George Devens

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George Devens may be the most widely recorded vibraphonist in musical history, but some of the tenants in the overpopulated subdivision of his discography simply involved whacking on a tambourine. That…
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George Devens may be the most widely recorded vibraphonist in musical history, but some of the tenants in the overpopulated subdivision of his discography simply involved whacking on a tambourine. That is the nature of the undertaking for a studio percussionist, which is what Devens became in the mid-'50s following his departure from the ensemble of virtuoso pianist George Shearing. Devens started out studying percussion with the traditional three-pronged fork of drum set, vibraphone, and theory. A Bronx boy, Devens drummed with various local bands until the fortunate break of getting into Shearing's combo in 1954.

This gig lasted less than two years, however. By 1958 Devens' new foundation was as a house musician for the CBS network, and he was also playing regularly on film soundtrack recording sessions. All this added up to a fine location to be in during the growth of the pop recording industry through subsequent decades, whether Devens was leaning over the vibraphone or seated behind a conga drum. His presence on pop recordings immediately establishes a strong '70s vibe: the carefully, sometimes indulgently produced pet projects involving instrumental panoramas at times vastly more vivid than the stars themselves, for example Jim Croce, Neil Diamond, and Melissa Manchester. Devens is at his best when adding sophistication to the already sophisticated, such as R&B diva Esther Phillips. He also played on a lot of the early Van Morrison sides cut for the Bang! label. The percussionist's surname is treated to many variations in liner notes: he shows up as George Devons, George Devins, and so forth; he has also been known as Debella Devens.