Making the leap

New hobby led to full-time pursuit

Jon Durnell, photography by Theresa Thompson

While some pick up an instrument early and dream of musical glory by the time they’re teenagers, Jon Durnell had other interests. Playing baseball in high school and college kept Durnell busy, but after graduation, when his playing days were over, Durnell began to look for a new hobby. Long a devoted music fan, he decided that might be the direction to go.

“I originally thought I might play drums, but I didn’t own a drum kit. I did own an acoustic guitar, so I decided to learn to play that. And since I eventually decided to start writing my own songs, it turned out to be a good decision.”

He remembers well that first effort with his guitar in December 1993, and he continued to play for his own pleasure for almost five years. But in 1998, he put together his first band, and by Halloween of that year, he was officially a professional performer. He says it took a while for him to realize what he might be able to accomplish musically.

“It took a long time for me to make that mental leap, to think I could really do this professionally. I had no preconceived notion that I was going to be in a band and doing this seriously. I just knew I liked to do it, and I loved to listen to songs that I loved and work out the chords so I could play them.”

Now, another 18 years later, Durnell is a busy performer and has long since abandoned other jobs to pursue music full-time. Although he has always enjoyed the interplay of a band, he learned that to play regularly enough to pay the bills, he had to diversify.

“If you want to be able to play regularly, especially during the week, you have to be able to do solo shows. You can’t play enough if you’re trying to work around a lot of schedules,” he said. “So I started playing solo so I could be more versatile and was able to focus on music full-time starting in 2010.”

Aside from his solo work and his work with the Jon Durnell Band, which just released its first album, “Chaos and Clarity,” Durnell also works in three duos where he shares the stage alternately with Missy Burgess, Logan Weber and Eliza Toth. He also fronts an all-covers band called A Night to Remember, which plays weddings and special events and includes all of his bandmates from Jon Durnell Band – Weber, Pete Jacob and Brad Crossland – along with Toth to provide female vocals. But his self-named band earns much of his focus.

“The coolest thing is to be in a room full of people when the band is interacting really well, and the crowd is reacting really well. You get that feedback from them, letting you know that they’re entertained. And the more energy you get from them, the more you give back, and it just builds from there,” he said. “That’s really the coolest part for me, and I can get that from a crowd of 30 or 40 people as much as I could from a crowd of 30 to 40 thousand.”

First appeared in the June 2016 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.


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