Berklee makes a big noise at jazz educators conference.
By Nick Balkin
April 1, 2005
This past winter, more than 7,000 people assembled to celebrate the past, present, and future of jazz at the 32nd Annual International Association of Jazz Educators (IAJE) Conference in Long Beach, California. With a long lineup of students, alumni, and faculty on board as performers, clinicians, and/or panelists, Berklee College of Music was again a major presence at the conference.
Amid some of the heaviest, and most relentless rain Los Angeles had seen in years, inside the Long Beach Convention Center Professor Phil Wilson and the Berklee Rainbow All-Stars (whose name never felt more appropriate) delivered a radiant set of tunes, starting the first full day of the conference in style.
Native Californian and faculty member Christine Fawson kicked off the show by leading the band on one of her signature songs, "It's a Most Unusual Day," handling both vocal and trumpet duties. The set continued with pianist/composer Chie Imaizumi stepping in to relieve Wilson as conductor, and to guide the band through one of her gorgeous original compositions. More highlights followed, including a suave rendition of "Almost Like Being in Love," from mainstay student crooner Jeremy Ragsdale, and some blistering trombone work from Chris Dempsey, an in-demand student whom Wilson introduced to the crowd as "one of the finest trombone players Berklee has seen in years."
Overall, this diverse group-whose lineup included musicians from England, Japan, Israel, and Korea-was incredibly well received. After the show, as a crowd formed around Wilson, several of his students were fielding offers to play various gigs and festivals. Imaizumi was such a hit she was asked to do some arranging for a publishing company in Portugal.
But no one was as pleased as the band's director. "This is the best classroom in the world," said Wilson, "They're playing in front of real musicians who are truly knowledgeable, and they did a magnificent job."
The students, however, weren't the only Berklee representatives making statements at IAJE. On Wednesday night, Columbia College president and former Berklee provost, Dr. Warrick L. Carter received the Lawrence Berk Leadership Award. That same evening, saxophonist Gilad Ronen '03 and drummer James Alsanders '03 joined Herbie Hancock and the Thelonious Monk Institute Ensemble for a stirring set in the Terrace Theater. A pair of dazzling performances were turned in the following day: the first by vocalist Julie Mahendran '00 and her trio, and another by Diane Schuur and the Caribbean Jazz Project, featuring faculty members Dave Samuels, Oscar Stagnaro, Mark Walker, and Alain Mallet.
Among the other featured performers and clinicians from the Berklee community were professional education dean Larry McClellan; faculty pianist Neil Olmstead; and alumni Milton Fletcher '03, Deon Hairston '03, George Hess '77, Joe LaBarbera '69, Eric Marienthal '79, Dmitri Matheny '89, Masashi Nakamura '03, Frank Potenza '72, Larry Steen '84, Tierney Sutton '87, and Dennis Wilson '74.
The Rainbow All-Stars returned Thursday night to provide ambience for Berklee's annual alumni reception. At the event, Berklee alumni met face-to-face with new college president Roger Brown, who gave an abridged version of Berklee's new vision statement. And while Brown stressed that it would take some time to meet his goals for more scholarships, new facilities, and a revamped admissions policy, initial reaction was very positive.
"I was encouraged to hear President Brown say that students should be judged based on their overall motivation and potential, in addition to their musical chops," said Indiego Jazz Promotions associate Devon Bartlett '03, "At Berklee, I realized I wasn't a virtuoso player, so instead of creating music, I promoted it."
Berklee's repertoire has grown over time to include rock, r&b, hip-hop and electronica, but it remains a thriving environment for jazz; it's what the college was built on and it's in its blood. The college's prominence at this year's conference drove home this point, though few needed to be reminded.
"Ninety-five percent of those that approached us already knew who we were and what we were about," said associate director of admissions Jamilah Harris, who worked the college's booth at the IAJE exhibit hall, "To the rest of the international jazz community, Berklee is definitely a household name."
Nick Balkin is a publicist from the Berklee Office of Public Information.