, I think it’s groovy. It’s got a pocket a lot of the times, and it’s just a fun, bouncy experience.
Will you be checking out Devon and the Yesberger Band during one of their sets at Summer Fest? Leave a comment on our Facebook post and let us know!