He’s toured with R&B pioneer Tina Turner. He’s recorded with Blues icon B.B. King. He’s played in concerts alongside the legend that is Ray Charles.
Now this exhibit of music history rubs shoulders with a different group: Bay Area community college students.
His name is Timothy Devine. And he is a music professor at Las Positas College.
“I’ve been pretty lucky to do some things,” Devine said.
For the past 20 years, Devine has brought his immense knowledge of music to the district. Ten of those have been exclusively at Las Positas College.
He also brings a certain ethos, one that can only be earned through walking the walk. His lectures are bolstered by his professional experiences. The insight he shares was molded by expertise.
It’s a bonus not necessarily expected by students at this stage of higher education.
Devine, affectionately dubbed Mr. D, is a walking museum of music and its history. He tells stories like a grandfather with the content of a rock star and the passion of a teenager. He’s a jewel at Las Positas because he’s that rare breed of teacher who defied the old adage “those who can’t do, teach.” Devine has been there and he’s done that, and now LPC students reap the benefits.
“It’s not common (in a community college setting) for teachers to be professionals in what they profess,” said Cindy Browne-Rosefield, LPC music department coordinator.
Teachers who bring this credibility have a greater potential to “excite students” which will have positive impact on the learning environment, in the opinion of Justin Garoupa, Dean of Arts, Letters and Social Sciences.
“Teaching is not always the most flexible vocation,” Garoupa said, “and balancing an additional career with teaching can be a real challenge for the faculty that follow both paths.”
According to Kelly A. Cherwin, communications editor for HigherEdJobs.com, universities prefer to hire part-time professors who have a working career in their field. It “allows the university to gain the insight of the person’s practical knowledge,” while providing the professors with the avenues to share their “real-world experience” with students.
Some contend the teachings of a professor with a track record of success are not only more enjoyable, but potentially more reliable.
In one particular class, during the spring 2013 semester, students in Devine’s Music 5 class found themselves in an unsure position regarding the rhythm and tempo of a certain music sample. Most music professors would be able to explain the difference between rhythm and tempo, as well as the particulars for a given song. But Devine, without missing a beat, danced his way to the piano. He banged out a few keys, hummed a melody, and even belted a few notes. These examples left the class in a state of complete understanding.
This is the kind of lesson his students have come to expect and admire about Devine’s teaching method. This is where his abilities as a musician shine through.
Devine credits this key method of teaching to his ability not only to play off sheet music but also in a “jam session.” Something he said is not incredibly common, even of other professional musicians. Another of Devine’s attributes that could be credited for his exceptional teaching ability is his intense love for music.
“I really liked his class,” said sophomore Biology major Jasmine Perez, “because you can tell he really loves music.”
For decades, Devine has used that love and his professionally honed talents to land positions on countless musicals — He is currently working on “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” — all while continuing a career as a traveling Blues/Jazz musician.
“It’s great to be a traveling musician,” said Browne-Rosefield, “but it’s a lot of work. It’s not as glamorous as you’d think, especially the Blues circuit, because the Blues is only so popular.”
Perhaps that shows the depth of his career. From half-empty blues joints tucked away in some underappreciated part of town. To recording with American Folk singer Joan Baez, a personal favorite of his, and playing on-stage with female Zydeco pioneer Queen Ida.
His career, which started at the age of 18, has ushered him around to every corner of the United States, and around the world — to Australia and Europe. It has not only put him in the presence of musical royalty, but also members of royal families, including queens and princes.
A record of his travels also includes interactions with government officials.
On one occasion after a set, while on tour with the Joe Louis Walker, Devine and a few other members of the band were invited back to the home of a mayor. It was the mayor of Taylor, Mississippi himself that invited the gentlemen back to his house for merry-making, story-telling and consumption of some homemade moonshine.
Before he began a professional career, though, Devine was a busy student, attending San Jose State for three years (1981 to 1983), then heading off to Washington State University. While at WSU, Devine acquired a Bachelor of Arts and a Masters Degree in music performance.
But where Devine attributes the majority of musical appreciation and experience was his childhood, starting with his mother introducing him to the clarinet at age five. And his public school days in South San Francisco, especially his time at El Camino High School, from where he graduated in 1980.
One person Devine credits, especially, with his focusing on music was his high school band director, Ted Marr.
“The high school I (went to) had a very active program,” Devine said. “He almost treated us like a professional band. He had us do Vegas-style review shows, like 90-minute shows, and then a dance afterwards.”
Perhaps it is the admiration that Devine has for Marr that has stoked the fire that makes him a successful instructor.
Devine’s career as a teacher began with his position as the Jazz Assistant at San Francisco University, before he became the Jazz Band Director at Lowell High School (San Francisco) in 1990. In 1993, Devine took a step up as an instructor, becoming the Director of Music at his alma mater, El Camino High School.
The experience gained through instruction on previous schools, while expansive, is not where his teaching career began.
While at WSU, Devine not only earned multiple degrees, he also saw the birth of his teaching career — as a teachers assistant (TA). He held that position alongside his current colleague, and member of the LPC community responsible for recruiting him to the Livermore campus — Cindy Browne-Rosefield.
“He’s an outstanding musician and a passionate teacher,” said Browne-Rosefield. “He’s very passionate about his students and cares about his students, and that passion comes through when he teaches.”
Passion — it is a common theme expressed, not only by faculty colleagues, but also by his students.
“I would (recommend his class),” said Perez, “because, I think he’s very passionate about what he talks about. Some teachers just tell you the material, but don’t explain it to you with the passion he does,” she added.
Along with the passion he has for music, Devine’s students also appreciate that poetic love he proudly displays for music. A love displayed through intense lectures involving life on tour and the joy to be attained at a music festival, all the way down to his little dance — which is lovingly referred to, by Browne-Rosefield, as the “Timmy Dance.”
That love, according to Browne-Rosefield, knows no bounds.
Tim is not prejudiced when it comes to his love for music,” Browne-Rosefield said, “it could be rock, it could be country, it could be hip hop, as long as it’s good.”
This wide array of musical interests may be the cause for a larger composition of students enjoying the class. Be it Rap or Reggae, Rock or Jazz, Mr. D will most likely share the affection of all those musical genres represented by his students.
Mr. Devine has led an exemplary life, as a musical icon and as a role model to his community and as an instructor of college students. He has, as he said, “been lucky to do some things.”
But whether it’s as a man, a professor or as a mentor — Mr. D’s presence on the LPC campus truly is divine.