Aug 26, 2014 Allie Wenner Uncategorized
Roger DeVore can remember hearing live jazz bands at his uncles’ houses as well as many jazz records at his family’s home when he was just 5 years old, growing up in Ridgewood, New Jersey in the 1940s. His interest in the genre grew stronger as he got older, and he began visiting New York City nightclubs when he was as young as 16 to listen to the different jazz musicians who performed there.
“I’d go to the black R&B places in Syracuse and Philadelphia, and some of them were just wonderful — they really had great stuff going on there,” said DeVore. “And, often times, I’d be the only white guy in there.”
Over the course of his lifetime, DeVore has met hundreds of jazz musicians — many during their set breaks at performances — and still plays that music today on his two-hour long radio show called “Roger’s List,” broadcast out of WVOA 87.7 FM in East Syracuse.
DeVore attended Middlebury College and graduated from Washington College after serving in the Army. He worked a number of different jobs in several areas — from replacing leaking gas service lines all over Syracuse, to working as a lifeguard and cop on Cape Cod, to being a member of professional ski patrol in Vermont, to being employed as a representative with IBM Syracuse, to wholesaling to investment professionals certain private placement offerings, founding a bank marketing co. and a mutual fund, to the financial part of the oil drilling business, to business charter boat captain in NYC. He’s founded and run several small manufacturing businesses. But throughout his different career paths and places he’s lived, one thing has stayed consistent – his love of jazz music.
“Jazz is interesting, it’s not like the pop music today, where you can just throw a lot of stuff out there and maybe somebody will like a little bit of something,” he said. “In jazz, there’s a lot of anticipation about what’s coming up next. And I’ve always kind of felt this anticipation — people are waiting because they know where it’s going, but [the music] often never quite gets there until maybe just about at the very end. It really brings people along.”
DeVore was first exposed to radio broadcasting equipment when he enlisted in the Army and began his service as a Morse code and voice radio operator and cryptography specialist, where he’d communicate with other units either by code or by voice.
Throughout his professional career, DeVore has continued to see as many musicians perform as possible. Sometimes, he’s even driven as far as 500 miles round-trip in one night to see special artists in concert. He’s seen hundreds of jazz musicians over the years, including Louis Armstrong, Count Basie and Duke Ellington.
“I saw Louis Armstrong in Newport, Rhode Island in 1958 — it was great. I saw him two years before when Ellington’s Paul Gonsalves did 20 odd choruses of Ellington’s ‘Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue,’ and people pushed the snow fences down to run over closer to what he was doing on stage. It was like a riot, but a friendly riot,” he said, laughing.
DeVore semi-retired around 10 years ago and moved back to his hometown of Cazenovia from New York City. Not long after returning to the area, he was approached by a committee of women trying to start a jazz concert series out of Cazenovia College, to be called “Jazz in Caz.” He agreed to be a jazz advisor for the program and was responsible for getting some of the musicians who came in, many of whom he knew personally from the hundreds of performances he’d attended.
Soon after, he was invited to host a radio program on the Cazenovia College radio station. One of DeVore’s favorite memories from his days at the station involved a group of elementary school students who used to play outside of the window of the station in Cazenovia. He noticed that the kids would often drift over to the closed windows to try to hear the music better.
“One day, I asked the] teachers to bring them inside, and the kids just stood there quietly and listened — they didn’t move a muscle for about 20 minutes! It was wonderful. I let some of them talk on the air afterwards and they all said they had never heard that kind of music before and that they loved it,” he said.
During his tenure at the Cazenovia College station, Colgate University contacted him, asking if he’d like to fill an available slot at Colgate’s WRCU, and he accepted. Just like in Cazenovia, he found an enthusiastic and inquisitive audience for the music.
“The college kids over there had never heard this music either, and they said they wanted me to talk [on-air] more about it because they wanted to learn more about it,” he said.
While at Colgate a third college approached him with an offer of what they said was their most listened-to air shift. However, DeVore began looking around for a different radio station with airtime for rent. A friend heard an advertisement about WVOA, a mainly religious-focused station that was renting out time on Fremont Road in East Syracuse. “At that point, I just wanted to continue to help get the word out about this music,” he said.
In July 2013, DeVore began hosting “Roger’s List,” a name coined by the Colgate students, from 5 to 7 p.m. on 87.7 FM. He plays older jazz and ragtime — music from the 1890s to early 1960s.
“Much of what I air is New York-style Chicago jazz,” he said. “There’s some cabaret, a little authentic New Orleans, some authentic plain Chicago jazz, some Kansas City, some ragtime, a few modern jazz and West Coast Cool people and some old-style blues.”
DeVore prides himself on exclusively playing what he calls “old jazz,” or the jazz music that was written and performed prior to the 1960s, before the record companies started to have a major influence on many radio stations.
“That’s why we have so much bad jazz on the radio these days — these individual record companies are trying to sell something by throwing things out on the air and seeing if they stick,” he said. “It’s not enjoyable music, and nobody I know likes it”.
“Much of the jazz I play is more ensemble–driven than some of these new solo saxophonists, for example. I play music people can get their teeth into, music that they can listen to and it will go somewhere and take them along. It’s not bebop. It’s not music where someone’s just trying to demonstrate their virtuosity in getting around a tenor saxophone,” he said.
On his laptop at home, DeVore has about 36,000 songs — almost all of which are jazz tunes. He said he picks out each week’s playlist based on a variety of different factors.
“A lot of it depends on my mood — what do I want to listen to this week for fun? Not only do I try to get the best players doing their best performances, but I try to get something that I feel that the most people will like, not just me.”
And listeners are noticing. Roger’s List broadcasts over 3,000 square miles to more than 600,000 people across the Central New York area and streams online across the world. Interestingly, DeVore said he has a large listener base in Finland, which, at seven hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Time, receives his broadcast at midnight.
Despite the fact that many younger people these days are tuning in to hear Top 40 hits, DeVore isn’t worried about the future of radio jazz music.
“I think there will be more interest in jazz music by young people, as long as it is good” he said. “I think kids are tired of all this plastic-type music that’s being released. Many young people are very interested in this music, but they just don’t hear it because the industry controls everything, and that’s the problem. But once they do hear it, kids have come up to me just on the street [to] say, ‘I really like your music.’ But they’re simply prevented from hearing it more by the enormous record companies.”
In order to help expose even more people to this kind of music, DeVore is currently in talks with WVOA to start broadcasting more than once a week. “I think that if more people had the opportunity to hear it, they would make a point of tuning in to hear it again.”
Roger’s List airs every Thursday from 5 to 7 p.m. on WVOA 87.7 FM. For more information, visit wvoaradio.com or tune in to 87.7 Syracuse.
Allie Wenner is editor of the Eagle Bulletin. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.