Keeping Scores – Berklee celebrates 60 years

Keeping Scores
Berklee celebrates 60 years
by Matthew S. Robinson
How do you celebrate the 60th anniversary of the greatest contemporary music school in the world? With one of the best contemporary music concerts, of course!

And that is just what was called for in celebration of Berklee College of Music’s third score of years as a pioneering educational and musical venue.

Held at Boston’s beautiful Wang Center, “Three Score” feted the school’s growth and development while looking firmly to the future. In addition to offering musical presentations by some of the school’s most lauded alumni and current students, the event served as the launching pad for a series of new scholarship programs that will allow future stars to ply their crafts in Boston in years to come.

“We have to ensure that every human being has the opportunity to bring what they can to the table,” said Jazz icon Herbie Hancock (H ’86).

“As more and more music programs are being shut down,” added Latin and Pop star Gloria Estefan, “it is a wonderful thing that we can offer this.”

The event was arranged by legendary producer and Berklee board member Phil Ramone.

“The best part of this event,” Ramone said, “is that all my friends came to the party.”

In addition to Hancock and Estefan, Ramone’s “friends” included Dominican stars Michel Camilo and Juan Luis Guerra (’82), former Berklee Dean and vibraphone pioneer Gary Burton (’62), an under the weather Paul Simon (H ’86) and the musical antic Bill Cosby (H ’04) who served as the evening’s emcee.

After some opening remarks by new President Roger Brown (during which he paid tribute to his predecessor, the School’s eponymous leader Lee Berk), and some early clowning by Cosby, the glittering stage was set for a concert unlike any other.

Musically, the night began with a three-part, three-composer piece that spanned 60 years of music in what was purported to be 15 minutes.

And what a 15 minutes it was!

From ballads to Bop, “Peter Gunn” to “In My Life” and “Axel F” to Kenny G to TLC, this sprawling medley made the most of the 70-plus piece orchestra. After a series of solos by such stars as drummer Steve Gadd, bass master Abraham Laboriel (’72), percussionist Jamey Haddad (’73), and sax man Walter Beasley (’84), the piece ended with a six-hand piano and thousand-hand clapping finale that erupted into the first of the evening’s many standing ovations.

Leading off the list of stars was a trio consisting of Camilo, Gadd and Berklee bass professor Esperanza Spalding (’05) who kept her inability to find a place to store her bass as a running (or lugging) joke throughout the evening. After a tango solo that ran from filigreed to full to frenetic, Camilo was joined by Burton, who offered some hand- (and eye-) crossing lilt to Camilo’s Latin lines.

Before leaving the stage, Burton called upon 40-year Berklee veteran Andy McGee to announce the decision to laud this local legend with an honorary doctorate at this year’s commencement. The two then launched into a lively rendition of “Flying Home,” the theme song of Burton’s hero Lionel Hampton (with whom McGee had played back in the day).

After Italian ingenue Chiara Civello (’00) offered an uneven original called “The Wrong Goodbye,” Gueraa brought out his own percussion squad for a quick shot of fiery merengue that had fans dancing in the aisles. Next, it was time for “Mrs. Hancock’s oldest son” to take the stage, along with faculty members drummer Teri Lyne Carrington (’83) and bassist Matt Garrison (son of Jimmy). Their set consisted mostly of a sprawling improvisation that ended with an extended funk jam, but Hancock was able to demonstrate his passionate composure throughout.

Estefan mixed Pop, Latin, and even a bit of Gospel is her set, offering her personal standard “Coming Out of the Dark” and a new number based on somewhat fluffy philosophy called “All I Wish You is Love.” And though the room was mellowed somewhat by the lusher arrangements, the crowd was up again for the flu-ridden finale by Simon, who squeezed a number of award-winning, career-spanning hits into his short set. From “Mrs. Robinson” to “Slip Sliding Away” to “Graceland,” Simon took his fans on a quick musical journey that spanned almost as long as Berklee’s. And when he signed off with a rousing rendition of “Me and Julio,” the room erupted in appreciation, a theme that seemed to weave throughout the evening’s proceedings.

“When I came up, there were no schools teaching Jazz,” Hancock says. “Now, Berklee is so much more than Jazz. It has grown according to the times and is leading the times and that is a wonderful thing!”

©2006 M. S. Robinson ARR