Berklee Band to Compete in U.K. Competition

Lesley Mahoney
November 21, 2011
The Yesberger Band. From left: Spencer Stewart, Gabriel Smith, and Devon Yesberger.
The Yesberger Band blends jazz and pop.
Devon Yesberger with British jazz/pop star Jamie Cullum
Photo by Tammy Lamoureux
Photo by Tammy Lamoureux
Photo by Tammy Lamoureux

When Devon Yesberger visited British jazz/pop star Jamie Cullum's website for information about upcoming shows this past summer, he serendipitously found an opportunity that, a short time later, established his band on the international music scene.

The Yesberger Band—the Berklee trio featuring Yesberger on piano/vocals, Gabriel Smith on drums, and Spencer Stewart on bass—will be competing in The Big Audition with Jamie Cullum on Wednesday, November 23 in London, thanks in part to financial support from the Office of Admissions. The grand prize is £5,000 (about $8,000) and the chance to perform at London's PizzaExpress Jazz Club. Cullum got his start playing at PizzaExpress locations all over the city.

"We're so fortunate to be a part of a professional competition," says Yesberger, a fifth-semester piano/voice dual principal and performance major from Seattle, whose band infuses jazz with pop and has opened for such artists as Bobby McFerrin, the Temptations, and the Yellowjackets. "PizzaExpress is a very strong business. I just feel so lucky. It's so cool to do something where it's actually in the interest of reaching out to artists rather than reaching out to their friends."

The Yesberger Band was among a pool of 7,500 contestants, which was whittled down to 50. The first round of online voting further narrowed the field to 10 semifinalists, earning them the chance to participate in a master class with Cullum, for which Yesberger traveled to London solo. Class footage was provided to help online voters choose five finalists.

Of the master class, Yesberger says Cullum gave him some great suggestions. "He advised me to bring in some more accessible material in combination with [my] more advanced material so that we can expand our draw," he says.

For the final performance, each band gets a 10-minute set, followed by a performance from Cullum before the winner is announced.

Damien Bracken, dean of admissions at Berklee, says the Yesberger band is "yet another great example of a collaboration between Berklee students forming a new fresh sound together." He says, "Each one of these musicians is a stand-out talent alone, and together they have established a unique band."

Yesberger credits Berklee for schooling him on band dynamics. "Being part of different bands has helped me learn how dynamics should work," he says.

After Wednesday's performance in Kensington, the trio will be on a quest for a Thanksgiving meal across the pond. No matter the outcome, the Yesberger Band has plenty to be thankful for; not only has the contest given the trio the chance to perform in London but it's also provided networking opportunities and exposure. The band has seen immediate spikes in U.K. YouTube viewership. This week's competition concludes what started a few months ago with a fortuitous web page visit, but for Yesberger, it's much more of a beginning than an end.

Follow the Yesberger Band on Twitter for updates on the competition.