‘Jazz found him’: Remembering KC jazz luminary Everette DeVan

Web Aug21 Umkc Lsc Quarles Photo 0009b
Photography courtesy of LaBudde Special Collections, UMKC University Libraries.

Everette DeVan liked to say that he didn’t find jazz; jazz found him. When he was eighteen, DeVan walked into Emmitt’s Lounge at 27th and Prospect and heard a vibraphone for the first time. Immediately captivated by the unique timbre of the mallet percussion instrument, he humbly asked to sit in. DeVan was hired on the spot after this performance. He then formed his first band, The Means/DeVan Trio, with vibraphonist Kent Means and drummer Rusty Tucker. Means and DeVan worked together for the next seventeen years.

DeVan was a Hammond B3 organist, pianist, bandleader and educator. After suffering a stroke in 2014, DeVan faced a series of health challenges. He passed away on July 3, at the age of seventy-one. Through both his mentorship and musical prowess, DeVan’s legacy lives on.

A legend himself, DeVan played amongst and opened for other legends throughout his career, including Count Basie, Herbie Hancock, Marilyn Maye, B.B. King and Nancy Wilson. DeVan could swing like no other, and the groove master stayed true to the Kansas City jazz tradition, deeply rooted in the blues.

Born in Pueblo, Colorado, in 1950, DeVan began playing piano at the age of five, inspired by his mother and grandmother, who were both musicians. He studied at the Conservatory of Music in Pueblo and credited his beloved uncle Carl Carter for turning him on to jazz.

Aside from DeVan’s outstanding musicianship, he was a mentor to many. “He wanted to be a mentor, and that’s what he did,” his wife, Gaye DeVan, says. “He left a strong footprint, or should I say ‘keyboard print.’”

DeVan’s flame carries on through those he mentored, including local vocalist Eboni Fondren. Fondren leads her own band, Eboni and the Ivories, in addition to frequently being a featured artist with prestigious ensembles such as the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra. “It was almost like he had his own groove school,” Fondren says. “Everything was a life lesson. These were things you can’t get in a book or a classroom. He taught his students to listen with their fingertips and their instincts.”

Posts remembering DeVan on his Facebook profile reveal a common theme: He left an impact on people regardless of the amount of time spent with them. Performing with him was a lesson in itself, as he knew how to constructively challenge students on the spot.

DeVan was recognized multiple times for his extensive contributions to Kansas City jazz. In 2000, he was inducted as an Elder Statesman of Kansas City Jazz and won the Frank Smith Spirit of Kansas City Award. In 2006, he was named “Missouri Jazz Treasure” by Governor Matthew Roy Blount. In 2016, he was inducted into the American Jazz Walk of Fame alongside Louis Armstrong and Nina Simone, and he’s now immortalized with a bronze medallion installed on the sidewalk in the 18th and Vine district. “He will never be forgotten for what he brought to Kansas City jazz,” Gaye says.

Aside from music, DeVan adored animals and was a devout Christian. “At the end of the day, he loved what he did,” Fondren says. “He loved having the opportunity to share that gift with the world. That was his passion; that’s who he was.”

For information on or to help establish the Everette DeVan Scholarship Fund, email Eboni Fondren at jzzylady@gmail.com

Categories: Jazz