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eJazz Spotlight: Devin Roth
The Canadian-born musician spends his time between film scores and jazz compositions, but it all comes back to the places of his childhood.
As a child, even before he started his music lessons, Devin Roth would sit at his parents’ old spinet piano and make up songs.
That ability and desire to create music continued through violin at eight years old and then piano lessons at 10 year old; they came to fruition after Roth joined a jazz summer camp his junior year of high school and was asked to play piano for the advanced jazz band by the program’s organizer.
“Despite knowing nothing about the music I agreed,” Roth says. “That was the moment I fell in love with jazz.”
With music at the core of his life from a young age on, it seems only fitting that Roth’s debut release, “Childhood Places,” calls back moments of the musician’s upbringing in Okanagan Valley, British Columbia.
“I grew up in one of the most beautiful places on earth, but often we take for granted what we have and forget it until we leave and come back,” Roth says. “After living in Los Angeles, I really appreciate the natural beauty of back home in Okanagan. I used the music to describe the high mountain peaks and abandoned railroad trestles that inspired me, outings with my family and Boy Scout projects that were a huge part of my life.”
After leaving British Columbia, Roth earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in music at McGill University in Montreal, followed by a Master of Arts degree in jazz composition from New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. He then moved to Los Angeles to make a name for himself, finding a job arranging jazz music for an album and getting involved in music for television and film.
“Although you might not hear it in the music, many of the people behind the scenes making music for film and television are trained jazz musicians,” Roth says. The skills that we learn playing and studying jazz are directly applicable to the work that we do.”
He’s worked on a variety of movies and TV shows, including “The Book of Life,” “Crimson Peak” and FOX’s “Empire,” and throughout his various projects, Roth has never lost the love of music—especially jazz music—from his childhood.
“I’ve realized there is a great difference in needs vs. wants as I get older,” Roth says. “If we need something, we usually just do the minimum to get it, but if you want something you’ll do whatever it takes. I need to make money, but I want to spend my time composing and performing.”
Jazz aficionados may not only recognize elements of Roth’s career path in their own lives, but the tracks of “Childhood Places”—which include “The Quarry,” “Mountain Dream,” Kettle River” and “Okanagan Mountain”—might take on a more personal note for them as well, helping to rekindle the memories of what got them into jazz in the first place.
“Young students, like when I was younger, are drawn to the creative and improvisational aspect of music,” Roth says. “Jazz is an excellent avenue for that expression. It will continue to evolve and inspire the new generation to explore new paths into improvisational music.”
Of course, making music wouldn’t be as powerful without some opposition.
“Not everyone appreciates the art and talent that go into creating original improvised music, just like not everyone like Picasso,” Roth says. “It’s easy to get into a discussion about art vs. entertainment, but one can exist without the other. It’s kind of like a two-dimensional graph where art is “x” axis and entertainment is the “y” axis. There’s no linear path. Something can be high art and high entertainment, like Wagner, but there is also low art and low entertainment. You never hear about those people for very long.”
For Roth, like many jazz musicians passionate about their craft, every new project comes back to simple things—like playing on his parents’ spinet piano all those years ago.
“In jazz music there is the ability to create and improvise, which was a natural progression from the music that I would make up on my own,” Roth says. “Taking risks, exploring new ideas—all of it started at that moment when I attended that first jazz workshop.”
You can order “Childhood Places” on DevinRothMusic.com