A "suite" of summer music experiences

Devon Gates '23 head shot Photo by Jake BelcherA bassist and emerging artist builds bridges between music worlds in Cambridge and Boston, and finds the community, performance, fun and dreams she was hoping for. 

By ADF guest blogger Devon Gates '23

Devon Gates ’23, a resident of Winthrop House enrolled in the Harvard/Berklee joint five-year AB/MM program concentrating in Anthropology with a secondary in Music, is awarded a Fellowship to engage in research and performance within the Boston and New York Jazz Communities. As a bassist, vocalist and composer, Gates has studied with Terri Lyne Carrington, Linda May Han Oh, and Esperanza Spalding, and has performed with Social Science, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Alexa Tarantino, and Tia Fuller.  She has composed two works for the Harvard Choruses, is a current M3 cohort member, and is working with Berklee’s Institute for Jazz and Gender Justice on a multi-disciplinary project exploring jazz without patriarchy. 

This past summer was an absolute whirlwind of people, places and experiences that felt incredibly exhilarating – and through it all, I maintained the feeling that this was what I was meant to do.

Being in Boston this summer opened up a whole new world for me. Instead of taking a 30-minute bus commute with my large instrument multiple times a week, I was living a 5-minute walk away from Berklee’s campus, making it ridiculously easy to pop by for jam sessions, hangouts and workshops. I was able to give a spontaneous “yes” to opportunities I never would have normally been able to – teaching a last minute ensemble class to a group of high school students during Berklee’s summer experience, seeing Becca Stevens (one of my favorite songwriters) perform in Cambridge, spending nights sitting by the docks on the Charles Esplanade with my friends and musical collaborators, sharing our dreams and ideas for new works.

Because of the close location, I visited New York City to attend a premiere of a duo composition I wrote last spring during a fellowship for women in jazz sponsored by Winter JazzFest. I also saw some incredible shows such as Corrinne Bailey Rae in concert with Hadestown on Broadway. While I was in town, I spent a day with Terri Lyne Carrington, shadowing her during a photoshoot for an upcoming album release, spending time together backstage before her set at Brooklyn’s Roulette club and grabbing a slice on the way back to her hotel close to 1 am after the show had ended. Crazy stories I will remember for a long time to come.

Participants in the Mutual Mentorship for Musicians Gala Photo courtesy M3
Devon Gates '23 (in light blue jacket, center right) with participants in the Mutual Mentorship for Musicians Gala in New York City. Photo courtesy M3

I built relationships and expanded my musical fluency with local Boston musicians such as Michelle Tucker, Lee Fish, Johnathan Souza and Greg Lizst, all hailing from varied musical genres and traditions: hard bop, Afro-Cuban, bluegrass. I also recorded demos and played gigs at venues such as Virtuosity on Huntington Avenue, and the Beehive and Beat Brew Hall in Harvard Square.

My work with the Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice took on new dimensions as I was able to go into the office to work with directors Terri Lyne Carrington (the Institute's founder) and Aja Burrell Wood, in preparation for a museum exhibition project opening in October in Detroit, Michigan. I was also asked to compete in the Detroit Jazz Festival Collegiate Combo Competition on behalf of the Institute, for which I traveled to Detroit and performed there for my first time.

My first international festival performance happened in July with Carrington and Kris Davis at the Montreal Jazz Festival (which doubled as my first time traveling to Canada)!

More than the professional growth, I was able to take advantage of time this summer. I also felt so grateful for the opportunity to create with so many incredibly talented and visionary artists between Harvard and Berklee, and I am so lucky to call them friends. I participated in readings of Veronica’s new musical, played for Angela’s (a flamenco violinst from Andalucia, Spain) senior recital and recorded for Bahar’s (an oud player from Iran) debut album release.

Throughout all this, I was able to write and workshop new compositions and bring together friends from the Harvard and Berklee sides of the river to meet and have fellowship at dinner parties and other social events. It felt like the two sides of my college experience were suddenly fitting together, integrated in a way that I had never before seen.

Despite the seemingly overwhelming amount of music, people, projects and ideas explored, I felt that each day was new and exciting – and that each experience fed into the next, almost like a suite containing endless movements, stitched together into something ultimately harmonious. My goal for this summer was to experiment with a life as a professional creator, in an environment with generous, diverse and inspiring collaborators. As the summer nears its end, I can proudly say that I have learned so much about myself as an artist and the possibilities my life can embrace going forward.